Hunting and herding was the foundation of the Hun economy. Some Huns raised cattle and others raised sheep and goats. All Huns raised horses. Camels were not used by the Huns in Europe, but the Huns in the Eastern part of the Empire (in the Volga region) kept small herds of camels. Hunting was important because it not only supplemented the Huns food supply, but helped train their young for war. Hunting also brought in hides that could be used for clothing as well as sold or traded. Huns in the Black Sea region, were known for being fur traders. Large amounts of furs were brought into the Roman Empire from this region.
When the Hunnic Empire expanded into Eastern Europe, it had to adapt to the new lands. The great steppe narrowed and eventually ended here. The Huns of this region based much of their economy on extortion and raiding. During times of war, they earned their loot by pillaging and during times of peace, they were paid by the Roman Emperors to leave their empires alone. During the 440’s the Huns extorted 13,000 pounds of gold from the Eastern Roman Empire alone.
Attila was well versed in the ways of the Roman royal courts and knew about the court’s tradition of giving lavish gifts to emissaries. Attila would send his Hun nobles to the Roman courts to enrich themselves. Maenchen-Helfen states “Attila made a lucrative business out of this custom. Under the flimsiest of pretexts he would send embassy after embassy to the imperial court” (The World of the Huns pg. 185). In this way, Attila kept his nobles rich and loyal to him.
Two other contributors to the Hun economy was the ransoming of prisoners and the selling of slaves. Important prisoners (those of high status) were ransomed. Less fortunate prisoners were sold to the Romans in the slave markets. The Huns felt no conflict selling captured Roman soldiers back to the Romans. Roman soldiers were sold for 8 solidi a head until 435 A.D. when the price was raised to 12 solidi. Wealthy citizens would be sold for 500 solidi each.
Besides selling the Romans furs and slaves, the Huns also sold horses. In return, the Huns sought cloth, coins, weapons, and alcohol. The Romans often put bans on selling weapons and wine to the Huns (for obvious reasons) and many treaties included the opening of trade markets, their location, and the selling of these items.