The Huns were a nomadic people who lived within Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. They were first reported in historical accounts living east of the Volga River which was part of Scythia at the time. One plausible theory on the origin of the Huns were nomadic tribes who came from between the eastern edge of the Altai Mountains and the Caspian Sea, Map right; Hunnic people controlled the area in orange which is a large part of Eastern Europe.
As we have discovered while researching this topic, there is significant confusion surrounding the racial and cultural background of the Hunnic people which started in the 18th century when a French scholar claimed; the Huns were linked to the Xiongnu people of Northern China in the 3rd century BC. However, there seems to be no solid evidence to prove that this theory is true.
The following article by the Chinese historian Sima Qian gives an insight into Chinese descriptions of people who they described as "unusual," having heavy beards and characteristics dissimilar to those of Chinese. It also discusses Attila the Hun.
Xiongnu and the Wusun People
Historians are faced with a challenge when researching the Huns and Attila. The only complete sources are written in Greek and Latin by the Huns' enemies. Only fragmented information remains of the testimonials written by Attila's contemporaries.
According to Wikipedia, "The Hunnic language, or Hunnish, was the language spoken by Huns in the Hunnic Empire, a heterogeneous, multi-ethnic tribal confederation which ruled much of Eastern Europe and invaded the West during the 4th and 5th centuries. A variety of languages were spoken within the Hun Empire. Contemporary reports that Hunnish was spoken alongside Gothic and the languages of other tribes subjugated by the Huns. Evidence for the language is very limited, consisting almost entirely of proper names. Hunnic language cannot be classified at present, but due to proper names origin it has been compared mainly with Turkic and Mongolian."
The Khazak language is classified as a Turkic language, DNA testing which has been done on a small number of Kazak individuals reveal the bulk of the population is of Turkish Caucasian ancestry.
Another group, the Magyars (a Hungarian ethnic group) lay claim to Hunnic heritage. The Magyars settled in the geographical area of present-day Hungary at the end of the 9th Century which is almost 500 years after the Huns tribal coalition dissolved. As this coalition was formed with many groups of people, it is very possible that the Magyars might have been part of it. There is a legend among the Székely people of Hungary that says:
"After the death of Attila, in the bloody Battle of Krimhilda, 3000 Hun warriors managed to escape, to settle in a place called "Csigle-mező" (today Transylvania), and they changed their name from Huns to Szekler (Székely)." Some of the subjects of the Huns included Iranian-speaking Alans and Sarmatians and many of the German tribes spoke German. The people of the Hunnic "Empire" were, therefore, very diverse.
Attila the Hun
While Hungary may lay claim to being Attila's birthplace, some historians who have looked objectively at the evidence or lack there of have concluded that his date and place of birth is unknown. Similarly, little is known about his early life causing historians to be divided on this topic.
Attila the Hun was the ruler of the nomadic people known as the Huns and led the Hunnic Empire from 434 AD until his death in 453 AD. He was possibly one of the fiercest opponents that the Romans ever faced.
Prior to Attila, historical accounts suggest that the Huns were largely an un-unified confederation of many kings, rather than one empire. As a result of our research, we believe that Attila the Hun was Eastern European not Mongolian.
Attila is depicted on a contemporary European coin (pictured right) in the likeness of the Turkish sultans Suleiman and Mehmet.
It is worth noting also that descriptions of Attila's conquests would have been exaggerated as they were mostly recorded by his enemies to discredit him. Considering Attila's rise to power across a vast empire, one could acknowledge that Attila must have been a brilliant organizer to bring tribes together under his control while also being a great military strategist. With these abilities, we would describe him as "an exceptional man." If one studies history, you will find several exceptional leaders who have the ability to unite people and get things done.
When they die, their empires also die because few people have the skills similar to their predecessors to run an empire and this is still the case in modern times. Such was the case with Attila the Hun, whose empire declined after his death in 453 AD and the Germanic European subjects within the Hunnic Empire rebelling against their overlords. When Attila's sons could not deal with the fallout of the various tribes they began warring against each other.
As the article in Great Military Battles explains, Attila the Hun's final battle with the Roman General Aetius' coalition of tribes was on a huge scale at Chalons in France.
"Both Armies were quite large for fifth century standards. Atilla's army numbering 300,000 men (200,000 Huns, 60,000 Ostrogoths, 40,000 Gepidae, totalling some 200,000 cavalry and 100,000 infantry) would be countered by Aetius's Roman - Gothic army numbering 260,000 men (120,000 Visigoths, 90,000 Romans and 50,000 Alans comprising 150,000 cavalry and 110,000 infantry)."
After failing to win the strategic summit ground and sustaining attacks on both flanks, Attila apparently left the Gepidae and what remained of the Ostrogoths to fight on his behalf the Huns escaped. Both sides suffered huge losses and although Attila was defeated at this battle he was still powerful and regathered his army to full strength after returning to his homeland across the Danube River. Over the period following, Attila the Hun turned his attention toward the Western Roman Empire, pillaging Italy. In 452 AD, as Attila was preparing to invade Italy once again, he had drunk himself into a stupor on his wedding day to Ildico, a Gothic princess. The following morning it was discovered that he had suffered a nose bleed and apparently choked to his death. However, there are various theories on his death.
Despite Attila, the Hun's apparent brutality, to have gained control over so much of Europe and its many tribes he must have been a sound military strategist and a great leader. According to history, there is no surviving first-person account of Attila's appearance. As cited in New World Encyclopedia;
"Historians do have a possible, second-hand source, however, provided by Jordanes, a controversial historian, who claimed Priscus described Attila as: "short of stature, with a broad chest and a large head; his eyes were small, his beard thin and sprinkled with gray; and he had a flat nose and tanned skin.""
Many skulls have been found around the world which is consistent with genetic elongation. There seems to be evidence of this being attributed to either natural cranial deformity or 'artificial cranial deformation,' which has been found in some Hunnic graves. One theory of the reason for artificial deformity was a symbol of wisdom, status or high rank which seems to be a common theme across many cultures around the world.
For more information on Europeans in Eastern Europe and beyond go to the following articles on our website:
Review: Ancient White Mummies of Asia