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Territory under Hunnic control circa 450 AD

The Huns were a group of nomadic pastoral people who, appearing from beyond the Volga, migrated into Europe c. 370 AD and built up an enormous empire in Europe.


American anti-German WWI propaganda poster degrading the Germans as "Huns"

Since De Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu who had been northern neighbours of China three hundred years before,[1] considerable scholarly effort has been devoted in investigating such a connection. However, there is no evidence for a direct connection between the Xiongnu and the Huns.[2] The relationships of the language of the Huns have been the subject of debate for centuries. The leading current theory is that it was a Turkic language.[3] However, numerous other languages were spoken within the Hun pax including East Germanic.[4] Their main military technique was mounted archery.

The Huns may have stimulated the Great Migration, a contributing factor in the conquest of the Roman Empire by Germanic peoples.[5] They formed a unified empire under Attila the Hun, who died in 453; 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 roughly from the 4th century to the 6th century. Variants of the Hun name are recorded in the Caucasus until the early 8th century.

The ethnogenesis and language of the Huns is disputed by scholars, with various different homeland theories proposed. There is consensus that the Huns as nomadic pastoralists had settled across a broad territory of the Eurasian Steppe, c. 300 BC, and probably had their origins near to China. Only however during the 4th century AD did they appear as west as the Volga River, where they invaded the Alani who inhabited the eastern territory adjacent to the Sea of Azov (southern Russia). Although exact dates are not known, scholars have estimated since the 18th century that the Huns invaded Europe around 370 AD (Gibbon, 1781 Vol. 3: xxvi. 346-348; Maenchen-Helfen, 1973: 45). Sometime before 391 AD, the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus completed his work Roman History; the earliest recognised source on the Huns when they entered the eastern parts of Europe.


Marcellinus' work includes various descriptive phenotypic traits of the Huns which alongside other extant physical descriptions in Jordanes’ Getica (551 AD) have been useful to anthropologists in determining their racial affinity. In Marcellinus’ text, the physical descriptions of the Huns correlate to Mongoloid racial features (Maenchen-Helfen, 1973: 360-366). Jordanes, a Gothic historian describes Atilla the Hun of Mongoloid appearance:

"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."

Paleoanthropological evidence combined with the various extant ancient descriptions, supports the racial identification of the Huns as being Mongoloid. However not all the Huns were Mongoloid, since they absorbed various tribes they conquered, hence some were white described as light skinned and blue eyed (Maenchen-Helfen, 1973: 364; Sinor, 1990: 203). In fact the late Byzantine historian Procopius (i. 3) confirms this, as he mentions a "White Hun" division.

As Ogres

In Germanic folklore, the Huns became known as the Hüne meaning giants (Grimm, 1844: 522-523; Taylor, 1865: 302; Krappe, 1930: 87). In etymology the Huns are also connected to the monstrous ogres of fairytales. The word ogre is French, appearing in 12th century literature deriving from the Old French Hongrois or Hongre which means Hungarian > Hun (Maenchen-Helfen, 1973: 5). In Europe Hungarians, Bulgarians, Basques and also Etruscians consider themselves as continuals of Huns because of the same language and same traditions and respect Great King Attila. There are also some rests of Huns in Switzerland. [6].

In Asia, the Uygur people, at present their country is part of China, consider themselves as continuals of Huns. Some folklorists and linguists have further attempted to connect the word Hun to the English word hunger (Old English: Hungor; Old High German: Hungar) and thus propose that this word is rooted in the traditions of the Huns or ogres being savage and hungry (Yearsley, 1924: 10). It is also proposed that Tolkien's orcs were based on the Huns.

See also


  • Gibbon, Edward. (1781). The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Vol. 3. W. Hallhead.
  • Grimm, Jacob. (1844). Teutonic Mythology. Vol. 2. Courier Dover Publications (reprint).
  • Krappe, Alexander Haggerty. (1930). Science of Folklore. Kessinger Publishing (reprint).
  • Maenchen-Helfen, Otto. (1973). The World of the Huns: studies in their history and culture. University of California Press.
  • Sinor, Denis. (1990). The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia. Cambridge University Press.
  • Taylor, Isaac. (1865). Words and Places or Etymological Illustrations of History, Ethnology and Geography. Kessinger Publishing (reprint).
  • Yearsley, MacLeod. (1924). The Folklore of Fairytale. Kessinger Publishing (reprint).

External links



  1. De Guignes, Joseph (1756-1758) 
  2. The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia. David Sinor. Page 178 there is no evidence to show that the dominant element in the Hun state was historically connected with that of the Hsiung-nu
  3. Frucht, Richard C., Eastern Europe, (ABC-CLIO, 2005), 744.
  4. Sinor. Page 202
  5. "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 Marcellinus], book XXXI, chapter 2. Loeb edition, Transl. John Rolfe, first pub. 1922