Hunnic Empire

Hunnic Empire

Infobox Former Country
native_name =
conventional_long_name = Hunnic Empire
common_name = Hunnic Empire
continent = Europe
region =
country =
government_type = Monarchy
legislature = Kurultai
event_start = Huns destroy a tribe of Alans to their west
year_start = c.370
event_end = King of the huns, Dengizich dies
year_end = 469
p1 = Xiongnu
image_p1 =
s1 =
flag_s1 =
s2 =
flag_s2 =

image_map_caption = The Hunnic Empire at its peak under Attila the Hun.
common_languages = Turkic
capital =
religion = Tengriism|
leader1 = Kama Tarkhan
year_leader1 = c.370
leader2 = Dengizich
year_leader2 = 458-469
title_leader = High King

Hunnic Empire, the empire of the Huns.The Huns were a confederation of Eurasian tribes, especially Turkic ones, from the Steppes of Central Asia. Through a combination of advanced weaponry, amazing mobility and battlefield tactics, they achieved military superiority over many of their largest rivals, subjugating the tribes they conquered. [ [ Columbia Encyclopedia] ] Appearing from beyond the Volga River some years after the middle of the 4th century, they first overran the Alani, who occupied the plains between the Volga and the Don rivers, and then quickly overthrew the empire of the Ostrogoths between the Don and the Dniester. About 376 they defeated the Visigoths living in what is now approximately Romania and thus arrived at the Danubian frontier of the Roman Empire. [ [ Encyclopædia Britannica] ] Their mass migration into Europe, led by Attila, brought with it great ethnic and political upheaval.


The origins of the Huns that swept through Europe during the 4th Century remain unclear. However, mainstream historians consider them as a group of nomadic tribes from Central Asia probably ruled by a Turkic-speaking aristocracy. The Huns were probably ethnically diverse, due to an ethnogenesis process of assimilation. Gothic seems to have been used as a "lingua franca". [Priscus fr. 8 ("For the subjects of the Huns, swept together from various lands, speak, besides their own barbarous tongues, either Hunnic or Gothic, or--as many as have commercial dealings with the western Romans--Latin")]

Early campaigns

Ancient accounts suggest that the Huns had settled in the lands north-west of the Caspian Sea as early as the 3rd Century. By the latter half of the century, about 370, the Caspian Huns mobilized, destroying a tribe of Alans to their west. Pushing further westward the Huns ravaged and destroyed an Ostrogothic kingdom. In 395, a Hun raid across the Caucasus mountains devastated Armenia, there they captured Erzurum, besieged Edessa and Antioch, even reaching Tyre in Syria.

In 408, the Hun Uldin invaded the Eastern Roman province of Moesia but his attack was checked and Uldin was forced to retreat.


For all their early exploits, the Huns were still politically too disunited to stage a serious campaign. Rather than an empire, the Huns were more a confederation of kings. Although there was the title of 'High King', very few of those bearing this title managed to rule effectively over all the Hunnic tribes. As a result, the Huns were without clear leadership and lacked any common objectives.

From 420, a chieftain named Oktar began to weld the disparate Hunnic tribes under his banner. He was succeeded by his brother, Rugila who became the leader of the Hun confederation, uniting the Huns into a cohesive group with a common purpose. He lead them into a campaign in the Western Roman Empire, through an alliance with Roman General Aetius. This gave the Huns even more notoriety and power. He planned a massive invasion of the Eastern Roman Empire in the year 434, but died before his plans could come to fruition. His heirs to the throne were his nephews, Bleda and Attila, who ruled in a dual kingship. They divided the Hunnic lands between them, but still regarded the empire as a single entity.

Under the Dual Kingship

Attila and Bleda were as ambitious as king Ruga. They forced the Eastern Roman Empire to sign the Treaty of Margus, giving the Huns (amongst other things) trade rights and an annual tribute from the Romans. With their southern border protected by the terms of this treaty, the Huns could turn their full attention to the further subjugation of tribes to the east.

However, when the Romans failed to deliver the agreed tribute, and other conditions of the Treaty of Margus were not met, both the Hunnic kings turned their attention back to the Eastern Romans. Reports that the Bishop of Margus had crossed into Hun lands and desecrated royal graves further incensed the kings. War broke out between the two empires, and the Huns capitalized on a weak Roman army to raze the cities of Margus, Singidunum and Viminacium. Although a truce was signed in 441, war resumed two years later with another failure by the Romans to deliver the tribute. In the following campaign, Hun armies came alarmingly close to Constantinople, sacking Sardica, Arcadiopolis and Philippopolis along the way. Suffering a complete defeat at the Battle of Chersonesus, the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II gave in to Hun demands and the Peace of Anatolius was signed in autumn 443. The Huns returned to their lands with a vast train full of plunder.

