Page:15 decisive battles of the world (New York).djvu/165

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BATTLE OF CHALONS. 159


dued. He is, in fact, the hero of the latter part of this remarkable poem; and it is at his capital city, Etselenburgh, which evidently corresponds to the modern Buda, that much of its action takes place.

When we turn from the legendary to the historic Attila, we see clearly that he was not one of the vulgar herd of barbaric conquerors. Consummate military skill may be traced in his campaigns; and he relied far less on the brute force of armies for the aggrandizement of his empire, than on the unbounded influence over the affections of friends and the fears of foes which his genius enabled him to acquire. Austerely sober in his private life—severely just on the judgment seat—conspicuous among a nation of warriors for hardihood, strength, and skill in every martial exercise—grave and deliberate in counsel, but rapid and remorseless in execution, he gave safety and security to all who were under his dominion, while he waged a warfare of extermination against all who opposed or sought to escape from it. He watched the national passions, the prejudices, the creeds, and the superstitions of the varied nations over which he ruled, and of those which he sought to reduce beneath his sway: all these feelings he had the skill to turn to his own account. His own warriors believed him to be the inspired favorite of their deities, and followed him with fanatic zeal; his enemies looked on him as the pre-appointed minister of heaven's wrath against themselves; and though they believed not in his creed, their own made them tremble before him.

In one of his early campaigns he appeared before his troops with an ancient iron sword in his grasp, which he told them was the god of war whom their ancestors had worshiped. It is certain that the nomadic tribes of Northern Asia, whom Herodotus described under the name of Scythians, from the earliest times worshiped as their god a bare sword. That sword-god was supposed, in Attila's time, to have disappeared from earth; but the Hunnish king now claimed to have received it by special revelation. It was said that a herdsman, who was tracking in the desert a wounded heifer by the drops of blood, found the mysterious sword standing fixed in the ground, as if it had darted down from heaven. The herdsman bore it to Attila, who thenceforth was believed by the Huns to wield the Spirit of Death in battle; and their seers prophesied that that sword was to destroy the world.