1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Huns

HUNS. This or some similar name is given to at least four peoples, whose identity cannot be regarded as certain. (1) The Huns, who invaded the East Roman empire from about A.D. 372 to 453 and were most formidable under the leadership of Attila. (2) The Hungarians or Magyars. The Magyars crossed the Carpathians into Hungary in A.D. 898 and mingled with the races they found there. The modern Hungarians (excluding Slavonic elements) are probably a mixture of these Magyars with the remnants of older invaders such as Huns, Petchenegs and Kumans. (3) The White Huns (Λευκοὶ Οὕννοι or Ephthalites), who troubled the Persian empire from about 420 to 557 and were known to the Byzantines. (4) The Hûnas, who invaded India during the same period. There is not much doubt that the third and fourth of these tribes are the same, and it is quite likely that the Magyars are descended from the horde which sent forth the Huns in the 4th century, but it is not demonstrable. Neither can it be proved that the Huns and Magyars belonged either physically or linguistically to the same section as the Hûnas and Ephthalites. But the occurrence of the name in both India and Europe is prima facie evidence in favour of a connexion between those who bore it, for, though civilized races often lumped all their barbarian neighbours together under one general name, it would seem that, when the same name is applied independently to similar invaders in both India and eastern Europe, the only explanation can be that they gave themselves that name, and this fact probably indicates that they were members of the same tribe or group. What we know of the history and distribution of the Huns does not conflict with this idea. They appear in Europe towards the end of the 4th century and the Ephthalites and Hûnas in western Asia about fifty years later. It may be supposed that some defeat in China (and the Chinese were successful in driving back the Hiung-nu in the 1st century A.D.) had sent them westwards some time earlier. One body remained in Transoxiana and, after resting for a time, pushed their way through the mountains into Afghanistan and India, exactly as the Yüe-Chi had done before them. Another division pressed farther westwards and probably made its headquarters near the northern end of the Caspian Sea and the southern part of the Ural Mountains. It was from here that the Huns invaded Europe, and when their power collapsed, after the death of Attila, many of them may have returned to their original haunts. Possibly the Bulgarians and Khazars were offshoots of the same horde. The Magyars may very well have gradually spread first to the Don and then beyond it, until in the 9th century they entered Hungary. But this sketch of possible migrations is largely conjectural, and authorities are not even agreed as to the branch of the Turanians to which the Huns should be referred. The physical characteristics of these nomadic armies were very variable, since they continually increased their numbers by slaves, women and soldiers of fortune drawn from all the surrounding races. The language of the Magyars is Finno-Ugric and most nearly allied to the speech of the Ostiaks now found on the east of the Ural, but we have no warrant for assuming that the Huns, and still less that the Ephthalites and Hûnas, spoke the same language. Neither can we assume that the Huns and Hûnas are the same as the Hiung-nu Of the Chinese. The names may be identical, but it is not certain, for in Hun may lurk some such designation as the ten (Turkish on or ūn) tribes. Also Hiung-nu seems to be the name of warlike nomads in general, not of a particular section. Again the Finnish languages spoken in various parts of Russia and more or less allied to Magyar must have spread gradually westwards from the Urals, and their development and diffusion seem to postulate a long period (for the history of the Finns shows that they were not mobile like the Turks and Mongols), so that the ancestral language from which spring Finnish and Magyar can hardly have been brought across Asia after the Christian era. The warlike and vigorous temper of the Huns has led many writers to regard them as Turks. The Turks were perhaps not distinguished by name or institutions from other tribes before the 5th century, but the Huns may have been an earlier offshoot of the same stock. Apart from this the Hungarians may have received an infusion of Turkish blood not only from the Osmanlis but from the Kumans and other tribes who settled in the country.

History.—The authentic history of the Huns in Europe practically begins about the year A.D. 372, when under a leader named Balamir (or, according to some MSS., Balamber) they began a westward movement from their settlements in the steppes lying to the north of the Caspian. After crushing, or compelling the alliance of, various nations unknown to fame (Alpilzuri, Alcidzuri, Himari, Tuncarsi, Boisci), they at length reached the Alani, a powerful nation which had its seat between the Volga and the Don; these also, after a struggle, they defeated and finally enlisted in their service. They then proceeded, in 374, to invade the empire of the Ostrogoths (Greutungi), ruled over by the aged Ermanaric, or Hermanric, who died (perhaps by his own hand) while the critical attack was still impending. Under his son Hunimund a section of his subjects promptly made a humiliating peace; under Withemir (Winithar), however, who succeeded him in the larger part of his dominions, an armed resistance was organized; but it resulted only in repeated defeat, and finally in the death of the king. The representatives of his son Witheric put an end to the conflict by accepting the condition of vassalage. Balamir now directed his victorious arms still farther westward against that portion of the Visigothic nation (or Tervingi) which acknowledged the authority of Athanaric. The latter entrenched himself on the frontier which had separated him from the Ostrogoths, behind the “Greutungrampart” and the Dniester; but he was surprised by the enemy, who forded the river in the night, fell suddenly upon his camp, and compelled him to abandon his position. Athanaric next attempted to establish himself in the territory between the Pruth and the Danube, and with this object set about heightening the old Roman wall which Trajan had erected in north-eastern Dacia; before his fortifications, however, were complete, the Huns were again upon him, and without a battle he was forced to retreat to the Danube. The remainder of the Visigoths, under Alavivus and Fritigern, now began to seek, and ultimately were successful in obtaining (376), the permission of the emperor Valens to settle in Thrace; Athanaric meanwhile took refuge in Transylvania, thus abandoning the field without any serious struggle to the irresistible Huns. For more than fifty years the Roman world was undisturbed by any aggressive act on the part of the new invaders, who contented themselves with overpowering various tribes which lived to the north of the Danube. In some instances, in fact, the Huns lent their aid to the Romans against third parties; thus in 404–405 certain Hunnic tribes, under a chief or king named Uldin, assisted Honorius in the struggle with Radagaisus (Ratigar) and his Ostrogoths, and took a prominent part in the decisive battle fought in the neighbourhood of Florence. Once indeed, in 409, they are said to have crossed the Danube and invaded Bulgaria under perhaps the same chief (Uldin), but extensive desertions soon compelled a retreat.

