The Huns were an early confederation of Central Asian equestrian nomads or semi-nomads, [Walter Pohl has remarked "early medieval peoples were far less homogeneous than often thought. They themselves shared the fundamental belief to be of common origin; and modern historians, for a long time, found no reason to think otherwise" (Walter Pohl, "Conceptions of Ethnicity in Early Medieval Studies" "Debating the Middle Ages: Issues and Readings", ed. Lester K. Little and Barbara H. Rosenwein, (Blackwell), 1998, p.16). In reviewing Joachim Werner's "Beiträge zur Archäologie des Attila-Reiches", (Munich 1956), in "Speculum" 33.1 (January 1958), p.159, Otto J. Maenchen-Helfen noted with relief that "the author is not concerned with the slightly infantile question, who the Huns were; he does not ask where the Huns ultimately came from".] with a Turkic core of aristocracy. [ [ "Transylvania through the age of migrations"] ] [ Calise, J.M.P. (2002). 'Pictish Sourcebook: Documents of Medieval Legend and Dark Age History'. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p279, ISBN 0313322953 ] [Peckham, D. Paulston, C. B. (1998). Linguistic Minorities in Central and Eastern Europe. Clevedon, UK : Multilingual Matters. p100, ISBN 1853594164 ] [ Canfield, R.L. (1991). Turko-Persia in Historical Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p49, ISBN 0521522919] [ Frazee, C.A. (2002). Two Thousand Years Ago: The World at the Time of Jesus. Wm. B. Eerdmans] Some of these Eurasian tribes moved into Europe in the 4th and 5th centuries, most famously under Attila the Hun. Huns remaining in Asia are recorded by neighboring peoples to the south, east, and west as having occupied Central Asia roughly from the 4th century to the 6th century, with some surviving in the Caucasus until the early 8th century.

Origin and identity

Research and debate about the Asian ancestral origins of the Huns has been ongoing since the 18th century. For example philologists still debate to this day which ethnonym from Chinese or Persian sources is identical with the Latin "Hunni" or the Greek "Hounnoi" as evidence of the Huns' identity.Walter Pohl (1999), "Huns" in "Late Antiquity", editor Peter Brown, p.501-502 .. further references to F.H Bauml and M. Birnbaum, eds., "Atilla: The Man and His Image" (1993). Peter Heather, "The Huns and the End of the Roman Empire in Western Europe," "English Historical Review" 90 (1995):4-41. Peter Heather, "The Fall of the Roman Empire" (2005). Otto Maenchen-Helfen, "The World of the Huns" (1973). E. de la Vaissière, Huns et Xiongnu "Central Asiatic Journal" 2005-1 pp. 3-26]

The most recent genetic and ethnogenesis based scholarship shows that many of the great confederations of steppe warriors were not entirely of the same race, but rather tended to be ethnic mixtures of Eurasian clans. In addition, many clans may have claimed to be Huns simply based on the prestige and fame of the name, or it was attributed to them by outsiders describing their common characteristics, believed place of origin, or reputation. Similarly, Greek or Latin chroniclers may have used "Huns" in a more general sense, to describe social or ethnic characteristics, believed place of origin, or reputation. "All we can say safely", says Walter Pohl,"is that the name Huns, in late antiquity, described prestigious ruling groups of steppe warriors". The older views come in the context of the ethnocentric and nationalistic scholarship of past generations, which often presumed that ethnic homogeneity must underlie a socially and culturally homogeneous people. [Michael Kulikowski (2005). "Rome's Gothic Wars". Cambridge University Press. Page 52-54] The modern research shows that each of the large confederations of steppe warriors (such as the Scythians, Xiongnu, Huns, Avars, Khazars, Cumans, Mongols, etc.) were not ethnically homogeneous, but rather unions of multiple ethnicities such as Turkic, Yeniseian, Tungusic, Ugric, Iranic, Mongolic and many other peoples.

