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Huns in battle with the Alans, 1870s engraving after a drawing by Johann Nepomuk Geiger (1805–1880).

Hunnish set of horse trappings, 4th century; chamfron, bridle mounts and whip handle, Walters Art Museum

The Huns were a nomadic people or peoples, who are known to have lived in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia between the 1st Century AD and the 7th Century. They were first reported living east of the Volga River, in an area that was part of Scythia at the time; the Huns' arrival is associated with the migration westward of a Scythian people, the Alans.[1] They were first mentioned as Hunnoi by Tacitus. In 91 AD, the Huns were said to be living near the Caspian Sea and by about 150 AD had migrated southeast into the Caucasus.[2] By 370 AD, the Huns had established a vast Hunnic Empire in Europe.

In the 18th century, the French scholar Joseph de Guignes became the first to propose a link between the Huns and the Xiongnu people, who were northern neighbours of China in the 3rd Century BC.[3] Since Guignes' time, considerable scholarly effort has been devoted to investigating such a connection. However, there is no scholarly consensus on a direct connection between the dominant element of the Xiongnu and that of the Huns.[4] Priscus mentions that the Huns had a language of their own; little of it has survived and its relationships have been the subject of debate for centuries. Numerous other languages were spoken within the Hun Empire, including Gothic (East Germanic), which would become the lingua franca of the Hunnic elite.[5][6][7][8] Their main military technique was mounted archery.

The Huns may have stimulated the Great Migration, a contributing factor in the collapse of the western Roman Empire.[9] They formed a unified empire under Attila the Hun, who died in 453 AD; their empire broke up the next year. Their descendants, or successors with similar names, are recorded by neighbouring populations to the south, east, and west as having occupied parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia approximately from the 4th century to the 6th century. Variants of the Hun name are recorded in the Caucasus until the early 8th century.


File:Huncauldron Hungary.jpg

Hunnic cauldron from the 5th century, found in Hungary.[10]

Since Joseph de Guignes in the 18th century, historians have associated the Huns who appeared on the borders of Europe in the 4th century with the Xiongnu who migrated out of the Mongolia region some three hundred years before. Due to the conflict with Han China, the Northern branch of the Xiongnu had retreated north-westward; their descendants may have migrated through Eurasia and consequently they may have some degree of cultural and genetic continuity with the Huns.[11] The evidence for continuity between Huns and Xiongnu has not been definitive.[11] A school of modern scholarship instead uses an ethnogenetic, rather than essentialist, approach in explaining the Huns' origin.

The cause of the Hunnic move into Europe may have been expansion of the Rouran, who had created a massive empire across the Asian continent in the mid-4th century, including the Tatar lands as well, which they took over from the Xianbei. It is supposed that this westward spread of Rouran power pushed the Huns into Europe over the years.[12][page needed]

Modern ethnogenesis interpretation

Contemporary literary sources do not provide a clear understanding of Hun origins. The Huns seem to "suddenly appear", first mentioned during an attack on the Alans, who are generally connected to the River Don (Tanais). Scholarship from the early 20th century literature connected the sudden and apparently devastating Hun appearance as a predatory migration from the more easterly parts of the steppe, i.e. Central Asia. This interpretation has been formulated on sketchy and hypothetical etymological and historical connections. More recent theories view the nomadic confederacies, such as the Huns, as the formation of several different cultural, political and linguistic entities that could dissolve as quickly as they formed, entailing a process of ethnogenesis.[13][14][15] A group of "warrior" horse-nomads would conquer and/or be joined by other warrior groups throughout western Eurasia, and in turn extracted tribute over a territory that included other social and ethnic groups, including sedentary agricultural peoples. In steppe society, clans could forge new alliances and subservience by incorporating other clans, creating a new common ancestral lineage descended from an early heroic leader. Thus, one cannot expect to find a clear origin. "All we can say safely," says Walter Pohl, "is that the name Huns, in late antiquity (4th century), described prestigious ruling groups of steppe warriors."[14]

The name Hun was used to refer to groups over wide and often discontiguous geographic regions, referred to by disparate sources (including Indic, Persian, Chinese, Byzantine, Roman).[14][16][17][18][19] After the Hun era in Europe, Greek and Latin chroniclers continued to use the term "Huns" when referring to tribal groups whom they placed in the Black Sea region.

