1902 Encyclopedia > Huns


HUNS. The authentic history of the Huns in Europe practically begins about the year 372 A.D., 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, after a short interval, in 374 to invade the empire of the Ostrogoths (Greuthungi), 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 sec-tion 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 accept-ing the condition of vassalage. Balamir now directed his victorious arms still further westward against that portion of the Visigothic nation (or Tervingi) which acknowledged the authority of Athanaric. The latter entrenched himself ou the frontier which had separated him from the Ostrogoths, behind the " Greutung-rampart" and the Dniester; but notwithstanding all his precautions 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 Boman 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 Boman world was undisturbed by any aggressive act on the part of the new invaders, who contented themselves with over-powering various other tribes which lived to the north of the Danube. In some instances, in fact, the Huns actually lent their aid to the Romans against third parties ; thus in 404-5 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 which was fought in the neighbourhood of Florence. Once indeed, in 409, they are said to have crossed the Danube and invaded Bul-garia under perhaps the same chief (Uldis), but extensive desertions soon compelled a retreat. About the year 432, a noteworthy Hunnic king, Buas or Bugulas, is mentioned, who 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 Boman 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 sought and 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 Bomans 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 Boman 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 during this period probably it was 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 Boman 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 west-ward 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; ou 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 indem-nity besides. In 448 again occurred various diplomatic negotiations, and especially the embassy of Maximin, of which many curious details have been recorded by Priscus his companion. Then followed, in 451, that westward movement across the Bhine which was only arrested at last, with terrible slaughter, on the Catalaunian plains (according to common belief, in the neighbourhood of the modern Chalons, but more probably at a point some fifty miles 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 Mineio, 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; one horde settled under Roman protection in Little Scythia (the Dobrudscha), others in Dacia Ripensis (on the confines of Servia and Bulgaria) or on the southern borders of Pannouia. The i main body, however, appear to have resumed the position on the steppes of the river Ural which they had left less I than a century before ; soon afterwards they reappear in history as the Bulgari (see Zeuss, Die Deutschen,&c, p. 710), divided into two sections, the Kuturguri and the less for-midableUturguri, who for more than seventyyears (485-557) were a constant source of annoyance and danger to the Eastern empire, until they themselves fell under the rising power of the Avars. About the year 630 they succeeded in regaining their independence, under the leadership of a chief named Krobat, or more properly Kubrat, a person of great consequence, who made a treaty with the emperor Heraclius. After his death his dominions, according to Theophanes (who wrote about 800 A.D.), were divided among his five sons, of whom the eldest, Batbaias, remained with his own people near the Mseotis, while the third, Asperuch, crossed the Danube. At a later period the first of these divisions came into close relations with the Khazars on the Volga, and their territory is spoken of as Great Bulgaria ; for a brief account of the Danubian or " White " Bulgarians the article BULGARIA and the works there referred to may be consulted.

We have no adequate philological data for conclusively determining the ethnological position of the ancient Huns ; and, in the attempt to solve the problem by other means, the student is at all points much hampered by the vague-ness and inaccuracy with which designations, apparently ethnological, are applied by ancient writers. Since the publication of the Histoire Générale des Huns, des Turcs, des Mongols, et des autres Tartares Occidentaux of De Guignes (1756-58), it has been usual to identify the first mentioned with the Heungnoo or Hiungnu, a people who, about the end of the 3d century B.C., according to the Chinese annals, constituted a powerful empire extending from the Great Wall of China to the Caspian, but who, gra-dually falling into a state of anarchy, ultimately succumbed to the attacks of their enemies towards the close of the 1st Christian century. Their subsequent history is very obscure; but it appears that one section of them fled west-ward and settled in the neighbourhood of the Ural river, and the extremely tempting hypothesis of De Guignes is that these were the direct ancestors of the Huns, who three centuries afterwards began, under Balamir, to exercise so formidable an influence on the affairs of Europe. If so, then the Huns in all probability belonged to the Turkish branch of the great Turanian race.

According to the totally distinct line of investigation followed by Roesler, however, the Bulgarians, and therefore the Huns whose descendants they were, are to be regarded as of Finnic origin (see Romdnische Studien, p. 231 sqq.). It has only to be added that by mediaeval writers, both Byzantine and Western, the word Hun is used much as the word Scythian was used by the ancients, with the utmost generality. No very close connexion can be made out be-tween the Huns and the Magyars (Ovyypoi, Ugri, Wengri, Ungri, Ungâri, Hungari), who first became prominent about the 9th century and who were undoubtedly Finns.

Literature.—The contemporary authorities upon the subject of the Huns during the period of their greatest ascendency in Europe are the fragments of the eight books of the rhetorician Priscus, Concerning Byzantium and the Occurrences connected with Attila, with the writings of Ammianus Marcellinus the Roman soldier, and of Jordanis the Gothic bishop. The account of the Huns given by the last-named must always be read in the light of the fact that as a Goth he could hardly avoid giving a somewhat exag-gerated picture of the great military power in the presence of which his own people had been able to show so little resistance. The truth of the somewhat elaborate sketch of the Huns by Ammianus has sometimes been doubted, but careful examination tends rather to establish its claim to bs regarded as trustworthy. After alluding to their portentous ugliness (of which, however, the only features [ he specifies are the round shoulders and the scarred beardless cheeks), I he proceeds to mention some of the habits which in his opinion stamp them as surpassing all other barbarians in rudeness of life. Their food, in addition to such roots as they are able to find, con-sists of the half-raw flesh of any sort of animal, prepared for use by being carried for some time between their persons and the backs of the hardy little horses which are their almost inseparable com-panions. Houses they have none; and their clothing, which is made partly of linen and partly of the skins of field mice sewed to-gether, continues to be worn until it falls to pieces. Their weapons are javelins or spears tipped with bone, and (for close combat) the sword and lasso. In warfare they seldom fight in rank, the method of attack they prefer being to throw the enemy into con-fusion by repeated onset made in loose array. They are wholly without religion or sense of moral obligation. For later infor-mation we are dependent on the writers of the Byzantine his-tory (see Stritter, Memorial populorum olim ad Danubium, Pontum Euxinum, Paludem Mceotidem, Caucasum, &c, incolentium, ex scriptoribus Byzantinis crutm ac digestce, 1771-79, and the edition of the fragments of Menander Protector, published in the Bonn collection). For Chinese notices bearing or supposed to bear on the subject of the Huns, De Guignes, Visdelou, and. De Mailla remain our chief authorities ; to these should be added M. Stanislas Julien's series of papers on the Thukiu in the 6th series of the Journal Asiatique, and Mr "Wylie's translations from the Hun annals in the Journal of tlie Anthropological Institute. Other materials on the general subject will be found in the admirable notes to Le Beau's History of the Byzantine Empire, and in the editions of the Arme-nian historians by St Martin, Langlois, and Brosset. See also the History of Georgia by the last of these authors ; the Chronicle of Nestor, which is made available to Western students in the edition of M. Paris ; the works of Zeuss, Pallmann, and Roesler already cited; Thierry, Histoire d' Attila et de ses Successeurs, 1864; Sayous, Les Origines et l'Époque Païenne de l'Histoire des Hongrois, 1874 ; Jirecek, Gesch. der Bulgaren, 1877 ; Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders, vol. ii., 1880; Kruse's edition of Al Belchri, with notes ; the Account of the Khazars by M. Harkavy ; that of the Ephthalitai or White Huns, by M. Vivien St Martin ; and a series of papers by Mr Ho worth " On the Westerly Drifting of Nomades," published in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute.

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