Hot off the presses! A new carnivorous dinosaur from Portugal has been officially named – Torvosaurus gurneyi.
The fact that Torvosaurus came from portugal isn’t a revelation – it was, after all, featured prominently in an episode of the Discovery Channel mini-series Dinosaur Revolution (which I didn’t particularly care for). For years, people have known that there have been megalosaurid dinosaur fossils from Portugal, specifically the Lourinha Formation, which dates to the late Jurassic Period, about 150 million years ago. These fossils were tentatively ascribed to the species Torvosaurus tanneri, known from the Morrison Formation of the USA. However, upon closer examination, there are a few minor differences in the bone structure, so the Portuguese specimens were named Torvosaurus gurneyi, named after the famous paleo-artist James Gurney.
Torvosaurus was one of the last megalosaurid theropods, as they were being replaced by the allosaurids and the coelurosaurids. Torvosaurus and its kind ruled Europe durring the middle and late Jurassic Period. It measured 30-35 feet long, giving Allosaurus a serious run for its money, and possibly weighed somewhere in the realm of four to five tons.
As if this wasn’t news enough, there are some dinosaur embryos from Portugal which might belong to Torvosaurus as well.
For more info, check out the websites listed below:
- SciNews.com. “Torvosaurus gurneyi: New Giant Dinosaur Discovered in Portugal” (March 6, 2014). http://www.sci-news.com/paleontology/science-torvosaurus-gurneyi-giant-dinosaur-portugal-01794.html
- National Geographic Daily News. “Largest Predatory Dinosaur in Europe Found, Was ‘Big Bruiser’”, by Christine Dell’Amore (March 5, 2014). http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140305-dinosaurs-biggest-europe-torvosaurus-gurneyi-animals-science/
- Nature. “Filling the gaps of dinosaur eggshell phylogeny: Late Jurassic theropod clutch with embryos from Portugal”, by Ricardo Araújo et al (May 30, 2013). http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/130530/srep01924/full/srep01924.html
Last year, Trafford Publishing (based in Bloomington, Indiana) published my history book Four Days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg. I am happy to say that my book sales have been steadily rising. In fact, they’ve doubled since the book came out in May 2013! Apparently, my book has become rather popular among the historical crowd. So far, I have not recieved a single bad review on it, a trend which I hope continues. Two people on the British version of Amazon.com said some very nice things about me and the book. Another British writer and historian, whose name I will not mention for reasons of privacy, sent me an e-mail saying that he enjoyed the book very much, and that he especially liked my descriptions and analysis of ancient Germanic tribal politics and customs. I’m also happy to see that my work has been cited and discussed on a couple of popular websites, such as blogs and history forums.
This is what the cover of the book looks like. It’s available in hardcover, softcover, and e-book formats, and is available from all major book retailers, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Recently, I have decided that my Allosaurus color drawing, which I have re-tooled about four or five times and felt so proud of, actually needs to be re-tooled again. I had made that drawing the center focus of one of my blog posts some time ago. Here it is again if you don’t remember it.
One thing that immediately jumps out at me is that the tail is too narrow – there’s just not enough meat on it. I’ve noticed that many paleo-artists who follow what I like to call the “Gregory Paul School” of paleo-art often have their paleo-critters very shrink-wrapped, especially the tails. The tail’s weight needs to be proportionate to the weight of the front half of the animal; a tail that is not thick enough will make the animal front-heavy, and I can safely say that this Allosaurus looks front-heavy.
The second thing that I have a problem with are the lacrimal horns. Those are the rounded projections on the skull just in front of the eyes. Many times, I have seen paleo-artists put these very large or at least prominent fin-like crests on Allosaurus skulls. I have always been loathe to do this, since I am a stickler for sticking to the anatomy. if there aren’t any crests, I don’t put them on. However, when I was volunteering at the American Museum of Natural History (or AMNH as it is commonly abbreviated), I took various photographs of the two allosaurus skeletons that they have on public display. based upon this information, I knew that I needed to redo my drawing. I have decided to include the photographs here for any future reference for any aspiring paleontologist or paleo-artist.