Traditional Xiongnu theory

Debate about the Asian origin of the Huns has been ongoing since the 18th century when Joseph de Guignes first suggested that the Huns should be identified as the Xiongnu of Chinese sources.[20] De Guignes focused on the genealogy of political entities and gave little attention to whether the Huns were the physical descendants of the Xiongnu.[21] Yet his idea, which emerged in the context of the ethnocentric and nationalistic scholarship of the late 18th and 19th centuries,[22]:52–54 gained traction and was modified over time to support Romantic nationalism and Turanism.

Evidence for the link with Xiongnu

Hun cauldrons

Xiōngnú is the modern Mandarin Chinese pronunciation, while it is pronounced as Hung-no in modern Cantonese. It was pronounced /xuawŋ-nɔ/ in Early Middle Chinese.[23] Apart from the similarity of the names, evidence includes the transmission of grip laths for composite bows from Central Asia to the west[24] and the similarity of Xiongnu and Hunnic cauldrons, which were buried on river banks both in Hungary and in the Ordos.[25]:17

The ancient Sogdian letters from the 4th century mention Huns, while the Chinese sources write Xiongnu, in the context of the sacking of Luoyang.[26][27] However, there is a historical gap of 300 years between the Chinese and later sources. As Peter Heather writes, "The ancestors of our [4th century European] Huns could even have been a part of the [1st century] Xiongnu confederation, without being the 'real' Xiongnu. Even if we do make some sort of connection between the 4th century Huns and the 1st century Xiongnu, an awful lot of water has passed under an awful lot of bridges in the three hundred years' worth of lost history."[18]:149

Evidence against the link with Xiongnu

The Huns practiced artificial cranial deformation, while there is no evidence of such practice among the Xiongnu.[21] Ammianus and Jordanes mention the Huns as scarifying infants' faces to prevent the later growth of beards; the Chinese recorded General Ran Min having led a military campaign against a faction of the Xiongnu Confederation called the Jie, who were described as having full beards, around Ye in 349 AD.

A specific passage in the Chinese Book of Wei (Wei-shu) is often cited as definitive proof in the identity of the Huns as the Xiongnu.[21] It appears to say that the Xiongnu conquered the Alans (Su-Te 粟特) around the same time as recorded by Western sources. This theory hinged upon the identity of the Su-Te as the Yan-Cai (奄蔡), as claimed by the Wei-shu. Similar passages are also found in the Bei-Shi and the Zhou-Shu. Critical analysis of these Chinese texts reveals that certain chapters in the Book of Wei had been copied from the Bei-Xi by Song editors, including the chapter on the Xiongnu. The Bei-Shi author assembled his text by making selections from earlier sources, the Zhou-Shu among them. The Zhou-Shu does not mention the Xiongnu in its version of the chapter in question. Additionally, the Book of the Later Han (Hou-Han-Shu) treats the Su-Te and the Yan-Cai as distinct nations. Lastly, Su-Te has been positively identified as Sogdiana and the Yan-Cai with the Hephthalites.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many Ammianus reported that they arrived from the north, near the 'ice bound ocean', prompting suggestions of Finno-Ugrian roots.[28]


Before Attila

A suggested path of Hunnic movement westwards

In the west, Hunnoi are first mentioned by Tacitus as being near the Caspian Sea in 91 AD. By 139 AD, the geographer Ptolemy writes that the "Chunoi" (Χοῦνοι or Χουνοἰ, both plural) are between the Bastarnae and the Roxolani in the Pontic area under the rule of Suni. He lists the beginning of the 2nd century, although it is not known for certain if these people were the Huns. It is possible that the similarity between the names "Huni" (Χοῦνοι) and "Hunnoi" (Ουννοι) is only a coincidence considering that while the West Romans often wrote Chunni or Chuni, the East Romans never used the guttural Χ at the beginning of the name.[20]

