Flavius Aëtius was the Roman general from 433-454. In the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains Aëtius ended the Hunnic invasion of Attila in 451.

History of AëtiusEdit

Birth of AëtiusEdit

Aëtius was born in 390, of Scythian birth.

Aëtius Becomes Magister Militum in GaulEdit

In 423, when the western Emperor, Honorius, died, Castinus, who was the most influential western Roman, chose a high-ranking officer named Joannes as Honorius’ succssor. But Joannes did not receive recognition from the eastern emperor Theodosius II, as Joannes was not part of the Theodosian dynasty. Instead, Theodosius sent his general Aspar against Joannes in support of Theodosius’ nephew Valentinian. Valentinian, on his father’s side, was also Honorius' nephew. Aëtius was in Joannes’ service, and was sent by him to ask the Huns for help, for Aëtius had lived among the Huns for many years as a hostage. By the time Aëtius returned with a large num of Huns, Joannes had been killed and power now lay with Valentinian and his mother Galla Placida, Honorius’ sister. After some skirmishing between Aëtius’ Huns and Aspar’s eastern army, a peace arrangement was made in which Aëtius dismissed his Huns and became magister militum per Galliam (commander in chief in Gaul) in 425.

Aëtius Defeats his RivalsEdit

After defeating the Visigoths and Franks, Aëtius was promoted to magister militum with no restrictions, one of two such officers in the western empire. The senior magister militum was Flavius Felix. In 430 Aëtius accused Flavius Felix of plotting against him, and had Felix and his wife killed. Aëtius continued his battles against the barbarians, against the Juthingi of Raetia, against the Visigoths of Arelate, against the Nori of Noricum, and against the Franks. In 432 Aëtius was named consul for the first time. But his rival, Bonifacius, the other magister militum was recalled from Africa to Ravenna by Aula Placida and given the rank of patrician. Aëtius fought against Bonifacius at the Battle of Rimini. Bonifacius actually won the battle, but was mortally wounded and died several months later. Meanwhile, aided by the Huns, Aëtius gained an even highter position in the Roman court at Ravenna: magister utriusque militiae. Aëtius had Bonifacius’ son-in-law Sebastianus exiled from Italy and married Bonifacius’ widow Pelagia on whom Aëtius fathered his son Gaudentius.

Further Successes of AëtiusEdit

In 436 Aëtius defeated King Gundahar and his Burgundians. In the following year, at Aëtius’ instigation, the Huns destroyed Gundahar and the Burgundian power. A very garbled version of this appears in the German Nibelungenlied and in various Icelandic poems and prose narratives. In the same year Aëtius was named consul for the second time. Aëtius continued to be triumphant in battles with Franks, Visigoths, and other barbarians. In 446 Aëtius was named consul for the third time, along with one Symmmachus. In 451 Attila led his horde into Gaul and besieged Orleans. Aëtius and Theodoric I, the Visigoth, defeated Attila and his allies at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, the first time anyone had defeated the Huns.

Attila and HonoriaEdit

But Attila struck back. Honoria, Valentinian’s sister, attempted to murder her brother. The plot was found out. Valentinian would have killed Honoria, but their mother, Galla Placida pleaded for her, and Honoria was sent to a convent in Constantinople. Honoria made several attempts to escape from the convent, so Valentinian decided that marriage to a Roman senator might suit her better. It didn’t. Honoria sent her engagement ring to Attila the Hun, begging for rescue. Attila interpreted this as a proposal of marriage and accepted Honoria as his wife, asking for half of Europe as his dowry. Valentinian wrote politely to Attila, denying that the supposed marriage proposal was legitimate. Attila, refused to accept this, and marched toward Italy, claiming to be a wronged husband. Aëtius had neglected to properly defend the Alpine passes. Attila succeeded in crossing the Alps and entering Italy, where he burned and plundered. Aëtius lacked the strength to engage Attila directly, but harassed him continually. Finally Attila departed with neither Honoria or any European lands.

Assassination of AëtiusEdit

In the following year, 453, Aëtius celebrated the betrothal of his son Gaudentius to Valentinian’s daughter Placidia. But Valentinian, fearing that Aëtius wished to place Gaudentius on the imperial thronw, listened to the Roman senator Petronius Maximus and the chamberlain Heraclius who advised him to have Aëtius assassinated. When Aëtius came to Ravennna to deliver a financial statement, he was slain by Valentinian’s own hand.