Modern genetic and ethnogenesis scholarship contrasts with traditional theories based on Chinese records, archaeology, linguistics and other indirect evidence. These older theories contain various elements: that the name "Hun" first described a nomadic ruling group of warriors whose ethnic origins were in Central Asia, and was most likely in present day Mongolia; that possibly they were related to, or part of, the Xiongnu () (first suggested by Joseph de Guignes in the 18th century); that the Xiongnu were defeated by the Chinese Han Empire; and that this is why they left Mongolia and moved west, eventually invading Europe 200 years later. Indirect evidence includes the transmission of grip laths for composite bows from Central Asia to the west.

This narrative is ingrained in western (and eastern) historiography, but the evidence is often indirect or ambiguous. The Huns left practically no written records. There is no record of what happened between the time they left China and arrived in Europe 150 years later. The last mention of the northern Xiongnu was their defeat by the Chinese in 151 at the lake of Barkol, after which they fled to the western steppe at Kangju (centered on the city of Turkistan in Kazakhstan). Chinese records between the 3rd and 4th century suggest that a small tribe called Yueban, remnants of northern Xiongnu, was distributed about the steppe of Kazakhstan.

One recent line of reasoning favors a political and cultural link between the Huns and the Xiongnu. The Central Asian (Sogdian and Bactrian) sources of the 4th century translate "Huns" as "Xiongnu", and "Xiongnu" as "Huns"; also, Xiongnu and Hunnic cauldrons are virtually identical, and were buried on the same spots (river banks) in Hungary and in the Ordos. [E. de la Vaissière, Huns et Xiongnu "Central Asiatic Journal" 2005-1 pp. 3-26]

It has to be noted that skeletal remains from Kazakhstan (Central Asia), excavated from different sites dating between the 15th century BC to the 5th century AD, have been analysed for the hypervariable control region and haplogroup diagnostic single nucleotide polymorphisms of the mitochondrial DNA genome. The distribution of east and west Eurasian lineages through time in the region is concordant with the available archaeological information: prior to the 13th - 7th century BC, all samples belong to European lineages; while later an arrival of East Asian sequences that coexisted with the previous genetic substratum was detected. The presence of an ancient genetic substratum of European origin in West Asia may be related to the discovery of ancient Mummies from Xinjiang with European features and to the existence of an extinct Indo-European language, Tocharian. [ [ Unravelling migrations in the steppe: mitochondrial DNA sequences from ancient Central Asians - Unitat d'Antropologia, Departimenti Biologia Animal, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Avinguda Diagonal 645, 08028 Barcelona, Spain.] ]

Turkic theory

The Huns may be of Turkic (or pre-Proto-Turkic) origin. This school of thought emerged when Joseph de Guignes in the 18th century identified the Huns with the "Xiongnu" or "(H)siung-nu". [ [ "Sir H. H. Howorth, History of the Mongols (1876-1880); 6th Congress of Orientalists, Leiden, 1883 (Actes, part iv. pp. 177-195); de Guignes, Histoire generale des Huns, des Turcs, des Mongoles, et des autres Tartares occidentaux (1756-1758)"] ] It is supported by O. Maenchen-Helfen on the basis of his linguistic studies. [Otto J. Maenchen-Helfen. The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture. University of California Press, 1973] [ [ Otto Maenchen-Helfen, Language of Huns] ] English scholar Peter Heather called the Huns "the first group of Turkic, as opposed to Iranian, nomads to have intruded into Europe". [Peter Heather, "The Huns and the End of Roman Empire in Western Europe", "The English Historical Review", Vol. 110, No. 435, February 1995, p. 5.] Turkish researcher Kemal Cemal bolsters this assertion by showing similarities in words and names in Turkic and Hunnic languages, and similarities in systems of governance of Hunnic and Turkic tribes. Hungarian historian Gyula Nemeth also supports this view. [ [ "Europe: The Origins of the Huns"] , on The History Files, based on conversations with Kemal Cemal, Turkey, 2002]
Uyghur historian Turghun Almas has suggested a link between the Huns and the Uyghurs, a Turkic speaking people who reside in Xinjiang, China.