The Huns first appeared in Europe in the 4th century. They show up north of the Black Sea around 370. The Huns crossed the Volga river and attacked the Alans, whom they subjugated. Jordanes reports that the Huns were led at this time by Balamber while modern historians question his existence, seeing instead an invention by the Goths to explain who defeated them.[20] Denis Sinor suggests if Balamber existed, he may have been a chief of a small faction of Huns, since Vithimiris utilized Hun mercenaries against him, which suggests a lack of unity among the Huns. Sinor also cites Ammianus' statement that the Huns "are subject to no royal restraint," casting further doubt on Balamber's status as king.[29]

After the Huns defeated the Alans, the Huns and Alans started plundering Greuthungic settlements.[20] The Greuthungic king, Ermanaric, committed suicide and his great-nephew, Vithimiris, took over. Vithimiris was killed during a battle against the Alans and Huns in 376. This resulted in the subjugation of most of the Ostrogoths.[20] Vithimiris' son, Viderichus, was only a child so command of the remaining Ostrogothic refugee army fell to Alatheus and Saphrax. The refugees streamed into Thervingic territory, west of the Dniester.

The Barbarian invasions of the 5th century were triggered by the destruction of the Gothic kingdoms by the Huns in 372-375. The city of Rome was captured and looted by the Visigoths in 410 and by the Vandals in 455.

With a part of the Ostrogoths on the run, the Huns next came to the territory of the Visigoths, led by Athanaric. Athanaric, not to be caught off guard, sent an expeditionary force beyond the Dniester. The Huns avoided this small force and attacked Athanaric directly. The Goths retreated into the Carpathians.[29]:180 Support for the Gothic chieftains diminished as refugees headed into Thrace and towards the safety of the Roman garrisons.

After these invasions, the Huns begin to be noted as Foederati and mercenaries. As early as 380, a group of Huns was given Foederati status and allowed to settle in Pannonia. Hunnish mercenaries were also seen on several occasions in the succession struggles of the Eastern and Western Roman Empire during the late 4th century. However, it is most likely that these were individual mercenary bands, not a Hunnish kingdom.[29]:181

In 395 the Huns began their first large-scale attack on the East Roman Empire.[20] Huns attacked in Thrace, overran Armenia, and pillaged Cappadocia. They entered parts of Syria, threatened Antioch, and swarmed through the province of Euphratesia. The forces of Emperor Theodosius were fully committed in the West so the Huns moved unopposed until the end of 398 when the eunuch Eutropius gathered together a force composed of Romans and Goths and succeeded in restoring peace. It is uncertain though, whether or not Eutropius' forces defeated the Huns or whether the Huns left on their own. There is no record of a notable victory by Eutropius and there is evidence that the Hunnish forces were already leaving the area by the time he gathered his forces.[29]:184

Whether put to flight by Eutropius, or leaving on their own, the Huns had left the Eastern Roman Empire by 398. After this, the Huns invaded the Sassanid Empire. This invasion was initially successful, coming close to the capital of the empire at Ctesiphon, however, they were defeated badly during the Persian counter-attack and retreated toward the Caucasus Mountains via the Derbend Pass.[29]:184

During their brief diversion from the Eastern Roman Empire, the Huns appear to have threatened tribes further west, as evidenced by Radagaisus' entering Italy at the end of 405 and the crossing of the Rhine into Gaul by Vandals, Sueves, and Alans in 406.[20] The Huns do not then appear to have been a single force with a single ruler. Many Huns were employed as mercenaries by both East and West Romans and by the Goths. Uldin, the first Hun known by name,[20] headed a group of Huns and Alans fighting against Radagaisus in defense of Italy. Uldin was also known for defeating Gothic rebels giving trouble to the East Romans around the Danube and beheading the Goth Gainas around 400-401. Gainas' head was given to the East Romans for display in Constantinople in an apparent exchange of gifts.

Detail of Hunnish gold and garnet bracelet, 5th century, Walters Art Museum

The East Romans began to feel the pressure from Uldin's Huns again in 408. Uldin crossed the Danube and captured a fortress in Moesia named Castra Martis, which was betrayed from within. Uldin then proceeded to ransack Thrace. The East Romans tried to buy Uldin off, but his sum was too high so they instead bought off Uldin's subordinates. This resulted in many desertions from Uldin's group of Huns.

