Battle of the Catalaunian Plains: Theodoric survives, Attila dies

This is kind of a double-barrelled POD, with the first leading to the second.

During the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, Theodoric, King of the Visigoths (i.e. not Theodoric the Great, who was born shortly afterwards) was slain unbeknownst to his men during a charge, and his son Thorismund was told by Aëtius to consolidate his troops and go home to secure his succession instead of chasing the retreating Huns.

Motivations for Aëtius doing so range from pure avarice (wanting to keep all the battlefield phat l00tz) to political acumen (as long as the Huns were around the Visigoths could be held to their alliance with Rome.)

Earlier in the battle, Thorismund had also blundered into Attila's camp, nearly getting himself surrounded by Huns until his men broke him out.

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So, what if Theodoric was still alive and his son's survival was hence not super crucial (I mean, it's still important but the king's still there), and the Visigoths press their advantage and achieve a decisive breakthrough into Attila's bivouac?

Ancient sources (Jordanes?) state that Attila had heaped spare saddles into a massive pyre and was ready to self-immolate if the Romano-Gothic forces did actually break through, so let's say they do and he dies an appropriately metal death.

What are the immediate and long-term outcomes? I can see these possibilities for the Huns, the Romans and the Visigoths:
  • The Huns are screwed. The battle was a tactical draw but a strategic defeat in OTL, and there's no way to spin this any way but worse ITTL. The Huns barely stayed unified a year after Attila's death in OTL, and they'll probably break up even faster now.
  • The Romans aren't looking great either even if Attila is defeated this early, given that the anti-Hun alliance will soon become invalid and the migration waves will continue unabated without Hunnic territory acting as a "buffer" or "stopgap". It's not like OTL Western Rome was in a particularly good spot after Chalons, given how Aëtius couldn't stop Attila from breaking into Italy later. Speaking of which, Aëtius's job security is now a lot less secure...
  • The Visigoths may break from Rome earlier than OTL and consolidate their gains in Spain, but would they do so under Theodoric's leadership, or would Hispania be spared by a generation?
That's all I've got for now. Let me know what you guys think!
 
Speaking of which, Aëtius's job security is now a lot less secure...
This was the first thing that came to my mind. Though, thinking about it, Aetius is certainly smart enough to recognize this. Whereas IOTL he probably thought he still had more leverage and job security than he actually did (and to be fair to him, given the situation, it's perfectly reasonable for him to have believed that. Unfortunately, Valentinian was not a reasonable person), here he's probably intimately aware of his vulnerability in court. Perhaps he decides to strike first before Valentinian can strike at him, and makes a move to find a suitable puppet replacement-his son Gaudentius, recently betrothed to Galla Placidia, would make a fine candidate.

The Visigoths may break from Rome earlier than OTL and consolidate their gains in Spain, but would they do so under Theodoric's leadership, or would Hispania be spared by a generation?
This rests entirely on the political situation in Rome. If, as above, Aetius is able to move quickly and re-solidify his hold on the empire, then I don't think the Goths will break away. He can make accommodations to Theodoric in the short term, and it's also true that Theodoric has to tread just as carefully without the Huns. Aetius has far less restrictions on his ability to attempt to bring the Goths in line should they try and revolt now that the larger threat of Attila is gone. Also, without any centralized Hunnic state, Aetius may be able to draw on Hunnic mercenaries again from outside the empire (especially given they'll be in need of employment once their empire collapses) as he was able to do before Attila. In any case, it's in both of their interests, I think, to reach some sort of understanding. On the other hand, if Aetius gets offed as per OTL, then Theodoric will definitely take advantage of the resultant political instability.
 
That's all I've got for now. Let me know what you guys think!

I remembered how in OTL one of Attila's sons was defeated by the (Eastern) Romans and beheaded. His head on a pike was paraded in Constantinople and placed in a circus for everybody to see. It was a great joy for the crowds.

And I imagined Attila's head on a pike in Rome in ATL. That would have been a fascinating show.
Aëtius would have got an immense prestige in the Roman world if Attila had been killed in battle.
And he might have capitalized his success the way SlyDessertFox said.
 
Sorry, Gaudentius wasn't betrothed to Placidia until 454, shortly before Aetius's death. Still would make a good candidate.
If Gaudentius is considered "too barbarian", Avitus is also available, and might be able to avoid his OTL boneheadedness with Aëtius is still around at this point. His relations with the Visigoths were also good in OTL, which is a nice bonus.

Reading more, it seems like Avitus's sons were also pretty competent, which might give an Aëtius-backed regime a bit more of a lease on life as long as Majorian can be contained.
 
