Not only the Germanic peoples but also the central Asian Huns participated in the onslaught on Roman territories. Early in the fifth century the Huns conquered much of central and eastern Europe. Under their domination lived a large collection of German tribes. The Hunnic rulers also extracted tribute money from the Roman emperors of the East at Constantinople. Under their ruler, Attila, the Huns pressed westward, crossed the Rhine, and were defeated in 451 at Chalons in northeastern France by a Roman general. Attila then invaded Italy, where Pope Leo the Great apparently persuaded him to withdraw without attacking Rome.
Like many nomad empires, that of the Huns in central Europe fell apart after the death of its founder in 453. A plague decimated their ranks, and many withdrew into Asia. But other related Asian peoples entered Europe before the age of the barbarian invasions was over: Avars in the sixth century, Bulgars in the sixth and seventh, and Magyars in the ninth. The Magyars eventually set up a state in the Danubian plain, and their descendants still inhabit modern Hungary. As the first distant Asian invaders, the Huns had not only precipitated the invasions of the Germanic tribes but had directly helped to smash Roman influence in central Europe.
Among the German tribes liberated after the collapse of the Hunnic empire, the first to make a major impact were the Ostrogoths (East Goths). They moved into the general disorder left in Italy after the last of the Western emperors, Romulus Augustulus (the little Augustus), was dethroned by his barbarian protector Odovacar in 476. Roman imperial power, however, continued uninterrupted in the East.
Like many other Christianized German tribes, the Ostrogoths were Arians. To the popes and the Italians, they were therefore heretics as well as German foreigners. Although their leader, Theodoric (r. 493-526), hoped to impose the civilization of the Roman Empire upon his Germanic subjects, he did not have enough time to bring about any real assimilation. Moreover, toward the end of his reign, Theodoric became suspicious of the Empire and planned to go to war against Constantinople.
Many other barbarian peoples participated in the breakup of Roman territory and power in the West during the fifth and sixth centuries but failed to found any lasting state. They remain tribal names: Scirae, Suevi, Alamanni, Gepides. There were two other German tribes, however, whose achievements we do remember—the Burgundians, who moved into the valleys of the Rhine and SaOne rivers in Gaul in the 440s and gave their name to a succession of “Burgundies”; and the Franks, from whom France derives its name.