Alaric's brother-in-law, Athaulf, appears to have had Hun mercenaries in his employ south of the Julian Alps in 409. These were countered by another small band of Huns hired by Honorius' minister Olympius. Later in 409, the West Romans stationed ten thousand Huns in Italy and Dalmatia to fend off Alaric, who then abandoned plans to march on Rome.

Under Attila and Bleda

Brothers Attila and Bleda ruled together, but each king had his own territory and people under him. Never did two Hun kings rule the same territory. Attila and Bleda were as ambitious as king Rugila. They forced the Eastern Roman Empire to sign the Treaty of Margus, giving the Huns 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 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 angered 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.

Unified Empire under Attila

The Empire of the Huns and subject groups

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. The Eastern Roman Empire was already beset by 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. Our only lengthy first-hand report of conditions among the Huns is by Priscus, who formed part of an embassy to Attila.

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 maintained good relations with the Western Empire, this was due in no small part to their friendship with Flavius Aetius, a powerful Roman general (sometimes even referred to as the de facto ruler of the Western Empire) who in his youth had spent some time as a hostage 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 arose between Attila and Aetius about the rightful heir to the kingdom of the Salian Franks. 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 en route. Once in Gaul, the Huns first attacked Metz, then his armies continued westwards, passing both Paris and Troyes to lay siege to Orléans.

Aetius was given the duty of relieving Orléans 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 Châlons. Although a tactical defeat for Attila, thwarting his invasion of Gaul and forcing his retreat back to non-Roman lands, the macrohistorical significance of the allied and Roman victory is a matter of debate.[30][31][32]

The next 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, Bergamum, and Milan. Hoping to avoid the sack of Rome herself, Emperor Valentinian III sent three envoys, the high civilian officers Gennadius Avienus and Trigetius, as well as the Bishop of Rome Leo I, who met Attila at Mincio in the vicinity of Mantua, and obtained from him the promise that he would withdraw from Italy and negotiate peace with the emperor. Prosper of Aquitaine gives a short, reliable description of the historic meeting, but gives all the credit of the successful negotiation to Leo. Priscus reports that superstitious fear of the fate of Alaric—who died shortly after sacking Rome in 410—gave him pause. In reality, Italy had suffered from a terrible famine in 451 and her crops were faring little better in 452; Attila's devastating invasion of the plains of northern Italy this year did not improve the harvest. To advance on Rome would have required supplies which were not available in Italy, and taking the city would not have improved Attila's supply situation. Therefore, it was more profitable for Attila to conclude peace and retreat back to his homeland. Secondly, an East Roman force had crossed the Danube under the command of another officer also named Aetius—who had participated in the Council of Chalcedon the previous year—and proceeded to defeat the Huns who had been left behind by Attila to safeguard their home territories. Attila, hence, faced heavy human and natural pressures to retire from Italy before moving south of the Po. Attila retreated without Honoria or her dowry.

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

After Attila

After Attila's death, his son Ellac overcame his brothers Dengizich and Ernakh (Irnik) to become king of the Huns. However, former subjects soon united under Ardaric, leader of the Gepids, against the Huns at the Battle of Nedao in 454. This defeat and Ellac's death ended the European supremacy of the Huns, and soon afterwards they disappear from contemporary records. The Pannonian basin then was occupied by the Gepids, whilst various Gothic groups remained in the Balkans also.

Successor realms

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Locations of Hun successor states in 500 AD

After the breakdown of their Empire, the Huns never regained their lost glory. One factor was that the Huns never fully established the mechanisms of a state, such as bureaucracy and taxes (unlike Bulgars, Magyars or the Golden Horde). Once disorganized, the Huns found themselves absorbed by more organized polities. Like the Avars after them, once the Hun political unity failed the ethnos lacked a way to re-create it, especially because the Huns had become a multiethnic empire even before Attila. The Hun Empire included, at least nominally, a great host of diverse peoples, each of whom may be considered "successors" of the Huns. However, given that the Huns were a political creation, and not a consolidated people, or nation, their defeat in 454 marked the end of that political creation. Newer polities which later arose might have consisted of people formerly in the Hun confederacy, and carrying closely related steppe cultures, but they represented new political creations.