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If Gaudentius is considered "too barbarian", Avitus is also available, and might be able to avoid his OTL boneheadedness with Aëtius is still around at this point. His relations with the Visigoths were also good in OTL, which is a nice bonus.
Avitus makes a good second in command, but I'm not sure he makes a good emperor if Aetius is trying to find someone he can control.



Assuming Aetius successfully secures his succession in one form or another, he's going to be doing a flurry of campaigning-even if there will be no full blown revolts, there will be some grumblings in Gaul to deal with, and of course the situation in Spain that was allowed to get out of hand in the 440s has to be rectified. All this, I assume would be a lead up to an invasion of Africa. Though this brings us to another issue-Marcian did not seem all that inclined towards providing hard military support to the western half of the empire, but he did do a lot in the first few years of the 450s to get the east's finances in great shape. So to procure any eastern support, I imagine Marcian has to kick the bucket a few years earlier.
 
Assuming Aetius successfully secures his succession in one form or another, he's going to be doing a flurry of campaigning-even if there will be no full blown revolts, there will be some grumblings in Gaul to deal with, and of course the situation in Spain that was allowed to get out of hand in the 440s has to be rectified. All this, I assume would be a lead up to an invasion of Africa. Though this brings us to another issue-Marcian did not seem all that inclined towards providing hard military support to the western half of the empire, but he did do a lot in the first few years of the 450s to get the east's finances in great shape. So to procure any eastern support, I imagine Marcian has to kick the bucket a few years earlier.
Aëtius has several sets of problems to deal with here, once he delivers Attila's (extra-crispy barbecued) head on a pike.
  1. The rivalry of Petronius Maximus
    • In OTL this was the most immediate concern, and obviously the one that killed Aëtius. Total strategic victory and destruction of the Huns is bound to launch Aëtius's star even higher than OTL, and Petronius Maximus's envy is probably going to be worse than ever. Aëtius in OTL remained oblivious to Petronius's hate-boner and that's what did him in. However, this may not be such a huge issue if he handles the second problem adeptly enough.
  2. The paranoia of Valentinian III
    • For all of Petronius's scheming, it wouldn't have worked if Valentinian III wasn't such a rube. The greater Roman victory ITTL, especially all the credit (desired or otherwise) going to Aëtius, will also probably escalate Valentian's envy as well. It might be wise for Aëtius to drop the whole Gaudentius idea altogether, and suggest someone easily manipulated. Olybrius was considered as a husband to Placidia shortly after Aëtius bit it (but his ascendancy to the throne was delayed until 472), and OTL shows that he could keep the seat warm for the next two decades if need be; Anthemius is another possibility, but might be too sympathetic to the Eastern court.
    • This, of course, leads to the paradox of the issue: as long as Valentinian III is Emperor, Aëtius will have a cloud of suspicion over his head, but any direct move against Valentinian will confirm it. I feel that it's in Aëtius's best interest to drop the Gaudentius proposal, which will just provide further pretexts for Petronius's plots, and marry him off to Avitus's daughter Papianilla instead (this butterflies Sidonius Apollinarius's career significantly.)
    • The issue then is how to sideline Valentinian, and it's not an easy one. He's only 35 at this point and there's no real reason for public opinion to turn against him, especially since the Romans have won their greatest battle in a generation. Thoughts on this would be deeply appreciated.
  3. Keeping Avitus and the Visigoths on the Romans' side
    • This isn't too much of an issue in the short term as both of them remained on good terms with Aëtius and Avitus's only major problems were too much sympathy with the Gauls and lack of acceptance from the Eastern court, both of which aren't problems as long as Avitus is kept in Gaul and Olybrius or another puppet is raised to the throne.
    • However, the Visigoths are effectively free from their contract. If it doesn't leave too bad a taste in the Roman mouths, Theodoric might be enticed to rule all of Spain in the name of the Western court, possibly even getting named patricius as a sweetener. It's tricky, but if Thorismund survives the Gothic court intrigue whenever Theodoric dies a natural death, a long-term basis for Visigothic friendship might be established, possibly providing a separate base for operations into Africa against the Vandals.
  4. Rapprochement with Majorian
    • This is a longer-term issue, but still an important one. Majorian's entire career got derailed due to Aëtius and his Gaudentius proposal, and as we know in OTL, Majorian was capable of great energy and initiative. I was considering proposing him earlier on instead of Olybrius, but would Aëtius be ready to do a 180 so easily? Even so, if Aëtius offered, would Majorian accept? I could see Aëtius coming around later to promote Majorian to lead the African invasion force, but it's something that he'll need to keep on his mind if he wants to keep his head.
  5. The future
    • Even if Valentinian III comes round to trust Aëtius or drops mysteriously dead of a nosebleed a couple of years after the Catalaunian Plains and either Olybrius or Anthemius comes to the throne, what's next? As @SlyDessertFox suggests, the next logical step is reclaiming Africa, something which also requires the Visigoths to stay on board to maximise its success. Will Marcian the legendary skinflint help? It's much more likely with Anthemius than Olybrius, but will that be enough to get his co-operation and ensure the success of the African operation?
    • Even so, how secure is Gaudentius once Aëtius pops his clogs naturally? Can Avitus remain competent enough for Aëtius' vision to come to reality? What about Majorian?
 