Death of ValentinianEdit

Maximus thought to be made patrician in place of Aëtius, but was blocked by Heraclius. So Maximus arranged with two Hun friends of Aëtius, Optila and Thraustila, to assassinate both Valentinian III and Heraclius. On March 16, 455, when Valentinian dismounted in the Campus Martius and prepared for a session of archery practice, Optila stabbed the emperor in the temple and then finished him off with a second thrust. The other Hun, Thraustila, killed Heraclius. The soldiers standing by had been former followers of Aëtius and did not lift a hand to save the emperor.

Aëtius in British History and Pseudo-HistoryEdit

Aëtius as “Egitius” in Gildas’ De Excido BritanniaeEdit

In Part II, section 20 of Gildas’ De Excido Britanniae, Aëtius appears as “Egidius”, a “powerful Roman citizen” who was three times consul. As translated by Giles:

Again, therefore, the wretched remnant, sending to Egitius, a powerful Roman citizen, address him as follows:–“To Egitius, now consul for the third time: the groans of the Britons.” And again a little further thus:–“The barbarians drive us to the sea; the sea throws us back on the barbarians: thus two modes of death await us, we are either slain or drowned.” The Romans, however, could not assist them, and in the meantime the discomfited people, wandering in the woods, began to feel the effects of a severe famine, which compelled many of them without delay to yield themselves up to their cruel persecutors, to obtain subsistence: others of them, however, lying hid in mountains, caves, and woods, continually sallied out from thence to renew the war.
Some suggest that the reference to “three times consul” is here an error, and that the reference is not to Aëtius, but to Aegidius, a Roman general who ruled the Domain of Soissons in northern Gaul from about 457 to 464. Others suggest that the appeal is to Aëtius, but at a date before he was counsul for the third time.

Egitius appears to be a genuine 6th century spelling for Aëtius. It appears in two manuscripts of the “Table of Nations”; in which “Egitius” is the father of “Egegius” and “Egegius” is father of “Syagrius” and it is said that “with him, the Kings of the Romans ended.” These are obviously the names of the last great Roman generals in Gaul: Aëtius, Aegidius, and Syagrius, of whom Syagrius, at least, as ruler of the Domain of Soissons, was known as the “King of the Romans”.

See Goffart, Walter A., Rome’s fall and After, page 145.

Aëtius in Bedes’ Ecclesiastial HistoryEdit

Bede uses this passage as his source in Book I, chapter 13, of his Ecclesiastical History of the English People (as translated by H. L. Jane):

In the twenty-third year of his [Theodosius the Younger’s] reign, Aetius, a man of note and a patrician, discharged his third consulship with Symmachus for his colleague. To him the wretched remnant of the Britons sent a letter, which began thus:–“To Aetius, thrice Consul, the groans of the Britons.” And in the sequel of the letter they thus unfolded their woes:–“The barbarians drive us to the sea; the sea drives us back to the barbarians: between them we are exposed to two sorts of death; we are either slaughtered or drowned.” Yet, for all this, they could not obtain any help from him, as he was then engaged in most serious wars with Bledla and Attila, kings of the Huns. And though the year before this Bledla had been murdered by the treachery of his own brother Attila, yet Attila himself remained so intolerable an enemy to the Republic, that he ravaged almost all Europe, attacking and destroying cities and castles.

Aëtius in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum BritanniaeEdit

Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae, in Book VI, chapter III, writes (as translated by Lewis Thorpe):

Once more the miserable remnant sent letters to Agicius, the general commanding the Roman forces, to convey the following appeal:
‘To Agicius, three times consul, comes the groans of the Britons.’
There followed a short introduction, and then they continued their complaints as follows:

‘The sea drives us into the hands of the barbarians, and the barbarians drive us into the sea. Between the two of them, we have two deaths to choose from: we can either be drowned or have our throats cut.’
But for all of this, the messengers returned sadly home, to explain to their fellow-citizens their lack of success, for they had received no promise of help.

Some Name VariationsEdit

LATIN: Aëtius, Aetius, Egitius, Agicius; WELSH: Gittiws.

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