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Huns

HUNS

The Huns (the word means "people" in Altaic) were a confederation of steppe nomadic tribes, some of whom may have been the descendants of the Hsiung-nu, rulers of an empire by the same name in Mongolia. After the collapse of the Hsiung-nu state in the late first century c.e., the Huns migrated westward to Central Asia and in the process mixed with various Siberian, Ugric, Turkic, and Iranian ethnic elements. Around 350, the Huns migrated further west and entered the Ponto-Caspian steppe, from where they launched raids into Transcaucasia and the Near East in the 360s and 370s. Around 375, they crossed the Volga River and entered the western North Pontic region, where they destroyed the Cherniakhova culture and absorbed much of its Germanic (Gothic), Slavic, and Iranian (Sarmatian) ethnic elements. Hun movement westward initiated a massive chain reaction, touching off the migration of peoples in western Eurasia, mainly the Goths west and the Slavs west and north-northeast. Some of the Goths who escaped the Huns' invasion crossed the Danube and entered Roman territories in 376. In the process of their migrations, the Huns also altered the linguistic makeup of the Inner Eurasian steppe, transforming it from being largely Indo-European-speaking (mainly Iranian) to Turkic.

From 395 to 396, from the North Pontic the Huns staged massive raids through Transcaucasia into Roman and Sasanian territories in Anatolia, Syria, and Cappadocia. By around 400, Pannonia (Hungary) and areas north of the lower Danube became the Huns' staging grounds for attacks on the East and West Roman territories. In the 430s and 440s, they launched campaigns on the East Roman Balkans and against Germanic tribes in central Europe, reaching as far west as southern France.

The Huns' attacks on territories beyond the North Pontic steppe and Pannonia were raids for booty, campaigns to extract tribute, and mercenary fighting for their clients, not conquests of their wealthy sedentary agricultural neighbors and their lands. Being pastoralists, they wielded great military powers, but only for as long as they remained in the steppe region of Inner Eurasia, which provided them with the open terrain necessary for their mobility and grasslands for their horses. Consequently, Hun attacks west of Pannonia were minor, unorganized, and not led by strong leaders until Attila, who ruled from about 444 or 445 to 453. However, even he continued the earlier Hun practice of viewing the Roman Empire primarily as a source of booty and tribute.

Immediately after Attila's sudden death in 453, the diverse and loosely-knit Hun tribal confederation disintegrated, and their Germanic allies revolted and killed his eldest son, Ellac (d. 454). In the aftermath, most of the Huns were driven from Pannonia east to the North Pontic region, where they merged with other pastoral peoples. The collapse of Hun power can be attributed to their inability to consolidate a true state. The Huns were always and increasingly in the minority among the peoples they ruled, and they relied on complex tribal alliances but lacked a regular and permanent state structure. Pannonia simply could not provide sufficient grasslands for a larger nomadic population. However, the Hun legacy persisted in later centuries. Because of their fierce military reputation, the term "Hun" came to be applied to many other Eurasian nomads by writers of medieval sedentary societies of Outer Eurasia, while some pastoralists adopted Hun heritage and lineage to distinguish themselves politically.

See also: caucasus; central asia; ukraine and ukrainians

bibliography

Christian, David. (1998). A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia, Vol. 1: Inner Asia from Prehistory to the Mongol Empire. Oxford: Blackwell.

Golden, Peter B. (1992). An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Maenchen-Helfen, O. J. (1973). The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sinor, Denis. (1990). "The Hun Period." In The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, ed. Denis Sinor. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Roman K. Kovalev

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Huns

Huns, nomadic and pastoral people of unknown ethnological affinities who appeared in Europe in the 4th cent. AD, and built up an empire there. They were organized in a predominantly military manner. Divided into hordes, they undertook extensive independent campaigns, living off the countries they ravaged. The Huns have been described as short and of somewhat Mongolian appearance. Their military superiority was due to their small, rapid horses, on which they practically lived, even eating and negotiating treaties on horseback. Despite the similarity of their tactics and habits with those of the White Huns, the Magyars, the Mongols, and the Turks, their connection with those peoples is either tenuous or—in the case of the Magyars and the Turks—unfounded.

The Huns first appeared in Europe c.AD 372, when they invaded the lower Volga valley. Some scholars have associated them with Hsiung-nu (as the Chinese called them). In the 3d cent. BC part of the Great Wall of China was erected to exclude the Hsiung-nu from China; the Hsiung-nu occupied N China from the 3d cent. AD until 581. As the Huns advanced westward from the Volga valley, they pushed the Germanic Ostrogoths and Visigoths before them and thus precipitated the great waves of migrations that destroyed the Roman Empire and changed the face of Europe. They crossed the Danube, penetrated deep into the Eastern Empire, and forced (432) Emperor Theodosius to pay them tribute. Attila, their greatest king, had his palace in Hungary. Most of the territories that now constitute European Russia, Poland, and Germany were tributary to him, and he was long in Roman pay as Roman general in chief. When Rome refused (450) further tribute, the Huns invaded Italy and Gaul and were defeated (451) by Aetius, but they ravaged Italy before withdrawing after Attila's death (453). Their later movements are little known; some believe that the White Huns were remnants of the Hunnic people. The word Huns has been used as an epithet, as for German soldiers, connoting destructive militarism.

Bibliography

See T. Hodgkin, Italy and Her Invaders, Vol. I (rev. ed. 1892, repr. 1967); W. M. McGovern, Early Empires of Central Asia (1939); E. A. Thompson, A History of Attila and the Huns (1948); F. Teggart, China and Rome (1969, repr. 1983); J. D. Maenchen-Helfen, The World of the Huns (1973).

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Huns

Huns

The people who invaded the eastern Roman Empire around 372-453 C.E. and were particularly ruthless and effective in their war campaigns under the leadership of Attila. Modern day Hungarians claim ancestry dating back to the Huns.

Ancient historians recorded legends that grew out of the severe stress the Huns created in all those whom they fought against. They credited the Huns with a supernatural origin. The Huns were referred to as "children of the devil," because it was said that they were born of a union between demons and hideous witches, the latter cast out of their own country by Philimer, king of the Goths, and his army. The old writers state that the Huns were of horrible deformity and could not be mistaken for anything but the children of demons. The German historian C. Besoldus (1577-1638) claimed that their name came from a Celtic or barbaric word signifying "great magicians." Many stories are told of their magic prowess and of their raising specters to assist them in battle.

Sources:

Manchen-Helfen, Otto. The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.

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Huns

Huns Nomadic people of Mongol or Turkic origin who expanded from central Asia into e Europe. Under Attila, they overran large parts of the Roman empire in 434–53, exacting tribute, but after his death they disintegrated.

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