A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

a Roman general, who with his rival Boniface, has justly been called by Procopius the last of the Romans. He was born at Dorostana in Moesia (Jornandes, de reb. Get. 34), and his father Gaudentius, a Scythian in the employ of the empire, having been killed in a mutiny, he was early given as a hostage to Alaric, and under him learnt the arts of barbarian war. (Philostorgius, 12.12.) After an ineffectual support of the usurper John with an army of 60,000 men (A. D. 424), he became the general of the Roman forces under Placidia, at that time guardian of her son, the emperor Valentinian III. In order to supplant in her favour his rival Boniface, by treacherous accusations of each to the other, Aetius occasioned his revolt and the loss of Africa (Procop. Bell. Vand. 1.3, 4); the empress, however, discovered the fraud, and Aetius, after having met Boniface at Ravenna, and killed him in single combat [BONIFACIUS], was himself compelled to retire in disgrace to the Hunnish army which in 424 he had settled in Pannonia. (Prosper. and Marcellinus, in anno 432.)

Restored with their help to Italy, he became patrician and sole director of the armies of the western empire. (Jornandes, de reb. Get. 34.) In this capacity, through his long acquaintance with the barbarian settlers, and chiefly with the Huns and Attila himself, in whose court his son Carpilio was brought up, he checked the tide of barbarian invasion, and maintained the Roman power in peace for seventeen years (433-450) in Italy, Spain, Britain, and Gaul, in which last country especially he established his influence by means of his Hun and Alan allies and by his treaty with Theodoric the Visigoth. (Sidon. Apoll. Paneg. Avit. 300.) And when in 450 this peace was broken by the invasion of Attila, Aetius in concert with

Theodoric arrested it first by the timely relief of Orleans and then by the victory of Chalons (Greg. Turon. 2.7; Jornandes, de reb. Get. 36), and was only prevented from following up his successes in Italy by want of support both from Valentinian and his barbarian allies. (Idatius and Isidorus, in anno 450.) [ATTILA.] The greatness of his position as the sole stay of the empire, and as the sole link between Christendon and the pagan barbarians, may well have given rise to the belief, whether founded or not, that he designed the imperial throne for himself and a barbarian throne for his son Carpilio (Sid. Apoll. Paneg. Avit. 204), and accordingly in 454, he was murdered by Valentinian himself in an access of jealousy and suspicion (Procop. Bell. Vand. 1.4), and with him (to use the words of the for contemporary chronicler Marcellinus, in anno 454), "cecidit Hesperium Imperium, nec potuit relevari."

His physical and moral activity well fitted him for the life of a soldier (Gregor. Turon. 2.8), and though destitute of any high principle, he belongs to the class of men like Augustus and Cromwell, whose early crimes are obscured by the usefulness and glory of later life, and in whom a great and trying position really calls out new and unknown excellences.

(Renatus Frigeridus, in Gregor. Turon. 2.8.; Procop. Bell. Vand. 1.3, 4; Jornandes, de Reb. Get. 34, 36; Gibbon, Decline and Fall. c. 33, 35 ; Herbert's Attila, p. 322.)