He was the son of Gaudentius, who, although possibly of barbarian family, rose in the service of the Western empire to be master of the horse, and later count of Africa. Aetius passed some years as hostage, first with Alaric and the Goths, and later in the camp of Rhuas, king of the Huns, acquiring in this way the knowledge which enabled him afterwards to defeat them.
In 425 he led into Italy an army of 60,000 barbarians, mostly Huns, which he employed first to support Joannes, who had proclaimed himself emperor, and, on the defeat of the latter, to acquire for himself the office of Magister militum per Gallias (or Master of Soldiers in Gaul) upon Galla Placidia, the empress-mother and regent for Valentinian III.
His calumnies against his rival, Count Boniface, which were at first believed by the emperor, led Boniface to revolt and call the Vandals to Africa. Upon the discovery of the truth, Boniface, although defeated in Africa, was received into favour by Valentinian; but Aetius came down against Boniface from his Gallic wars, like another Julius Caesar, and in the battle which followed wounded Boniface fatally with his own javelin.
From 433 to 450 Aetius was the dominating personality in the Western empire. In Gaul he won his military reputation, upholding for nearly twenty years, by combined policy and daring, the falling fortunes of the empire.
His greatest victory was the Battle of Chalons (September 20, 451), in which he led the Gallic forces against Attila and the Huns. This was the last triumph of the empire. Three years later, Aetius presented himself at court to claim the emperor's daughter in marriage for his son Gaudentius; but Valentinian, suspecting him of designs upon the crown, slew him with his own hand.
Valentinian eventually got what he deserved for his cowardly little act of treachery. A Hun by the name of Optila who was a friend and admirer of Aetius stabbed the emperor in the temple as he dismounted in the Campus Martius and prepared for a session of archery practice. As the stunned emperor turned to see who had struck him, Optila finished him off with another thrust of his blade. Most of the soldiers standing close by had been faithful followers of Aetius and none lifted a hand to save the emperor.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.