How exactly Attila died is no longer available in the historical record, but between clues of a failed attempt and a cover-up, parallel death scenes in other literature, and ancient ideas on what constitutes a disgraceful way to die, Babcock concludes the Byzantine Emperor Marcian hired assassins to kill Attila.
Evaluating the Historical Evidence
The traditional account of the degrading death of the warrior Attila comes from the Gothic historian Jordanes, writing a century after the event. Jordanes bases his account of Attila's death on that of Attila's contemporary Priscus, who had first-hand experience of a cautious, clear-headed Hun leader who did not, in Priscus' experience, drink to excess.
Priscus' description of the meal he shared with Attila is part of a travelogue he wrote. Priscus' travelogue has been judged so objective that its author has been "extended a blanket credibility to everything he wrote."
Babcock reveals Priscus as a propagandist with his own agenda, but that does not negate his credibility as a witness. The problem is only part of what Priscus wrote about the death of Attila has survived. Clues about payback for Attila's presumed fratricide linger.
Babcock does more than explain and back up his 17 points of evidence for the murder of Attila. He also shows philological detective work and paints an intimate portrait of life as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. In addition, he pens portraits of the very romantic Gibbon, the sober Attila, the worthless Emperor Valentinian, the competent "second Constantine" Marcian, and the great "last of the Romans" Aetius. Babcock also crafts a memorable subplot about the 2-generational involvement between the last Roman emperor and the first Gothic king of Rome [following the overthrow of Romulus Augustulus, Odoacer].