From Bioanthropology

Jump to: navigation, search

The origin of huns
Huns were Koreans

The Huns were a confederation of Central Asian equestrian nomads or semi-nomads. Some of these Eurasian tribes moved into Europe in the 4th century, the most famous leader being Attila. 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).


Origins and research

The 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, Persian or Armenian sources is not identical with the Latin Hunni or the Greek Chounnoi as evidence of the Huns' identity. [1]

Recent genetic research 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.[1]"All we can say safely", says Walter Pohl,"is that the name Huns, in late antiquity, described prestigious ruling groups of steppe warriors".[1] In part these views are a response to ethnocentric and nationalistic scholarship of past generations - thus leading Pan-European historians have turned to ethnogenesis as a means of explaining the origins and transmission of the barbarian ethnic groups such as the Goths, Franks, Huns,...etc[2].

The genetic research and ethnogenesis approach is in contrast to traditional theories based on Chinese records, archaeology, linguistics and other indirect evidence. These 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 they were possibly related to, or included in, the Xiongnu (the theory 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 westward, eventually invading Europe 200 years later. Indirect evidence includes the transmission of the composite bow; known as the Hun bow, from Central Asia to the west. This traditional narrative, of a westward movement of people triggered by a Chinese war, is deeply ingrained in western (and eastern) historiography — but the evidence is often indirect or ambiguous (the Huns left practically no written records). For a timespan of 150 years, there is no record of what happened between the time they left China and arrived in Europe. 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 K’ang-chü (centered on Turkestan in Kazakhstan). Furthermore, the Chinese records between the 3rd and 4th century suggests that a small tribe called Yueban (which is described as the remnants of northern Xiongnu in texts) were distributed in the steppe of Kazakhstan. It is further challenged by the recent genetic research showing little support for a distinct Hun people (even further sparking contention, see "Modern Huns" below).

One recent line of reasoning is in favor of the idea of a political and cultural link between the Huns and the Xiongnu. It is based on the fact that the Central Asian (Sogdian and Bactrian) sources of the 4th C. translate Huns as Xiongnu, and Xiongnu as Huns; in addition the Xiongnu and Hunnic cauldrons are virtually identical, and were buried on the same spots (river banks) in Hungary and in the Ordos.[3]

Ever since Joseph de Guignes in the 18th century identified the Huns with the Xiongnu or (H)siung-nu,[4] there has been a school of thought that the Huns were of Turkic origin. Kemal Cemal, a Turkish researcher,[5] points to linguistic evidence; compares Turkic and Hunnic words, names and shows the similarities between them. He also compares systems of governance of the Huns to that of other Turkic tribes, and points to the existence of another similar empire, the Indian Mughal Empire, which may have been Turkic. He also suggests other western European historians also believe that Huns were Turkic. Others who support this view include Hungarian historian Gyula Nemeth in his 1991 book Hungary.

This article will not discuss the "White Huns" of Procopius, people possibly of Tibetan or Turkic ethnicity,[6] while he calls them "Huns", there is no definite evidence that they are related to the "Huns".[7] Furthermore, nothing is known of their language.[8] However, there is an ongoing research on whether they were closely related to the "Huns" or not.


The Hunnic Empire stretched from the steppes of Central Asia into modern Germany, and from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea
The Hunnic Empire stretched from the steppes of Central Asia into modern Germany, and from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea

2nd-5th centuries

Dionysius Periegetes talks of people who may be Huns living next to the Caspian Sea in the second century AD. By 139 AD, the European geographer Ptolemaus Claudius(Ptolemy) writes that the Khuni are next to the Dnieper River and ruled by Suni. Ptolemy lists the "Chuni" as among the "Sarmatian" White Hun tribes in the second century, although it is not known for certain if these people were the Huns. The fifth century Armenian historian Moses of Khorene, in his "History of Armenia," introduces the Hunni near the Sarmatians and goes on to describe how they captured the city of Balk ("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, there was a century without significant Xiongnu references, followed by attempts by the Liu family of southern Xiongnu Tiefu 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 and sent the Xiongnu into chaos. Later Kidara came along to lead the Chionites into pressing on the Kushans.

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

edit.5D_European_Huns">[edit] European Huns

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

Huns made an appearance in Europe in the Fourth Century AD, appearing first north of the Black Sea area possibly from Central Asia, forcing a large number of Goths to seek refuge in the Roman Empire; then later the Huns appear west of the Carpathians in Pannonia, probably sometime between 400 and 410, which was probably the trigger for the massive migration of Germanic tribes westward across the Rhine in December 406.