In 445, Bleda died, leaving Attila the sole ruler of the Hun Empire.

As Attila's empire

With his brother gone and as the only ruler of the united Huns, Attila possessed undisputed control over his subjects. In 447, Attila turned the Huns back toward the Eastern Roman Empire once more. His invasion of the Balkans and Thrace was devastating, with one source citing that the Huns razed 70 cities. The Eastern Roman Empire was already beset from internal problems, such as famine and plague, as well as riots and a series of earthquakes in Constantinople itself. Only a last-minute rebuilding of its walls had preserved Constantinople unscathed. Victory over a Roman army had already left the Huns virtually unchallenged in Eastern Roman lands and only disease forced a retreat, after they had conducted raids as far south as Thermopylae.

The war finally came to an end for the Eastern Romans in 449 with the signing of the Third Peace of Anatolius.

Throughout their raids on the Eastern Roman Empire, the Huns had still maintained good relations with the Western Empire, this was due in no small part to a friendship with Flavius Aetius, a powerful Roman general (sometimes even referred to as the defacto ruler of the Western Empire) who had spent some time with the Huns. However, this all changed in 450 when Honoria, sister of the Western Roman Emperor Valentinian III, sent Attila a ring and requested his help to escape her betrothal to a senator. Although it is not known whether Honoria intended this as a proposal of marriage to Attila, that is how the Hun King interpreted it. He claimed half the Western Roman Empire as dowry. To add to the failing relations, a dispute between Attila and Aetius about the rightful heir to the kingdom of the Salian Franks also occurred. Finally, the repeated raids on the Eastern Roman Empire had left it with little to plunder.

In 451, Attila's forces entered Gaul, with his army recruiting from the Franks, Goths and Burgundian tribes they passed en route. Once in Gaul, the Huns first attacked Metz, then his armies continued westwards, passed both Paris and Troyes to lay siege to Orleans.

Aetius was given the duty of relieving Orleans by Emperor Valentinian III. Bolstered by Frankish and Visigothic troops (under King Theodoric), Aetius' own Roman army met the Huns at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains also known as the Battle of Chalons. Although a tactical defeat for Atilla, thwarting his invasion of Gaul and forcing his retreat back to Hunnic lands, the macrohistorical significance of the allied and Roman victory is a matter of debate. [Creasy,] [Norwich, "Byzantium: the Early Centuries". 1997, p. 158.] [Bury, "The Later Roman Empire", pp. 294f.]

The following year, Attila renewed his claims to Honoria and territory in the Western Roman Empire. Leading his horde across the Alps and into Northern Italy, he sacked and razed the cities of Aquileia, Vicetia, Verona, Brixia, Bergomum, and Milan. Finally, at the very gates of Rome, he turned his army back after seeing the pope (although the most likely reason why he turned back is because of plague). Attila retreated back to Hunnic lands without Honoria or her dowry.

From the Carpathian Basin, Attila mobilised to attack Constantinople, in retaliation for the new Eastern Roman Emperor Marcian halting tribute payments. Before this planned attack he married a German girl named Ildiko. In 453, he died of a nosebleed on his wedding night.

After Attila

Attila was succeeded by his eldest son, Ellac. However, Attila's other sons, Dengizich and Ernakh challenged Ellak for the throne. Taking advantage of the situation, subjugated tribes rose up in rebellion. The year after Attila's death, the Huns were defeated in the Battle of Nedao. In 469, Dengizik, the last Hunnic King and successor of Ellak, died. This date is seen as the end of the Hunnic Empire. It is believed by some historians that descendants of the Huns formed the Bulgarian Empire, which stretched over the Balkans, Pannonia and Scythia.

References and notes

Further reading

* E.A. Thompson, "A History of Attila and the Huns" (1948)
* F. Altheim, "Attila und die Hunnen" (1951)
* J. Werner, "Beiträge zur Archäologie des Attila-Reiches" (1956).
* T. Hodgkin, "Italy and Her Invaders", Vol. I (rev. ed. 1892, repr. 1967)
* W. M. McGovern, "Early Empires of Central Asia" (1939)
* F. Teggart, "China and Rome" (1969, repr. 1983);
* Otto J. Maenchen-Helfen, "The World of the Huns" (1973).

ee also

*Hunnic language
*List of Hunnish rulers

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