Here is that dynamic running Allosaurus that everyone sees when they come into the entrance hall. I want to to take note of several things. First, look at that beautifully curved neck. Second, look how large the arms are in proportion to the body. Third, look at that enormous Baryonyx-esque thumb claw on each hand. Fourth, notice that the body is a lot more rounded than many artists often show, who make the body appear narrower and flatter.
Here is a close-up of the entrance hall Allosaurus‘ skull. I’m sorry if the picture looks a little fuzzy – I think I jerked the camera when I took the shot. Take note of a couple of things. First, notice that the jaws are strongly U-shaped. Second, the face is pretty much flat on both sides. This animal had absolutely no stereoscopic vision. Third, there does not seem to be any real three-dimensionality to the face – not a whole lot of wrinkles, ridges, and bumps, but almost flat.
I had a lot of trouble finding pictures of Allosaurus hands and arms for my drawing. So here’s one, so that you can get your proportions just right.
Now we move into the Hall of Sauriscian Dinosaurs, located on the fourth floor. This is the room that is always the most crowded, aside from the entrance hall, because here is where the Tyrannosaurus skeleton is located, and seemingly every elementary school child in all of NYC wants to see it. This is the skelton of Allosaurus seen in that hall. You might recognize the pose as being similar to a Charles Knight painting, which has been endlessly copied ever since. The two Allosaurus skeletons in the AMNH are meant to represent two modes of behavior: predator and scavenger. There are two things that I notice right away. First, it’s brown not gray - a rather superficial difference. But what jumps out at me is that the skull is a slightly different shape. The skull used on the skeleton in the entrance hall has an almost flat jawline, producing a rectangular-looking skull – this is the skull that is most commonly seen in museums and in dinosaur anatomy books. However, the skull that you see here has a more curvaceous S-shaped jawline, and the skull appears to be fatter.
Here is another view of the skull (again, sorry if it’s a bit blurry; I really need to work on not jerking the camera).
Here are some various views of that same skull from different perspectives. I took these shots because just having a side view doesn’t really tell me a whole lot of information. Again, you will notice that the skull is flat-faced with no stereoscopic vission. The only way that Allosaurus could see what was directly in front of it was if it cocked its head to the side like a bird so that one of its eyes could see something. Also, look closely at the rounded lacrimal horns. Notice those linear grooves running along the surface. That means that these horns were covered with keratin, the same stuff that your fingernails are made out of. Also, notice that the lacrimal horns are pretty-much in line with the post-orbital bones (the bones behind the eye socket). This would infer that the horns were not as pronounced as I had shown in my drawing.
Lastly, here is another photo of Allosaurus arms. Look at the size of those thumb-claws!
There’s been a lot of talk recently on David Peters’ blog “The Pterosaur Heresies” (http://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/) on early synapsids – vetrebrate tetrapods with one hole in the skull behind the eye. I find this interesting since, as you can tell from the website’s title, Mr. Peters has a particular interest in pterosaurs – those flying Mesozoic reptiles that are often mistaken for dinosaurs.
Another creature that’s often mistaken for a dinosaur is Dimetrodon. If you’re an adult reading this, you may not recognize the name, but you’ll probably know it when you see it. Ask any 6 year old child, and he or she will immediately tell you what one looks like. It measured ten feet long, walked on four legs, had a distinctively-shaped head with almost S-shaped jaws filled with an impressive array of teeth, and its most obvious feature was that it had a huge sail on its back, probably for regulating temperature.
If you want some more detailed info, Dimetrodon, meaning “two long teeth”, was a multi-speciate genus of carnivorous terrestrial synapsid amniote tetrapod, specifically a member of Spenacodontidae, which lived during the early Permian Period.
I can already tell some of you are going “Huh???” Let me see if I can explain this in regular English.
The name Dimetrodon means “two long teeth” in ancient Greek; it does NOT mean “two kinds of teeth” as you will sometimes see in books (then the name would be Dimorphodon, a name which is already used for a pterosaur – a nice David Peters segway there). The name comes from the two impressively long canines that it had on each side of its upper jaw.
Dimetrodon is the genus name; a genus is a group of related species. To be “multi-speciate” means that this particular genus contains many species. Examples of Dimetrodon species include D. grandis, D. limbatus (probably the most common species), and D. milleri. The exact number of Dimetrodon species varies, depending upon who you ask, because some people claim that certain names are invalid. The last time I checked, there were about fifteen or so different species spread out across the Northern Hemisphere from Texas, USA to Germany.