About the year 432 a Hunnic king, Ruas or Rugulas, made himself of such importance that he received from Theodosius II. an annual stipend or tribute of 350 pounds of gold (£14,000), along with the rank of Roman general. Quarrels soon arose, partly out of the circumstance that the Romans had sought to make alliances with certain Danubian tribes which Ruas chose to regard as properly subject to himself, partly also because some of the undoubted subjects of the Hun had found refuge on Roman territory; and Theodosius, in reply to an indignant and insulting message which he had received about this cause of dispute, was preparing to send off a special embassy when tidings arrived that Ruas was dead and that he had been succeeded in his kingdom by Attila and Bleda, the two sons of his brother Mundzuk (433). Shortly afterwards the treaty of Margus (not far from the modern Belgrade), where both sides negotiated on horseback, was ratified. By its stipulations the yearly stipendium or tribute payable to Attila by the Romans was doubled; the fugitives were to be surrendered, or a fine of £8 to be paid for each of those who should be missing; free markets, open to Hun and Roman alike, were to be instituted; and any tribe with which Attila might be at any time at war was thereby to be held as excluded from alliance with Rome. For eight years afterwards there was peace so far as the Romans were concerned; and it was probably during this period that the Huns proceeded to the extensive conquests to which the contemporary historian Priscus so vaguely alludes in the words: “He (Attila) has made the whole of Scythia his own, he has laid the Roman empire under tribute, and he thinks of renewing his attacks upon Persia. The road to that eastern kingdom is not untrodden by the Huns; already they have marched fifteen days from a certain lake, and have ravaged Media.” They also appear before the end of this interval to have pushed westward as far as to the Rhone, and to have come into conflict with the Burgundians. Overt acts of hostility, however, occurred against the Eastern empire when the town of Margus (by the treachery of its bishop) was seized and sacked (441), and against the Western when Sirmium was invested and taken.

In 445 Bleda died, and two years afterwards Attila, now sole ruler, undertook one of his most important expeditions against the Eastern empire; on this occasion he pushed southwards as far as Thermopylae, Gallipoli and the walls of Constantinople; peace was cheaply purchased by tripling the yearly tribute (which accordingly now stood at 2100 pounds of gold, or £84,000 sterling) and by the payment of a heavy indemnity. In 448 again occurred various diplomatic negotiations, and especially the embassy of Maximinus, of which many curious details have been recorded by Priscus his companion. Then followed, in 451, that westward movement across the Rhine which was only arrested at last, with terrible slaughter, on the Catalaunian plains (according to common belief, in the neighbourhood of the modern Châlons, but more probably at a point some 50 m. to the south-east, near Mery-sur-Seine). The following year (452), that of the Italian campaign, was marked by such events as the sack of Aquileia, the destruction of the cities of Venetia, and finally, on the banks of the Mincio, that historical interview with Pope Leo I. which resulted in the return of Attila to Pannonia, where in 453 he died (see Attila). Almost immediately afterwards the empire he had amassed rather than consolidated fell to pieces. His too numerous sons began to quarrel about their inheritance, while Ardaric, the king of the Gepidae, was placing himself at the head of a general revolt of the dependent nations. The inevitable struggle came to a crisis near the river Netad in Pannonia, in a battle in which 30,000 of the Huns and their confederates, including Ellak, Attila’s eldest son, were slain. The nation, thus broken, rapidly dispersed, exactly as the White Huns did after a similar defeat about a hundred years later. One horde settled under Roman protection in Little Scythia (the Dobrudzha), others in Dacia Ripensis (on the confines of Servia and Bulgaria) or on the southern borders of Pannonia. Many, however, appear to have returned to what is now South Russia, and may perhaps have taken part in the ethnical combinations which produced the Bulgarians.

The chief original authorities are Ammianus Marcellinus, Priscus, Jordanes, Procopius, Sidonius Apollinaris and Menander Protector. See also Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; J. B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire (1889); H. H. Howorth, History of the Mongols (1876–1888); J. Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders (1892); and articles in the Revue orientale pour les études Oural-altaiques. For the Chinese sources see E. H. Parker, A Thousand Years of the Tartars (1905), and numerous articles by the same author in the Asiatic Quarterly; also articles by Chavannes, O. Franke, Stein and others in various learned periodicals. For the literature on the White Huns see Ephthalites.  (C. El.)