This article will not discuss the "White Huns" and "Red Huns", since there is no definite evidence that they were related to the classical "Huns". [Encyclopædia Britannica, " [ HUN] ", Online Academic Edition, 2007.] [Columbia Encyclopedia] Furthermore, not much is known of their language. [Encyclopædia Britannica]


2nd-5th centuries

Dionysius Periegetes describes a people who may be Huns living near the Caspian Sea in the 2nd century. By AD 139, the European geographer Ptolemy writes that the "Khuni" are next to the Dnieper River and ruled by "Suni". He lists the century, although it is not known for certain if these people were the Huns. The 5th century Armenian historian Moses of Khorene, in his "History of Armenia," introduces the "Hunni" near the Sarmatians and describes their capture of the city of Balkh ("Kush" in Armenian) sometime between 194 and 214, which explains why the Greeks call that city "Hunuk".

Following the defeat of the Xiongnu by the Han, the Xiongnu history became unknown for a century; thereafter, the Liu family of southern Xiongnu Tiefu attempted to establish a state in western China (see Han Zhao). Chionites (OIONO/Xiyon) appear on the scene in Transoxiana in 320 immediately after Jin Zhun overthrew Liu Can, sending the Xiongnu into chaos. Later Kidara came along to lead the Chionites into pressing on the Kushans.

In the west, Ostrogoths came in contact with the Huns in AD 358. The Armenians mention Vund c.370: the first recorded Hunnic leader in the Caucasus region. The Romans invited the Huns east of Ukraine to settle Pannonia in 361, and in 372 they pushed west led by their king Balimir, and defeated the Alans. In the east, in the early 5th century, Tiefu Xia is the last southern Xiongnu dynasty in Western China and the "Alchon" / "Huna" appear in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan. At this point deciphering Hunnic histories for the multi-linguist becomes easier with relatively well-documented events in Byzantine, Armenian, Persian, Indian, and Chinese sources.

European Huns

The Huns appeared in Europe in the 4th century, apparently from Central Asia. They first appeared north of the Black Sea, forcing a large number of Goths to seek refuge in the Roman Empire; later, the Huns appeared west of the Carpathians in Pannonia, probably sometime between 400 and 410, perhaps triggering the massive migration of Germanic tribes westward across the Rhine in December 406.

The establishment of the 5th century Hunnic Empire marks a historically early instance of horseback migration. Under the leadership of Attila the Hun, the Huns achieved hegemony over several rivals by using the composite bow, their highly maneuverable hit-and-run tactics with their horsemanship, and a well-organized system of taxation. Supplementing their wealth by plundering wealthy Roman cities to the south, the Huns maintained the loyalties of a number of tributary tribes.

Attila's Huns incorporated groups of unrelated tributary peoples. In Europe, Alans, Gepids, Scirii, Rugians, Sarmatians and Gothic tribes all united under the Hun by Ardaric's coalition at the Battle of Nedao in 454, at modern day Nedava.

Memory of the Hunnic conquest was transmitted orally among Germanic peoples and is an important component in the Old Norse "Völsunga saga" and "Hervarar saga", and the Middle High German "Nibelungenlied", all of which portray Migration period events a millennium before their written recordings. In the "Hervarar saga", the Goths make first contact with the bow-wielding Huns and meet them in an epic battle on the plains of the Danube.

In the "Nibelungenlied", Kriemhild marries Attila ("Etzel" in German) after her first husband "Siegfried" was murdered by Hagen with the complicity of her brother, King "Gunther". She then uses her power as Etzel's wife to take a bloody revenge in which not only Hagen and "Gunther" but all Burgundian knights find their death at festivities to which she and Etzel had invited them. After defending quite successfully for days against the Huns who outnumber them by an enormous ratio, the remaining tired Burgundians are finally defeated not by the Huns but by Rüdeger (Austrian), who dies in the fight too, and "Dietrich von Bern" (Ostrogoths), both being vassals to Etzel and actually very reluctant to fight against their Burgundian friends but caught in personal dilemmas forcing them to do so.