“Carnivorous” means “meat-eating”, and “terrestrial” means “lives on the land”, but I think nearly everybody knew that already.
As stated earlier, a “synapsid” is a group within a larger group of animals called terapods. The word “tetrapod” is Greek for “four feet” – tetrapods are animals which have or at one time had four limbs. These include amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds – wings count as limbs. Even whales amd snakes are considered tetrapods because they are descended from animals which DID have four legs. Tetrapods are further sub-divided into amphibians (frogs, toads, newts, slamanders, etc.) and amniotes. An “amniote” is an animal which reproduces by laying eggs with hard shells which retain moisture. Inside the egg is a fluid-filled membrane called the amnion or amnios, which helps keep the developing embryo inside hydrated. While amphibians must lay their eggs in water to keep them moist, amniotes have the freedom of laying their eggs on dry land.
Amniotes are broadly catagorized into four groups depending upon how many holes they have in their skulls behind the eye socket and where those holes are:
1) Anapsid – Greek for “no opening”; aside from the nostril and the eye socket, there are no other holes in the skull.
2) Synapsid – “fused opening”; one hole behind each eye, positioned low. All mammals, including humans, are synapsids.
3) Euryapsid - ”wide opening”, one hole behind each eye, positioned high. Includes marine reptiles like nothosaurs, plesiosaurs, and ichthyosaurs. All euryapsids became extinct at the end of the Mesozoic Era along with the dinosaurs. NOTE: I’ve heard that the term “euryapsid” is technically paraphyletic, meaning that it’s an artificial group composed of many different kinds of animals that aren’t actually related to each other. But determining whether or not a group is paraphyletic is a subject for another day, and I won’t get into it here.
4) Diapsid – “two openings”; there are two holes in the skull behind each eye socket. Dinosaurs were diapsids.
Dimetrodon belongs to the synapsid group of amniotes, the one which includes mammals and the ancestors of mammals. So, in an extreme way, Dimetrodon is our great-great-great-great-great-great-geeat (and so on) ancestor!
In terms of how many groups of synapsids there were/are, there were/are many. One of them was a group called the “pelycosaurs” – you will often see Dimetrodon being referred to by this group. The pelycosaurs first appeared at the end of the Carboniferous Period about 300 million years ago, but they really became dominant during the early part of the Permian Period, about 280 million years ago. There were many different species, but the ones which grab everyone’s attention are the sail-backed ones, like Dimetrodon and Edaphosaurus.
The pelycosaurs were divided into four groups, and one of them was called Sphenacodontidae; the various geni that compose this group are generically referred to as “sphenacodonts”. Dimetrodon was a sphenacodont.
There, understand now?
Dimetrodon is often mistaken for a dinosaur merely because it’s prehistoric and looks dinosaur-ish. I want to show you a picture to see what I mean – it’s a pencil drawing by Vladimir Nikolov made in 2010. I’m not going to put the picture here because I don’t have permission from the original artist to publish it here. The picture is found on DeviantArt, but a word of caution – DeviantArt is known to have viruses, so I would highly suggest that instead of clicking on the link, you would instead google the image ”Dimetrodon grandis Vladimir Nikolov”, and see what picture pops up in your search results.
It’s a very good picture, nicely done from an artistic standpoint. I like the fact that, unlike the vast majority of paleo-artists out there, this person chose to show Dimetrodon in an active Komodo Dragon style way, rather than dragging its belly using four very scrawney limp legs. I also like the color scheme.
But there are three problems with this picture. First, I don’t think that Dimetrodon had scales of any sort. I read somewhere that preserved skin specimens actually show that it had tough leathery hide. But then again, if Dimetrodon really was a very ancient proto-mammal, you wouldn’t expect it to have scales, right? Second, he says it’s supposed to be Dimetrodon grandis, but based upon the shape of its skull, it looks more like a Dimetrodon limbatus to me – that’s the species that you’re going to see on display in most museums. Third, which is I think the most serious, Dimetrodon didn’t actually have a neck! If you were to look at any of the hundreds of Dimetrodon skeletons which are on display all over the world, you will very quickly notice that their skulls seem to be bolted directly onto their shoulders with no neck in between.