The establishment of the 5th century Hun Empire is an early appearance of horseback migration in history. Under the leadership of Attila, these tribal people achieved military and diplomatic superiority over their rivals (most of them highly cultured) through weapons like the Hun bow and a system of pay-offs, financed by the plundering of wealthy Roman cities to the south, to retain the loyalties of a diverse number of tribes.

Attila's Huns incorporated groups of unrelated tributary peoples. In the European case Alans, Gepids, Scirii, Rugians, Sarmatians, Slavs and Gothic tribes all united under the Hun family military elite. Some of Attila's Huns eventually settled in Pannonia after his death, but the Hun Empire would not survive Attila's passing. After his sons were defeated by Ardaric's coalition at the unidentified river Nedao in 454, the Hunnish empire ceased to exist.

The memory of the Hunnish invasion was transmitted orally among the Germanic peoples and is an important component in the Old Norse Völsunga saga and Hervarar saga, and the Middle German Nibelungenlied, all portraying events in the Migrations period, almost one millennium before their 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 Völsunga saga and the Nibelungenlied, King Attila (Atli in Norse and Etzel in German) defeats the Frankish king Sigebert I (Sigurðr or Siegfried) and the Burgundian King Guntram I (Gunnar or Gunther), but is subsequently assassinated by Queen Fredegund (Gudrun or Kriemhild), the sister of the latter and wife of the former.

Successor nations

Many nations have tried to assert themselves as ethnic or cultural successors to the Huns. The Bulgarian khans, for instance, believed they were descended from Attila. Indeed, the language of Volga Bulghars, currently known as the Chuvash language, is the most divergent of all the Turkic languages, which testifies to its separate existence for centuries before the dissolution of the Proto-Turkic unity happened. "Formerly, scholars considered Chuvash not properly a Turkic language at all but, rather, the only surviving representative of a separate subdivision of the Altaic languages probably spoken by the Huns".[9]

The Magyars also have laid claims to the Hunnish heritage. Considering that the Huns who invaded Europe represented a loose coalition of various peoples, it is not entirely out of the question that Magyars were present among those ethnic groups as well.

In 2005, a group of about 2,500 Hungarians petitioned the government to be a recognized minority of direct descendants of Attila. It was a failed bid, but gained publicity for the group, who had been formed in the early 1990s, and appear to represent a special Hun(garian)-centric brand of mysticism. The self-proclaimed Huns are not known to possess more special knowledge about Hun culture or language than would be available from historical and modern-mystical Hungarian sources.[10]

While there is no question that the Huns left descendants all over Eastern Europe, the disintegration of the Hun empire after the death of Attila 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, who did. Once disorganized, the Huns naturally were absorbed by more organized polities.


The term "Hun" has been also used to describe peoples with no historical connection to what scholars consider "Hun". In an earlier time, Germans were called Huns which is a misappropriation.

On July 27, 1901, during the Boxer Rebellion in China, Kaiser Wilhelm II gave the order to "make the name 'German' remembered in China for a thousand years, so that no Chinaman [sic] will ever again dare to even squint at a German". This speech, wherein 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 the later derogatory English usage of the latter term for their German enemy during World War I. This usage was reinforced by Allied propaganda throughout the war, prompting hatred of the Germans by invoking the idea that they were brutal savages. The usage resurfaced during World War II.

See also


  1. ^ a b c 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
  2. ^ Michael Kulikowski (2006). Rome's Gothic Wars. Cambridge University Press. Page 52-54
  3. ^ E. de la Vaissière, Huns et Xiongnu "Central Asiatic Journal" 2005-1 pp. 3-26
  4. ^ "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)"
  5. ^ "Europe: The Origins of the Huns", by Kessler Associate, based on conversations with Kemal Cemal, Turkey, 2002
  6. ^ Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia
  7. ^ Columbia Encyclopedia
  8. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica
  9. ^ (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1997)
  10. ^ BBC News - "Hungary blocks Hun minority bid" - By Nick Thorpe, April 12, 2005

Further reading

  • de la Vaissière, E. "Huns et Xiongnu", Central Asiatc Journal, 2005-1, p. 3-26.
  • Lindner, Rudi Paul. "Nomadism, Horses and Huns", Past and Present, No. 92. (Aug., 1981), pp. 3–19.
  • 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
  • Otto J. Mänchen-Helfen: Huns and Hsiung-Nu (published in Byzantion, vol. XVII, 1944-45, pp. 222-243)
  • Otto J. Mänchen-Helfen: 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)
  • J. Webster: The Huns and Existentialist Thought (Loudonville, Siena College Press, 2006)
Personal tools