In this week, Flavius Aetius was assassinated by Emperor Valentinian III, just three years after commanding the last great victory of Western Rome.
Born in modern-day Bulgaria in 391 AD, by the time of his death in 454 AD he’d cemented himself as one of the greatest military commanders of the classical era. In the space of eight years, he went from fighting the Romans to switching sides and commanding their armies in Gaul, on his way towards becoming the most influential and powerful figure in the Western Roman Empire.
But his greatest victory would come in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. Gathering together the Germanic tribes he’d been battling with for years into a formidable coalition, he faced a huge army led by Attila the Hun, possibly the single most dangerous man Europe had ever seen. It wasn’t the dominating victory of old, but Aetius eventually managed to drive back the seemingly unstoppable force. The Huns would never again pose such a threat to civilisation, even when they returned a year later to ransack Italy.
Unfortunately, although he had done a great deal for Rome, it wasn’t enough to kill the doubts in Valentinian’s mind. The Emperor believed Aetius wanted his son to take the throne, and this poisonous idea led to him drawing his sword and killing Aetius whilst he was in court in Ravenna.
Rome’s last hope had been snuffed out, and within 25 years the empire he had fought so hard to protect had joined him.