Now that I think about it, there are many examples of land-dwelling tetrapods from the Carboniferous and Permian Periods which do not have necks, especially the pelycosaurs. I’ve seen skeletons of many pelycosaurs, either in real life or images in books and on websites, and I can safely say that NONE OF THEM HAD NECKS!!!
The absence of a neck must have had some very peculiar effects on how these animals moved and especially how they ate. A neck is a wonderful thing. A neck is a flexible apparatus which enables the creature which has it to do several things:
1) The neck contains the vocal cords. The vocal cords attached to the larynx of a longer neck will likely produce different sounds than a shorter neck.
2) The neck enables the head to move without moving the body. A head can twist and turn to see and to find food while the body can remain motionless.
3) Connected to #2, a neck enables the head to have a wide range of movement during the actual process of feeding. A carnivorous animal can chomp down on a carcas, and then twist and turn its neck so that its head can wrench off a large chunk of meat.
There’s no denying that Dimetrodon had some very impressive choppers – after all, it’s named after its teeth. It also had a very large solidly-built head in proportion to its body size, which must have given it a very hefty bite. However, the absence of a neck must have meant that it fed in a certain way. It could not attack the way that meat-eating theropod dinosaurs could with their elegant S-shaped necks, nor could they even attack the way that lizards or even crocodilians (who also have short necks) could. Even crocodilians have longer necks than Dimetrodon and its Paleozoic contemporaries. Due to its large sail, a Dimetrodon certainly couldn’t “death roll” the way that a crocodile can (watch any episode of The Crocodile Hunter to find out what a “death roll” is).
Dimetrodon could probaby swing its head from side-to-side reasonably well to a certain degree, but it would have had limited up-down flexibility, maybe just enough to flick its head back a bit and gulp a piece of meat down. If Dimetrodon had a free fully-mobile tongue the way that some reptiles and mammals do like us, then swallowing food would be easier. However, if it had a fixed tongue like fish, amphibians, and crocodilians, then it would have to rely on flinging the food into the back of the mouth in order to swallow it.
Here’s how I hypothesize Dimetrodon fed. I think that once it got its jaws firmly into something, it either shook its head from side-to-side like a shark, or it could have braced its meat with its front paws and then pulled its entire body backwards, thus pulling a piece of flesh off of its prey. This would be an example of “puncture and pull” feeding. It certainly did not have the necessary head mobility or the height to enable it to do “hatchet attack” feeding, where the jaws are stretched as wide open as they can possibly get and then the upper jaw is literally slammed downwards onto the prey like a guillotine.
I am not particularly inclined to engineering, physics, or mathematics, so somebody out there has to do a 3D computer model study on skull and neck mechanics in order to replicate how Dimetrodon and its neckless ilk might have eaten. However, based upon observations of the bones alone and looking at how modern animals feed, I’m pretty sure that this is how the neckless wonders of the late Paleozoic would have eaten.
Once again, I’ve noticed that a switch from paleontology to history-related material has resulted in my website views taking a nosedive. So, to appease the public, I am putting more prehistoric stuff on here.
Allow me to introduce Megalneusaurus. This creature was a large 25-foot marine reptile which lived in the Pacific Ocean along North America’s western coast as well in as the shallow Sundance Sea, which covered much of north-central North America, during the late Jurassic, approximately 155 MYA. It was a member of a group of animals called the pliosaurs, whose most famous members consisted of Kronosaurus and Liopleurodon.
So far, the only evidence that we have of this creature is what might be a single fragmentary skeleton discovered towards the end of the 19th Century consisting of some vertebrae, one flipper, a few ribs, and most of the pelvis. In 2007, scientists published a report in which they re-discovered the original locality where these bones were uncovered. Among the finds found were the stomach contents, consisting of the remains of belemnites – primitive squid-like creatures.