Later historians provide brief hints of the dispersal and renaming of Attila's people. According to tradition, after Ellac's defeat and death, his brothers ruled over two separate but closely-related hordes on the steppes north of the Black Sea. Dengizich is believed to have been king (khan) of the Kutrigur Bulgars, and Ernakh king (khan) of the Utigur Bulgars, whilst Procopius claimed that Kutrigurs and Utigurs were named after, and led by two of the sons of Ernakh. Such distinctions are uncertain and the situation is not likely to have been so clear-cut. Some Huns remained in Pannonia for some time before the Goths slaughtered them. Others took refuge within the East Roman Empire, namely in Dacia Ripensis and Scythia Minor. Other Huns and nomadic groups hay have retreated to the steppe. Indeed, subsequently, new confederations appear such as Kutrigur, Utigur, Onogur / (Onoghur), Sarigur, etc., which were collectively called[by whom?] "Huns", "Bulgarian Huns", or "Bulgars". Similarly, Procopius presented the 6th century Slavs as Hun groups.

However, it is likely that Graeco-Roman sources habitually equated new barbarian political groupings with old tribes. This was partly due to the expectation that contemporary writers emulate the "great writers" of preceding eras. Apart from exigencies in style was the belief that barbarians from particular areas were all the same, no matter how they changed their name.[33]

A 14th-century chivalric-romanticized painting of the Huns laying siege to a city. Note anachronistic details in weapons, armor and city-type. Hungarian Chronicon Pictum, 1360.

Appearance and customs

Roman villa in Gaul sacked by the hordes of Attila the Hun. Illustration from a book by Georges Rochegrosse.

All surviving accounts were written by enemies of the Huns, and none describe the Huns as attractive either morally or in appearance (the Huns were illiterate and thus kept no records).

Jordanes, a Goth writing in Italy in 551, a century after the collapse of the Hunnic Empire, describes the Huns as a "savage race, which dwelt at first in the swamps, a stunted, foul and puny tribe, scarcely human, and having no language save one which bore but slight resemblance to human speech."

"They made their foes flee in horror because their swarthy aspect was fearful, and they had, if I may call it so, a sort of shapeless lump, not a head, with pin-holes rather than eyes. Their hardihood is evident in their wild appearance, and they are beings who are cruel to their children on the very day they are born. For they cut the cheeks of the males with a sword, so that before they receive the nourishment of milk they must learn to endure wounds. Hence they grow old beardless and their young men are without comeliness, because a face furrowed by the sword spoils by its scars the natural beauty of a beard. They are short in stature, quick in bodily movement, alert horsemen, broad shouldered, ready in the use of bow and arrow, and have firm-set necks which are ever erect in pride. Though they live in the form of men, they have the cruelty of wild beasts."[34]:127–8

Jordanes also recounted how Priscus had described Attila the Hun, the Emperor of the Huns from 434-453, as: "Short of stature, with a broad chest and a large head; his eyes were small, his beard thin and sprinkled with grey; and he had a flat nose and tanned skin, showing evidence of his origin."[35]

Artificial cranial deformation was practiced by the Huns and sometimes by tribes with whom they influenced.[36][37][38][39] However, Ammianus may have been incorrect in saying that the facial scars dated from infancy. Maenchen-Helfen writes: "Ammianus' description begins with a strange misunderstanding... This was repeated by Claudian and Sidonius and reinterpreted by Cassiodorus. Ammianus' explanation of the thin beards is wrong. Like so many other people, the Huns inflicted wounds on their live flesh as a sign of grief when their kinsmen were dying." [40] When a leader died, it was tradition to mourn them with blood instead of tears and so the warriors would slash their cheeks to "cry blood".

