It’s the one thousand, five hundred and fifty sixth anniversary of the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields, otherwise known as the Battle of Chalons!
Not heard of it?
AD451. Just as the Roman Empire fades into the Dark Ages. At the Catalaunian Fields near Chalons, a grudging alliance of Romans and Germannic tribes confronts Attila the Hun’s confederation of Huns and yet more Germannic tribes.
Hundreds of thousands of warriors grind through a Ragnarok-grade battle on the scale of Waterloo but fought with cold steel… a battle so murderous that, in the morning, nobody much feels like doing any more fighting.
I’m fascinated by this forgotten battle — I’m even writing a YA Historical series that will put the hero in the midst of the mayhem — so I was overjoyed to receive a review copy of Osprey’s new book, The Catalaunian Fields AD451. Imagine, then, how I felt when, I discovered the chapter called, “The Battlefield Today.”
What? OMG they found it!
The location of this battle has been hotly debated for centuries. Now here’s an Osprey book casually pinpointing the battlefield and using it as the basis for its maps and diagrams!
And it’s convincing.
The author has plausibly located a site which fits the sources for the period, the place-name evidence, the military logic, and the geography. And — better yet — the area of the worst fighting, where the spilled blood reputedly made a river rise, is still called Le Enfer (trans: “Hell”), and the water that runs through it, la Riviere de Corps (I’ll let you guess the translation.)
Can I say it again? OMG they found it! (Now I have to go to France.)
And then we have the rest of the book.
Osprey have already visited this era. They have slightly weedy books on the Huns (*) and the Late Roman Army, and a meatier one on Germanic warriors(*). This well-illustrated volume, however, brings it all together in the kind of strategic and tactical pitfight that fires the imagination and has you downloading the marvelous Total War: Attila.
It also helps that the lively text makes good use of the sources and keeps flagging up the cool stuff; vivid snippets of old histories, stunning archaeological finds, and stirring moments, such as when an old general — Clint Eastwood-like — rides out of his villa to duel marauding Hunnish mercenaries from the army of General Aetius.
So we get what you’d expect: Osprey at its best with a good, readable history of the campaign and its context, biographies of the major players, a description of the armies and how they fought, very vivid and plausible reconstruction of the actual battle, and a good section on the aftermath.
The author makes good and lively use of the sources — including ones I personally hadn’t come across — and throws some light on some very dark places. To top it all, the illustrations bring out the shear mind-blowing scale of the what happened.
Read this book while listening to Turisas, or with the Gladiator soundtrack blaring out. (And, if you are Peter Jackson, please drop me an email. I have a project I’d like to pitch…)
M Harold Page is the sword-wielding author of several gritty Historical Adventure stories such as Shieldwall: Barbarians! and Berserker King. He also penned the slightly nuts time war yarn, Swords vs Tanks (Charles Stross: “Holy ****!”).