Since a complete or even reasonably-complete specimen of Megalneusaurus has not been found, paleo-artists have a slight degree of elbow room in terms of how this animal looked in life. This drawing is heavily-based upon an old and inaccurate illustration of a Liopleurodon skeleton from the 1960s(http://plesiosauria.com/images/line_drawings/liopleurodon2_newman&tarlo.jpg). Firstly, Liopleurodon’s skull was actually a bit flatter than shown in that drawing. It also had more teeth in its jaws – the old illustration shows only the front teeth. Finally, and most obviously, it is depicted with a short somewhat triangular tail fin. I kept the head’s structure more or less as it was, put more teeth in the jaws, and made the tail fin diamond-shaped to make it more symmetrical. It’s unknown whether or not pliosaurs like Megalneusaurus actually had a tail fin, but I kept it here since it looked interesting. Besides, until a couple of years ago, no one would have guessed that mosasaurs like Prognathodon would have had shark-like tail fins, but there you go, that’s paleontology for you.
Check out the two websites below for more information on this creature:
It has recently occured to me that this year marks a number of anniversaries for important events. Here are just a few of them…
1214 – 700 year anniversary of the Battle of Bouvines, one of the most important battles of the Middle Ages.
1764 – 250th anniversary of…
- The first taxes passed by Britain on the Thirteen Colonies, which would eventually lead to the Revolutionary War.
- The end of Pontiac’s Rebellion.
- The city of St. Louis (Missouri) is established by the French.
1814 – 200th anniversary of…
- The first defeat and exile of Napoleon.
- Various battles from the War of 1812.
- “The Star Spangled Banner”, which would later become the USA’s national anthem, is written by Francis Scott Key.
1839 – 175th anniversary of…
- The first photograph of the moon is taken.
- The Amistad Rebellion.
- The First Anglo-Afghan War.
- Charles Goodyear invents the vulcanization process for rubber.
1864 – 150th anniversary of
- Various Civil War battles, such as Yellow Tavern, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and the Wilderness.
- Nevada becomes the 36th state in the USA.
1914 – 100th anniversary of…
- The first Mother’s Day.
- The beginning of World War I.
1964 – 50th anniversary of…
- The first Beatles album is released in the United States.
- The Rolling Stones release their first self-titled album.
- The first episode of the TV gameshow Jeopardy.
- The beginning of the Vietnam War.
1974 – 40th anniversary of…
- Stephen King publishes the novel Carrie.
- The Turks invade Cyprus.
- The discovery of “Lucy” a specimen of Australopithecus, an early ancestor of humans.
- The invention of the Rubik’s Cube.
1984 – 30th anniversary of…
- President Ronald Reagan calls for an international ban on all chemical weapons.
- US scientists announce that they have discovered a new sickness called AIDS.
- The anti-nuclear film Threads.
1989 – 25th anniversary of…
- The Gulf of Sidra Incident.
- The death of Emperor Hirohito of Japan.
- The Soviet-Afghan War ends.
- The Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill.
- The fall of the Berlin Wall, marking the unofficial end of the Cold War.
- The Tiananmen Square protests / shootings in China.
- The shipwreck of the Bismarck, sunk during WWII, is found.
1994 – 20th anniversary of…
- The Rwandan Genocide.
- The death of Nirvana frontman and guitar player Kurt Cobain.
- The opening of the Channel Tunnel.
- Nelson Mandella becomes South Africa’s first black president.
- The Disney film The Lion King.
2004 – 10th anniversary of…
- Facebook is created.
- The terrorist bombings in Madrid, Spain.
- Massachusetts legalizes same-sex marriage.
- The 2004 tsunami, which destroyed coastal areas of India and Southeast Asia, and is estimated to have killed close to 230,000 people within the span of a few hours.
Flavius Gaudentius Aetius (395-454 AD) was a Roman general famous as the arch enemy of Attila the Hun, but he was a lot more than that.
Flavius Gaudentius Aetius was born in 395 AD, the son of a German general named Gaudentius and a prominent Roman noblewoman named Aurelia. He was born in the town of Durostulum (modern-day Silistra, Bulgaria), not far from the Danube River in the province of Moesia, which corresponds roughly to modern-day Bulgaria. General Gaudentius was a splendid cavalryman and fought alongside Emperor Theodosius I against Eugenius. Gaudentius was awarded the office “Master of the Cavalry” and was later made Count of Africa, but he was killed in Gaul when his soldiers mutinied against him.