Society and culture

Hunnish camp

The Huns kept herds of cattle, horses, goats and sheep.[20] Their other sources of food consisted of wild game and the roots of wild plants. For clothes they had pointed caps, trousers or leggings made from ibex skin, and either linen or rodent skin tunics. Ammianus reports that they wore these clothes until the clothes fell to pieces. Priscus describes Attila's clothes as different from those of his men only in being clean.[41] Women would embroider the edges of the garments and often stitch small colorful stone beads on them as well.[citation needed]

In warfare they used the bow and javelin.[42] Early writers such as Ammianus (followed by Thompson) stated that they used primitive, bone-tipped arrowheads. Maenchen-Helfen outright disputes this claim. He states: "Had the Huns been unable to forge their swords and cast their arrow-heads, they never could have crossed the Don. The idea that the Hun horsemen fought their way to the walls of Constantinople and to the Marne with bartered and captured swords is absurd." (See: Maenchen-Helfen The World of the Huns p 12) They also fought using iron swords and lassos in close combat. The Hun sword was a long, straight, double-edged sword of early Sassanian style. These swords were hung from a belt using the scabbard-slide method, which kept the weapon vertical.[citation needed] The Huns also employed a smaller short sword or large dagger which was hung horizontally across the belly. A symbol of status among the Huns was a gilded bow. Sword and dagger grips also were decorated with gold.

With the arrival of the Huns, a tradition of using more bone laths in composite bows arrived in Europe. Bone laths had long been used in the Levantine and Roman tradition, two to stiffen each of the two siyahs (the tips of the bow), for a total of four laths per bow. (The Scythian and Sarmatian bows, used for centuries on the European steppes until the arrival of the Huns, had no such laths.) A style that arrived in Europe with the Huns (after centuries of use on the borders of China), was stiffened by two laths on each siyah, and additionally reinforced on the grip by three laths, for a total of seven per bow.[24]


The subject of the Hunnic language is met with much controversy. So far, there is no general consensus on the exact origin or classification of Hunnic. A group of authors suppose that it may have been a member of, or related to, the Turkic language family.[43][44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55][56] Having said that, the literary sources of Priscus and Jordanes preserve only a few names, and three words, of the language of the Huns, which have been studied for more than a century and a half. The sources themselves do not give the meaning of any of the names, only of the three words. These words (medos, kamos, strava) do not seem to be Turkic,[19] but probably a satem Indo-European language similar to Slavic and Dacian.[57]

Traditionally notable studies include that of Pritsak 1982, "The Hunnic Language of the Attila Clan.",[58] who concluded, "It was not a Turkic language, but one between Turkic and Mongolian, probably closer to the former than the latter. The language had strong ties to Old Bulgarian and to modern Chuvash, but also had some important connections, especially lexical and morphological, to Ottoman and Yakut... The Turkic situation has no validity for Hunnic, which belonged to a separate Altaic group." On the basis of the existing name records, a number of scholars suggest that the Huns spoke a Turkic language of the Oghur branch, which also includes Bulgar, Avar, Khazar and Chuvash languages.[59] English scholar Peter Heather called the Huns "the first group of Turkic, as opposed to Iranian, nomads to have intruded into Europe".[17]:5 Maenchen-Helfen held that many of the tribal names among the Huns were Turkic.[19] However, the evidence is scant (a few names and three non-Turkic words), thus scholars currently conclude that the Hunnic language cannot presently be classified, and attempts to classify it as Turkic and Mongolic are speculative.[60][61][62]

A variety of languages were spoken within the Hun Empire.[63] Under Attila, Gothic was the lingua franca of the Hunnic elite.[5][6][7][8] Roman sources, e.g. Priscus, recorded that Latin, Gothic, "Hun" and other local 'Scythian" languages were spoken. Based on some etymological interpretation of the words strava and medos, and subsequent historical appearance, the latter has been taken to include a form of pre-Slavic language.[14]


Medieval retellings

The King of the Huns transfixing Saint Ursula with an arrow after she refused to marry him, in Caravaggio's 1610 "The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula".

Chroniclers writing centuries later often mentioned or alluded to Huns or their purported descendants. These include:

  • Theophylact Simocatta
  • Annales Fuldenses
  • Annales Alemannici
  • Annals of Salzburg
  • Liutprand of Cremona's Antapodosis
  • Regino of Prüm's chronicle
  • Widukind of Corvey's Saxon Chronicle
  • Nestor the Chronicler's Primary Chronicle
  • Legends of Saints Cyril and Methodius
  • Aventinus's Chronicon Bavaria,
  • Constantine VII's De Administrando Imperio, and
  • Leo VI the Wise's Tactica.

