European Huns

Feared nomadic warriors and accurate mounted archers, the European Huns played a role in the decline of the Roman Empire.



The Huns rode the lands of East Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia from the first to the 7th century AD. Originally, they lived to the east of the Volga River in what was then Scythia. Nomadic and pastoral in nature, they were feared warriors known for their horsemanship and accurate mounted archery. They rode horses, giving them speed in their charges and retreating as suddenly as they attacked, leaving their opponents confused.
Not until Attila the Hun were they united under a single king. Rather, they had comprised groups of warrior bands who integrated easily with other tribes to increase their strength.

While some scholars disagree, it is believed that the Huns of Europe were connected to the Xiongnu who lived to the north of China. Tribes from Mongolia are believed to have migrated to the northern parts of Central Asia during the 2nd or 3rd century AD and to Europe during the 4th century.

Both the Huns and the Xiongnu used bronze cauldrons like the people of the Steppes did. But, other practices differed between the two.
While the Xiongnu sported long pony tails, the Huns did not.
The Huns practiced the act of artificially elongating the skulls while the Xiongnu did not.

The Huns came from the eastern side of the River Volga.

From the time that they invaded Europe, the Huns dominated central and south-eastern Europe for 70 years.
Between the Volga and the River Don were the Alani who, like the Huns, were warriors and pastoral people in addition to being well-known horse-breeders.
The Huns overran them when they emerged from beyond the River Volga during the 4th century. Those that survived the slaughter either submitted to the Huns or fled across the Don.

By the 5th century, the Huns were united under King Rua, also known as Rugila. His nephews Bleda and Attila succeeded him on his death.
Between the Rivers Don and Dniester lived the Ostrogoths, that is the Eastern Goths. When the Huns attacked them, most surrendered while the rest fled across the Dniester. The Huns then defeated the Visigoths, that is the Western Goths who lived in Romania. The Visigoths went to the lower Danube and sought Roman asylum with the Eastern Goths and other tribes following them.

Bleda died in 445 AD, and it is not known whether Attila had murdered his brother. Attila took full control and in 447 AD, attacked the Eastern Roman Empire once again. Beset with internal problems, the Empire could not withstand the Huns although Constantinople was saved.


The Huns had now reached the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire by the River Danube. They forced a treaty with the Eastern Roman Empire in 435 AD, earning trading rights and an annual tribute from the Romans. In addition, the Romans gave over refugees from the Huns to execution. The Huns also acted as mercenaries, fighting for the Empire.
In 440 AD, the Romans did not honour the treaty and the Huns attacked them. A truce was signed in 441 AD, but was breached yet again. This time, the Hunnish attack took them close to Constantinople. After a defeat, the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II gave in to Hun demands and they returned richer to their lands.

Bleda died in 445 AD, and it is not known whether Attila had murdered his brother. Attila took full control and in 447 AD, attacked the Eastern Roman Empire once again. Beset with internal problems, the Empire could not withstand the Huns although Constantinople was saved. The Huns wreaked havoc on the Balkans and drove into Greece going up to Thermophylae. In 449 AD, they were forced to retreat because of disease and the Romans agreed to pay a large tribute in gold.
The Huns though were on good terms with the Western Empire. But, when in 450 AD, the Roman Emperor decided to marry off his sister Honoria to a Roman senator, she wrote to Attila for help, sending a ring along with the plea. Choosing to see it as a proposal for marriage, Attila asked for half the Western Roman Empire as dowry. When the Emperor stated that the proposal was not legitimate, Attila sent an emissary to say that he would come to claim her.
In 451 AD, Attila entered Gaul and continued towards the west, going through Paris and laying siege to Orleans. The joint Roman-Visigoth armies clashed with the Huns at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in which Attila suffered his only defeat.
In 452 AD, too, Attila made the same demand and entered northern Italy. The Roman Emperor negotiated with him for peace.


The Xiongnu were nomadic pastoral tribes who lived to the north of China. By the end of the 3rd century BC, the tribes joined together and dominated Central Asia up to 2nd century AD, ruling over much of Siberia and Mongolia. Their attacks on China led to the construction of the Great China Wall although it could not fully stop their attacks.
Like the Huns, the Xiongnu too were mounted warriors and archers with the ability to gather hundreds of thousands of warriors for their intrusions into North China. The Chinese chariots were no match for their flexibility and ease of movement.The attacks continued until the Han Emperor Wudi sent his warriors into central China to fight the nomads and build alliances with the Xiongnu’s enemies.
The Xiongnu split eventually and the eastern horde submitted to the Chinese while the western horde moved towards Central Asia. The Tujue, who were the dominant nomad people of Mongolia in the 7th century, claim to be descendants of the Xiongnu. Some of the latter’s customs are similar to Turkish customs. Hence, some historians believe that the western Xiongnu may have been the ancestors of the European Turks, yet others believe that the Xiongnu are the European Huns.

Italy had undergone a famine and if Attila were to attack Rome, he would need supplies from Italy. Further, his troops whom he had left behind to guard home territories were defeated by the Eastern Roman Empire which led him to retreat.
Once again, the Eastern Roman Emperor stopped payment of tribute and Attila prepared to attack Constantinople. But, in 453 AD, he died of a hemorrhage on his wedding night.
The Huns lost their power within a year of Attila’s death and any trace of them disappeared within a few centuries