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Alright, so a bare bones idea has come together in my head:

  • The rivalry of Petronius Maximus
    • In OTL this was the most immediate concern, and obviously the one that killed Aëtius. Total strategic victory and destruction of the Huns is bound to launch Aëtius's star even higher than OTL, and Petronius Maximus's envy is probably going to be worse than ever. Aëtius in OTL remained oblivious to Petronius's hate-boner and that's what did him in. However, this may not be such a huge issue if he handles the second problem adeptly enough.
  • The paranoia of Valentinian III
    • For all of Petronius's scheming, it wouldn't have worked if Valentinian III wasn't such a rube. The greater Roman victory ITTL, especially all the credit (desired or otherwise) going to Aëtius, will also probably escalate Valentian's envy as well. It might be wise for Aëtius to drop the whole Gaudentius idea altogether, and suggest someone easily manipulated. Olybrius was considered as a husband to Placidia shortly after Aëtius bit it (but his ascendancy to the throne was delayed until 472), and OTL shows that he could keep the seat warm for the next two decades if need be; Anthemius is another possibility, but might be too sympathetic to the Eastern court.
    • This, of course, leads to the paradox of the issue: as long as Valentinian III is Emperor, Aëtius will have a cloud of suspicion over his head, but any direct move against Valentinian will confirm it. I feel that it's in Aëtius's best interest to drop the Gaudentius proposal, which will just provide further pretexts for Petronius's plots, and marry him off to Avitus's daughter Papianilla instead (this butterflies Sidonius Apollinarius's career significantly.)
    • The issue then is how to sideline Valentinian, and it's not an easy one. He's only 35 at this point and there's no real reason for public opinion to turn against him, especially since the Romans have won their greatest battle in a generation. Thoughts on this would be deeply appreciated.
Both of these birds can be killed with one stone, I think. Aetius can remain oblivious to the knives being drawn for him until a plot is fully formed. Unlike IOTL however, someone warns Aetius of an attempt on his life and he acts-Maximus and his allies are arrested, and Valentinian meets an accident. I'm not sure how senatorial opinion in Rome reacts to this, but an immediate problem becomes any potential reaction from the east. Enter Anthemius, brother in law to Marcian as a good placeholder that Aetius can propose to prevent any retaliation from Marcian. Here his close ties to the eastern court work as a positive (see below). Which leads to...

The future
  • Even if Valentinian III comes round to trust Aëtius or drops mysteriously dead of a nosebleed a couple of years after the Catalaunian Plains and either Olybrius or Anthemius comes to the throne, what's next? As @SlyDessertFox suggests, the next logical step is reclaiming Africa, something which also requires the Visigoths to stay on board to maximise its success. Will Marcian the legendary skinflint help? It's much more likely with Anthemius than Olybrius, but will that be enough to get his co-operation and ensure the success of the African operation?
Marcian providing some military assistance as part of the deal for accepting Anthemius on the western throne. Marcian doesn't have to provide much-a moderate force together with a naval detachment would suffice, but it would probably be enough.
Rapprochement with Majorian
  • This is a longer-term issue, but still an important one. Majorian's entire career got derailed due to Aëtius and his Gaudentius proposal, and as we know in OTL, Majorian was capable of great energy and initiative. I was considering proposing him earlier on instead of Olybrius, but would Aëtius be ready to do a 180 so easily? Even so, if Aëtius offered, would Majorian accept? I could see Aëtius coming around later to promote Majorian to lead the African invasion force, but it's something that he'll need to keep on his mind if he wants to keep his head.
This is tough, I think. Majorian's career is pretty much put on hold until Aetius bites the dust (which in any case need not be that long, Aetius was in his 60s. He might just want to bide his time). Certainly I don't think Aetius will place him in command of a large army even if they reconcile-that's just too risky.


Aetius himself seems to be the major obstacle to any stability after his death.
 
