The original Huns were a nomadic tribe, probably originating from Mongolia, who, under the leadership of Attila, terrorised the Roman Empire in the mid-5th century, extorting large sums of money with menaces.
Considered by Rome to be the ultimate of all savage ‘Barbarians’, Attila the Hun was referred to as the ‘Scourge of God’. Throughout the Middle Ages, Attila was regularly depicted in art as the antichrist and his army as a horde of demons.
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In the mid-19th century, the Hun was resurrected as an Asiatic foe at the same time the British Empire came to view China as a direct threat. And then, in the early months of World War I, the allies applied the term ‘Hun’ to the forces of Germany and Austro-Hungary in order to conjure up images of a bestial foe.
This can be seen, most notably, in a series of striking ‘Beat Back the Hun’ / ‘Halt the Hun’ posters, designed to persuade the American people to buy war bonds, in which the enemy is shown as a blood-crazed barbarian.