Very little is known about Flavius Aetius as a youngster. Sometime in the early 400s, possibly 417 or 418, Aetius had a formative experience in his life. That year, the Hunnic chieftain known variously as Rua, Ruhas, or Rugila – Attila’s uncle and foster parent (his father had been dead, possibly killed, by this time) - took Aetius under his care during a hostage exchange program between the Romans and the Huns. Rua trades his nephew Attila to Rome, and in exchange the Huns got Aetius. While boy who would one day be known as the Scourge of God was in the Eternal City, Aetius spent a year in the company of the Huns, learning their language and customs, and gaining a deep appreciation for them.
We know a lot more about Flavius Aetius from 420 onwards. That year, he was made a general and awarded the office of Commander of the Armies of Gaul, replacing Gen. Bonifacius. Two years later in 422, Aetius married Carpillia, the daughter of a prominent statesman named Carpillo. She would give birth to a son, also named Carpillo, but she would die not long afterwards.
In September 423 AD, following the death of Emperor Honorius, Emperor of the Western Roman Empire (the Roman empire had been split into Western and Eastern halves at the end of the 300s), Honorius’ chief secretary named Joannes usurped the throne – General Aetius and General Flavius Castinus, Supreme Military Commander, supported him. Although Joannes was more capable than his predecessor, Theodosius II, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, refused to acknowledge Joannes as a legitimate ruler, and assembled an army to out Joannes from power and to instate Honorius’ son Prince Valentinian on the Western throne. The West was short on manpower, and so Aetius decided to contact an old friend – Chief Rua, whom he had known years ago. Rua agreed to help Aetius and sent 60,000 Hunnic warriors to Aetius’ aid. In 425, Theodosius’ Eastern army attacked Italy. Alas, Aetius and his 60,000 Hunnic mercenaries were too late – Joannes had been captured and executed three days earlier. For his role in Joannes’ rebellion, Aetius was exiled to Hunnic territory, while the Huns were given a large pile of money and told to never come back. Interestingly, it seems that Aetius was allowed to keep his title as Commander of the Armies of Gaul – he may have been stripped, but I have not found any record of anyone replacing him.
In 427 AD, Aetius was recalled from his exile in order to defend Gaul from attacks by the Visigoths and the Franks. Once again, he enlisted the help of many Huns to augment his army. He emerged victorious, ad was promoted to the office of Commander of the Western Armies. Later that year, he is ordered to fight against another general, Bonifacius – the man that he had earlier replaced as the chief military officer in Gaul, and who now acted as Commander of the Armies of Africa. The imperial government suspected that Bonifacius was up to no good, and so Aetius gathered an army and sent it out to fight him; Aetius himself did not command the army, but merely organized it. This army was defeated by Bonifacius, and so a second army was sent against him. This one had much more success, which led to Bonifacius asking a Germanic people called the Vandals for help, which in turn led to the Vandal invasion and conquest of North Africa.
Meanwhile back in Europe, the Visigoths were on the move. At the Battle of Arles, Aetius checked their advance and drove them back to their lands in southern Gaul. It was around this time that the imperial government discovered that the current supreme military commander, Gen. Flavius Felix, was the real enemy, not Bonifacius. Felix was stripped of his title and Aetius was now named Supreme Military Commander. His first assignment was to strengthen the Rhine border against German attacks, then he had Felix assassinated along with a few of his closest supporters.
In 430 AD, once again with help from the Huns, Aetius defeated the Juthungi tribe which dwelt in southern Germania. The following year in 431, he attacked the Franks, but this was ended in a draw. In 432, Flavius Aetius was appointed as a Senatorial consul. Also during that year, with the war against the Vandals in North Africa going badly, the imperial government decided to make Bonifacius the new Supreme Military Commander in the hope that he would use his increased power to bring more military force to bear upon the Vandals. However, Aetius refused to relinquish his position, and so a civil war erupted with both generals attacking each other. A few miles outside of the Italian city of Ariminium (modern-day Rimini), Aetius’ army was defeated but Bonifacius was severely wounded. He died a few months later. One of Bonifacius’ relatives tried to have Aetius assassinated. fearing for his life, Aetius sought shelter among his Hunnic friends. However, Chief Rua wanted something in exchange for his help – land, specifically the province of Pannonia Valeria, which sat next to his tribe’s territory. Acquiring this land would put Rua in control of both sides of the Danube River. Aetius made a deal and used Rua’s Huns to fight against Bonifacius’ supporters. Faced with this threat, the imperial government relented, declared that Aetius would remain as Supreme Military Commander, and ceded control of Pannonia Valeria to the Huns. To seal the deal, Aetius also submitted his own son Carpillo as a peace hostage to Chief Rua.