Alright, so a bare bones idea has come together in my head:

Both of these birds can be killed with one stone, I think. Aetius can remain oblivious to the knives being drawn for him until a plot is fully formed. Unlike IOTL however, someone warns Aetius of an attempt on his life and he acts-Maximus and his allies are arrested, and Valentinian meets an accident. I'm not sure how senatorial opinion in Rome reacts to this, but an immediate problem becomes any potential reaction from the east. Enter Anthemius, brother in law to Marcian as a good placeholder that Aetius can propose to prevent any retaliation from Marcian. Here his close ties to the eastern court work as a positive (see below). Which leads to...

Marcian providing some military assistance as part of the deal for accepting Anthemius on the western throne. Marcian doesn't have to provide much-a moderate force together with a naval detachment would suffice, but it would probably be enough.

This is tough, I think. Majorian's career is pretty much put on hold until Aetius bites the dust (which in any case need not be that long, Aetius was in his 60s. He might just want to bide his time). Certainly I don't think Aetius will place him in command of a large army even if they reconcile-that's just too risky.

Aetius himself seems to be the major obstacle to any stability after his death.
Good pointers, thanks!

I guess Olybrius as emperor would be a step in the wrong direction, given that puppet emperors were simply a spiralling staircase down to the deposition of Augustulus by Odoacer, with a large helping of Ricimer along the way.

Essentially, accelerating Anthemius's rise and skipping over the speed-bumps that were Petronius Maximus and Avitus is key here. I still feel that Placidia's a bit of a loose end, and it may as well be a safe choice like Olybrius, if only to avoid rousing Valentinian's suspicions too early.

That said, I was going to argue that there's a good two years of TTL between Attila's death and Petronius Maximus's plots but then again there's nothing really stopping Petronius from being such a piece of crap. It still seems like too much of a cheat in terms of parallelism to have Valentinian's downfall be caused by that, still. What allies did Aëtius have in Rome?

Agreed on Majorian, maybe he could do a Constantius II and just forgive Majorian on his deathbed and suggest to Anthemius to make him magister militum post-haste. That leaves Gaudentius as a loose end, although between the two I'd put my denarius on Majorian.
 
I guess Olybrius as emperor would be a step in the wrong direction, given that puppet emperors were simply a spiralling staircase down to the deposition of Augustulus by Odoacer, with a large helping of Ricimer along the way.
Yes, the long term goal here is putting a capable figure in the imperial office. Which, given the relative age of everyone involved-Aetius and Avitus being (in Avitus's case, possibly older) in their late 50s and 60s makes Majorian an almost ideal candidate in virtually every respect. Alternatively, Aegidius is someone we haven't mentioned yet-he was also another Aetius subbordinate who also had ties with Majorian and was to the Franks what Avitus was to the Goths. And of course he has a capable son, Syagrius.



That said, I was going to argue that there's a good two years of TTL between Attila's death and Petronius Maximus's plots but then again there's nothing really stopping Petronius from being such a piece of crap. It still seems like too much of a cheat in terms of parallelism to have Valentinian's downfall be caused by that, still. What allies did Aëtius have in Rome?
I wonder if Aetius could just putter along for a few extra years, long enough to attempt to bring Africa back under the fold while Valentinian remains in power. Valentinian seems to have been interested in ridding himself of Aetius as soon as Attila was no longer a threat though, and I don't see why he still wouldn't do so here, with or without Petronius. Really Aetius's one trump card protecting him has been the Huns since well before Attila, but unlike earlier he has no real rival for the army's admiration. It's really a pickle.

I'm not sure what allies he had in Rome, his support base was primarily just the army (a lot like Stilicho in this respect, though I imagine he was far less hated in Rome than Stilicho was).

Agreed on Majorian, maybe he could do a Constantius II and just forgive Majorian on his deathbed and suggest to Anthemius to make him magister militum post-haste. That leaves Gaudentius as a loose end, although between the two I'd put my denarius on Majorian.
A thought. Looking at Anthemius, he raises his own problems. He has two adult sons, but IOTL at least one of them was killed in battle by the Visigoths and the other failed miserably in his attempt to overthrow Zeno (gotta admire that man, dude's a survivor) so they don't seem to be the most competent bunch.
 
@SlyDessertFox looking at their bios both of Anthemius's sons seem to have been victims of circumstance more than anything. With legitimacy from both Aëtius and Marcian they should get on a bit better.

That said, we seem to be outlining the best-case scenario for Aëtius and by extension the WRE here. What's the worst it can get for both of them while maximising fun and profit for the Visigoths? Can they take this chance to wipe out the Ostrogoth threat and break from Rome too?
 
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