What I’m writing about this week, #12: battle between the Goths and the Huns
OK, this is a little bit of a fib. I have already researched and written about the semi-legendary Dark Age battle between the Goths and the Huns in my novel The Loki Sword, which came out recently. But I’m thinking about the great battle today – all right? Jeez, some people. And now I’m going to tell you all about it.
The Goths (also called Ostrogoths, see above) were a Germanic people who occupied territory in Central Europe north of the Danube and, later, on the upper reaches of the Vistula, who fought both for and against the Roman Empire. They were put under pressure by in the 4th and 5th centuries by the Huns, nomadic invaders from the east, possibly as far east as Mongolia, who were ruled by the infamous Attila (below). The Huns crossed the eastern Carpathian Mountains and encroached on Goth homelands in modern-day Hungary and for a long time there was bloody conflict between the two competing peoples.
The legendary battle between the Goths and Huns is recounted in the Hervarar Saga, one of the oldest pieces of heroic poetry in the Norse language, according to the linguist and historian Christopher Tolkien (son of JRR). The poem tells how Hlodr, the bastard son of Goth king Heidrekr by his Hunnish mistress, started a war to recover his Gothic inheritance from his half-brother the hero Angantyr. At a great battle, probably somewhere on the Hungarian plain, there was colossal carnage so that “the rivers were choked and rose from their beds and the valleys were filled with dead men and horses”.
The Goths lost the battle but the poem’s hero, mighty Angantyr, slew Hlodr with his father’s sword Tyrfingr. As a result of the battle, the Goths were pushed out of their homelands in Hungary and fled north, eventually ending up in Gotland (now southern Sweden) on the Scandinavian peninsula. So some of the Vikings of later centuries were descendants of the Goth tribes who sacked Rome. Or so the Norse legends claim. I used the story of the great battle as underpinning in my quest story The Loki Sword (Fire Born 3), which has my heroes Bjarki and Tor journey south from Scandinavia to try to find the lost “magic” sword Tyrfingr, with which Angantyr killed his half-brother and half-Hun enemy Hlodr.
No one is sure exactly when this great battle took place – sometime in 5th century AD, and most likely after the death of Attila in 453, since the great Hun warlord is not mentioned in the poem – nor where exactly it happened. Scholars have suggested a bewildering variety of sites stretching from Orleans to Kyiv but the poem says it took place in the shadow of the Harvath Mountains – which C. Tolkien says are the Carpathian range that curls around the north and east of the Hungarian plain. So I invented a site for the battle and another sight for a glorious last stand about fifty miles north of where Budapest is now.
In this brief extract from The Loki Sword, Valtyr, an old man who has accompanied the warriors on the long journey, is telling them the story of Angantyr’s last stand:
“Hlodr hounded Angantyr, his tireless Hunnish riders always in sight behind the fleeing king and his retinue. They fled west all the way to the banks of the mighty River Donau [Danube], then northwards, and still his brother came after him. And, eventually, their poor horses failing beneath them, and in the shadow of the Western Harvaths, Angantyr was brought to bay.
“He and his last remaining men formed a tight ring of shields at an ancient fort on a small hill, a castle built by the trolls long before the Age of Man. And there they stood in brotherhood and waited for their end.”
Valtyr took a swig of his ale. Bjarki found he was so absorbed by the tale he was holding his breath as he imagined this heroic last stand, the doughty Companions, gathered around their king, ready to die with him.
“What happened next? Go on, Valtyr, don’t leave us hanging.”
“The Huns completely surrounded the hill on which the troll ring stood, ensuring there could be no escape for Angantyr. And Hlodr himself came forward to the bottom of the hill. ‘Surrender to me, O my brother,’ he said. ‘Renounce for ever your claim to the Throne of Arnheimer. Kneel before me in the mud and beg my forgiveness – then, perhaps, I shall spare your miserable life. But first of all you must render to me the sword of Loki, the blade known as Tyrfingr, which is the symbol of our House.’
“Angantyr stepped out of the ranks of his men and faced Hlodr on the slope. ‘This sword?’ he said, drawing the Loki blade from its sheath. ‘If you want this sword, brother, you’d better come up and take it from me.’”
The Loki Sword (Fire Born 3) is available as an eBook or paperback from Amazon, click the link here to get a copy. The first two volumes of the saga The Last Berserker (Fire Born 1) and The Saxon Wolf (Fire Born 2) are also both available from Amazon.