In 433, Aetius was made a member of the patrician class and he got married again, this time to Pelagia, the widow of his rival Gen. Bonifacius. She would bear a son, who was named Gaudentius.
In 436, Aetius once again called on the Huns for help; the Burgundians, who controlled both sides of the Rhine River, were causing havoc for Roman settlements in that area and needed to be brought into subjection. However, Aetius’ old ally Chief Rua had recently died. Replacing him were his two nephews Bleda and Attila, who acted as joint-rulers. Attila agreed to lead the Hunnic contingent in their attack on the Burgundians who inhabited the Gallic side of the Rhine. For Attila, it was personal – the Burgundians had killed his uncle Octar six years earlier. At the Battle of Worms, the Burgundians were soundly thrashed, suffering 20,000 dead, including their chief Gundicar. However, Attila and his Huns went on a rampage through Burgundian territory, and in the end the Romans, who had earlier been attacking the Burgundians, wer now compelled to act as their saviors. The survivors and refugees were brought into southern Gaul. This war would become the foundation for the Niebelungenlied, one of the greatest works of Medieval german literature.
The years which followed were rather hectic for Aetius. In 437 AD, Flavius Aetius was once again made a Senatorial consul. The following year, Aetius was sent to fight the Armorican rebels led by Tibatto. At first, it did not go well. The following year in 439, Aetius gained the upper hand, defeating thee Armoricans and capturing their leader, who was executed. Shortly after this, he once again attacked the Visigoths, and was recalled to Italy to prepare defenses against a possible Vandal invasion, which never came. The real threat would come from the northeast, not the southwest. In 441 AD, Attila the Hun launched his first campaign against the Romans. Aetius did nothing to stop them. In 442 AD, the Armoricans rebelled again, and Aetius defeated them once again. In 443, Attila launched a second more massive campaign against the Romans, and once again Aetius did nothing. In 445, the Armoricans rebelled a third time. Not wanting to be bothered, he sent a group of Alanic warriors to fight them instead. In 446, Aetius was made a Senatorial consul (the third time he held this post). In 448, Aetius again fought against the Franks.
On November 30, 450 AD, the Frankish chieftain died and his two surviving sons fought over control of the throne. Attila supported the older brother and Aetius supported the younger. Then, Aetius made a big mistake and officially adopted the younger of the Frankish princes as his own son. If Attila were to go to war against the young prince and his supported, he would also be attacking Aetius, and in doing so, he would be attacking Rome. it is possible that Attila had been wanting to attack the Western Empire for some time, and now he had his pretext. Attila began his march westward, and by the time he reached the Rhine, he might have possessed an army numbering half a million men. Attila’s Gallic campaign in the spring of 451 AD was drenched with blood and fire. Finally, on June 20, 451 AD, Attila was defeated by Aetius at the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields – the only time that these two men directly fought against each other. Casualty estimates vary, but a common number that is bandied about is 300,000 dead, which would make it the single most destructive battle in world history until WWII. Attila was forced to withdraw back to his home base near the Danube. Amazingly, Aetius did not finish Attila off, although it is possible that his own force was too weak to press the attack further.
The following year in 452, Attila launched a second campaign, this time on northern Italy. In June, Pope Leo convinced Attila to turn around and head back home. The Italian campaign was the last one that Attila would fight – he died the next year in 453 AD. Attila’s empire, which took the better part of twenty years to build, began to unravel and splinter apart almost immediately.
Flavius Aetius would follow him shortly afterwards. On September 21, 454 AD, Aetius was assassinated inside the imperial palace on Emperor Valentinianus III’s orders.
The two illustrations that you see below are portraits that I did of Flavius Aetius, one in pencil and the other colorized with markers, that I made when I was a freshman in college. I admit that the armor, especially the helmets, are not accurate for the time period that I’m trying to represent, but I didn’t know any better at the time. Maybe one day I’ll make a revised, more historically accurate version.
Enjoy and keep your pencils sharp.