Mediaeval Hungarians continued this tradition (see Gesta Hunnorum et Hungarorum, Chronicon Pictum, Gesta Hungarorum).

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 in the Middle High German Nibelungenlied. These stories all portray Migration Period events from a millennium earlier.

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.

In the Völsunga saga, Attila (Atli in Norse) 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.

In the German "Saga of Tidreck of Bern", its written versions beginning from the 13th century, the Huns are called Frisians. Frisia was often called Hunaland in the Middle Ages.[64][65]

During a 16th-century peasant revolt in southern Norway, the rebels claimed, during their trial, that they expected the "Hun king Atle" to come from the north with a great host[citation needed].

Claims of Hunnic origins

Many nations and ethnic groups 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 that they descended from Attila. There are many similarities between Hunnic and Bulgar cultures, such as the practice of artificial cranial deformation. This along with other archaeological evidence suggest continuity between the two cultures. The most characteristic weapons of the Huns and early Bulgars (a particular type of composite bow and a long, straight, double edged sword of the Sassanid type, etc.) are virtually identical in appearance.[citation needed]

The Magyars (Hungarians) in particular lay claim to Hunnic heritage. Although Magyar tribes only began to settle in the geographical area of present-day Hungary in the very end of the 9th century, some 450 years after the dissolution of the Hunnic tribal confederation, Hungarian prehistory includes Magyar origin myths, which may have preserved some elements of historical truth. The Huns who invaded Europe represented a loose coalition of various peoples, so some Magyars might have been part of it, or may later have joined descendants of Attila's men, who still claimed the name of Huns. The national anthem of Hungary describes the Hungarians as "blood of Bendegúz'" (the medieval and modern Hungarian version of Mundzuk, Attila's father). Attila's brother Bleda is called Buda in modern Hungarian. Some medieval chronicles and literary works derive the name of the city of Buda from him. There is a legend among the Székely people that says: "After the death of Attila, in the bloody Battle of Krimhilda, 3000 Hun warriors managed to escape, to settle in a place called "Csigle-mező" (today Transylvania) and they changed their name from Huns to Szekler (Székely)." When Magyars came to Pannonia in the 9th century, the Szeklers joined them, and together they conquered Pannonia (today Hungary). There is also a lineage of that follows five generations rulers of the Huns and Magyars: Attila, his son Csaba, his son Ed, his son Ügyek, his son Előd, his son Álmos. Álmos was the ruler of the Magyars. Álmos son was Árpád. Taken from the ancient Gesta Hunnorum et Hungarorum ("The Deeds of the Huns and Hungarians")

20th century use in reference to Germans

A First World War Canadian electoral campaign poster

On July 27, 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion in China, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany gave the order to act ruthlessly towards the rebels: "Mercy will not be shown, prisoners will not be taken. Just as a thousand years ago, the Huns under Attila won a reputation of might that lives on in legends, so may the name of Germany in China, such that no Chinese will even again dare so much as to look askance at a German."[66]

The term "Hun" from this speech was later used for the Germans by British propaganda during World War I. The comparison was helped by the spiked Pickelhaube helmet worn by German forces until 1916, which would be reminiscent of images depicting ancient Hun helmets, some British found. This usage, emphasising the idea that the Germans were barbarians, was reinforced by Allied propaganda throughout the war. The French songwriter Theodore Botrel described the Kaiser as "an Attila, without remorse", launching "cannibal hordes".[67]

The usage of the term "Hun" to describe Germans resurfaced during World War II. For example Winston Churchill 1941 said in a broadcast speech: "There are less than 70,000,000 malignant Huns, some of whom are curable and others killable, most of whom are already engaged in holding down Austrians, Czechs, Poles and the many other ancient races they now bully and pillage."[68] Later that year Churchill referred to the invasion of the Soviet Union as "the dull, drilled, docile brutish masses of the Hun soldiery, plodding on like a swarm of crawling locusts."[69] During this time American President Franklin D. Roosevelt also referred to the German people in this way, saying that an Allied invasion into Southern France would surely "be successful and of great assistance to Eisenhower in driving the Huns from France."[70] Nevertheless, its use was less widespread than in the previous war. British and American World War II troops more often used the term "Jerry" or "Kraut" for their German opponents.