In the "Völsunga saga", Attila ("Atli" in Norse and "Etzel" in German) defeats the Frankish king Sigebert I ("Sigurðr" or "Siegfried") and the Burgundian King Guntram ("Gunnar" or "Gunther"), but is later assassinated by Queen Fredegund ("Gudrun" or "Kriemhild"), the sister of the latter and wife of the former.

uccessor nations

Many nations have tried to assert themselves as ethnic or cultural successors to the Huns. For instance, the Nominalia of the Bulgarian khans may indicate that they believed themselves to have been descended from Attila. The Bulgars certainly were part of the Hun tribal alliance for some time, and some have hypothesized that the Chuvash language (which is believed to have descended from the Bulgar language) is the closest surviving relative of the Hunnic language. [Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1997: "Turkic languages".

"Formerly, scholars considered Chuvash probably spoken by the Huns."

The Magyars (Hungarians) also have laid claims to Hunnic heritage. Because the Huns who invaded Europe represented a loose coalition of various peoples, it is possible that Magyars were part of it. Until the early 20th century, many Hungarian historians believed that the Székely people were the descendants of the Huns.

In 2005, a group of about 2,500 Hungarians petitioned the government for recognition of minority status as direct descendants of Attila. The bid failed, but gained some publicity for the group, which formed in the early 1990s and appears to represent a special Hun(garian)-centric brand of mysticism. The self-proclaimed Huns are not known to possess any distinctly Hunnic culture or language beyond what would be available from historical and modern-mystical Hungarian sources. [ [ BBC News - "Hungary blocks Hun minority bid" - By Nick Thorpe, April 12, 2005] ]

While it is clear that the Huns left descendants all over Eastern Europe, the disintegration of the Hun Empire meant they never regained their lost glory. One reason was that the Huns never fully established the mechanisms of a state, such as bureaucracy and taxes, unlike the Magyars or Golden Horde. Once disorganized, the Huns were absorbed by more organized polities.


The term "Hun" has been also used to describe peoples with no historical connection to what scholars consider to be "Huns".

On July 27, 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion in China, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany gave the order to "make the name "Germany" be remembered in China for a thousand years, so that no Chinese will ever again dare to even squint at a German." [Weser-Zeitung, July 28, 1900, second morning edition, p. 1: 'Wie vor tausend Jahren die Hunnen unter ihrem König Etzel sich einen Namen gemacht, der sie noch jetzt in der Überlieferung gewaltig erscheinen läßt, so möge der Name Deutschland in China in einer solchen Weise bekannt werden, daß niemals wieder ein Chinese es wagt, etwa einen Deutschen auch nur schiel anzusehen'.] This speech, wherein Kaiser Wilhelm invoked the memory of the 5th century Huns, coupled with the Pickelhaube or spiked helmet worn by German forces until 1916, that was reminiscent of ancient Hun (and Hungarian) helmets, gave rise to later English use of the term for the German enemy during World War I. However, another reason given for the English use of the term was the motto "Gott mit uns" (God with us) on German soldiers' belt buckles during World War I. "uns" was mistaken for Huns, and entered into slang. This usage was reinforced by Allied propaganda throughout the war, and many pilots of the RFC referred to their foe as "The Hun". The usage resurfaced during World War II.

ee also

* Hunnic Empire
* Turkic Khaganate
* Oghur
* Uar
* Avars
* Xionites
* Hephthalites
* Indo-Sassanids
* List of Hunnic Rulers

References and notes

Further reading

* Otto J. Mänchen-Helfen (ed. Max Knight): "The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture" (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1973) ISBN 0-520-01596-7
* "The Legend of the Origin of the Huns" (published in "Byzantion", vol. XVII, 1944-45, pp. 244-251)
* E. A. Thompson: "A History of Attila and the Huns" (London, Oxford University Press, 1948)

* de la Vaissière, E. "Huns et Xiongnu", Central Asiatic Journal, 2005-1, p. 3-26.
* Lindner, Rudi Paul. "Nomadism, Horses and Huns", "Past and Present", No. 92. (Aug., 1981), pp. 3–19.
* J. Webster: "The Huns and Existentialist Thought" (Loudonville, Siena College Press, 2006)
* [ Coinage and History of the White Huns- Waleed Ziad- Articles from the 'Journal of the Oriental Numismatic Society', 2004-2006]

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