To hear the Romans tell it, the arrival of Huns at the empire’s border was an unmitigated catastrophe.“The Huns in multitude break forth with might and wrath … spreading dismay and loss,” read a poem engraved on a wall in ancient Constantinople.
“And naught but loss of life and breath their course shall ever stay.”The nomadic Huns, who ranged across Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, were called “treacherous,” “scarcely human,” “the scourge of all lands.” Historical accounts, many of them written long after the wars with the Huns were over, blamed them for the fall of Rome and the Dark Ages that followed.It’s certainly true that the Huns’ military campaign cut the Roman Empire to its core.
But Susanne Hakenbeck, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge, was suspicious of accounts by the bitter losers. “The way they write about them is really cliched,” she said. “They say, ‘they look like animals,’ ‘none of what they do is civilized,’ ‘they’re all terrible.’
And I just thought, how can this be true? There’s so much obvious bias in these sources. What was really going on?”To answer that question, Hakenbeck went straight to the source: She examined the bones of the Huns themselves.
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