See also

  • Hunnic Empire
  • Hunnic language
  • List of Hunnic rulers
  • Nomadic empire
  • Xiongnu


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  4. There is no evidence to show that the dominant element in the Hun state was historically connected with that of the Hsiung-nu (Sinor, 178)
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  9. "However, the seed and origin of all the ruin and various disasters that the wrath of Mars aroused... we have found to be (the invasions of the Huns)". Ammianus 1922, XXXI, ch. 2
  10. Hunnic age sacrificial cauldron has been found 2006, Hungary
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  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 20.5 20.6 20.7 20.8 Thompson, E. A. 1948. A History of Attila and the Huns. Oxford University Press.
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  27. Sogdian Ancient Letters
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  30. Creasy,Edward Shepherd: The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World.
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  32. Bury, The Later Roman Empire, pp. 294f.
  33. Halsall. 2007. Page 48[full citation needed]
  34. Jordanes, XXXIV
  35. Jordanes, XXXV
  36. Delius, Peter (2005). Visual History of the World. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society. ISBN 0-7922-3695-5. 
  37. Facial reconstruction of a Hunnish woman, Das Historische Museum der Pfalz, Speyer
  38. Bachrach, Bernard S., A history of the Alans in the West: from their first appearance in the sources of classical antiquity through the early Middle Ages, U of Minnesota Press (1973), pp. 67-69
  39. Doris Pany and Karin Wiltschke-Schrotta, Artificial cranial deformation in a migration period burial of Schwarzenbach, Lower Austria], VIAVIAS, no. 2 (Vienna Institute for Archaeological Science 2008), pp. 18-23. [
  40. Maenchen-Helfen, Otto J. (ed. Max Knight). 1973. The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-01596-7 p.361
  41. Blockley, fr. 13, (Exc. de Leg. Rom. 3)
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  45. Björn Collinder, An Introduction to the Uralic Languages, University of California Press, 1965, p.23
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  48. Paddy Docherty, The Khyber Pass: A History of Empire and Invasion, 2008, Union Square Press, 105
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  57. Schenker, Alexander. 1995. The Dawn of Slavic: an introduction to Slavic philology. Yale University Press.
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  64. Veselovsky. Russians and veltinas in the Saga of Tidreck of Bern (Verona). Saint-Petersburg, Russia, 1906 in Russian Веселовский “Русские и вильтины в саге о Тидреке Бернском (Веронском) ” (СПб., 1906)
  65. A. G. Kuzmin Normanic concept and its critique In Russian
  66. 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'.
  67. "Quand un Attila, sans remords, / Lance ses hordes cannibales, / Tout est bon qui meurtrit et mord: / Les chansons, aussi, sont des balles!", from Theodore Botrel, by Edgar Preston T.P.'s Journal of Great Deeds of the Great War, February 27, 1915
  69. Churchill, Winston S. 1941. "WINSTON CHURCHILL'S BROADCAST ON THE SOVIET-GERMAN WAR", London, June 22, 1941
  70. Winston Churchill. 1953. "Triumph and Tragedy" (volume 6 of The Second World War). Boston: Houghton-Mifflin. Ch. 4, p. 70

Further reading

  • Attila und die Hunnen. Begleitbuch zur Ausstellung. Hrsg. vom Historischen Museum der Pfalz, Speyer. (Stuttgart 2007).
  • Christopher Kelly, Attila The Hun: Barbarian Terror and the Fall of the Roman Empire (London 2008)
  • Rudi Paul Lindner, Nomadism, Horses and Huns, in: Past and Present 92, 1981, p.  3–19.
  • E. A. Thompson, A History of Attila and the Huns (1948).
  • Franz Altheim, Attila und die Hunnen (1951).
  • J. Werner, Beiträge zur Archäologie des Attila-Reiches (1956).
  • W. M. McGovern, Early Empires of Central Asia (1939)
  • Frederick John Teggart, China and Rome (1969, repr. 1983);
  • Otto J. Maenchen-Helfen, The World of the Huns (1973).

External links

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