Attila and his Huns, the Hunnic campaigns and the location of the Hunnic power center have figured prominently in archaeological scholarship, as has their cultural reception in European historical and political thought during the past one and a half millennia. The image of the Huns underwent a continuous change from one age and culture to the other, and they were alternately portrayed as “bloodthirsty barbarians” and the “scourge of God” or as “noble savages” in European political debates as well as in literature, art and music. Attila and his Huns have pervaded European thought, molding our perception of the fall or the slow decline of the Western Roman Empire and our perspectives on the transition between Antiquity and the Middle Ages, on the early medieval dichotomy of Christianity and paganism, on the nature of political empires, on the impact of nomadic peoples on Europe and on the migration of Germanic (or “Germanic”) tribes. One curious phenomenon is how passionately debates on the interpretation of this period are conducted in international scholarship, a passion that is rarely encountered in academic discussions of any other antique or early medieval period. I can think of no other reason than that the academic discourse on the Hunnic campaigns and the sweeping migrations of the Late Roman period have demonstrably direct impact on our own lives. It would appear that in this particular case, the academic research projects and debates affect issues of our own identity, our very Europeanness, and oft-times even have a bearing on certain aspects of our national and political identity as well as on our world-view, generating debates that resonate well beyond the groves of academe– which, admittedly, fills me with deep satisfaction as a museum director. While the critical re-assessment of the written sources often leads to paradigm shifts in itself, no matter the perfection with which historical philology is pursued, the corpus of written sources available to researchers is unlikely to increase significantly. The approaches, perspectives and research designs of the social sciences and studies in the history of reception have and still hold a range of exciting potentials, many of which have been explored during the past fifty years.
Benedek Varga: Lectori Salutem