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nomadic and pastoral people of unknown ethnological affinities who appeared in Europe in the 4th cent. A.D., and built up an empire there. They were organized in a predominantly military manner. Divided into hordes, they undertook extensive independent campaigns, living off the countries they ravaged. The Huns have been described as short and of somewhat Mongolian appearance. Their military superiority was due to their small, rapid horses, on which they practically lived, even eating and negotiating treaties on horseback. Despite the similarity of their tactics and habits with those of the White Huns, the Magyars, the MongolsMongols
, Asian people, numbering about 6 million and distributed mainly in the Republic of Mongolia, the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China, and Kalmykia and the Buryat Republic of Russia.
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, and the Turks, their connection with those peoples is either tenuous or—in the case of the Magyars and the Turks—unfounded.

The Huns first appeared in Europe c.A.D. 372, when they invaded the lower Volga valley. Some scholars have associated them with Hsiung-nu (as the Chinese called them). In the 3d cent. B.C. part of the Great Wall of ChinaGreat Wall of China,
series of fortifications, c.3,890 mi (6,260 km) long (not including trenches and natural defensive barriers), winding across N China from Gansu prov. to Liaoning prov.
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 was erected to exclude the Hsiung-nu from China; the Hsiung-nu occupied N China from the 3d cent. A.D. until 581. As the Huns advanced westward from the Volga valley, they pushed the Germanic OstrogothsOstrogoths
(East Goths), division of the Goths, one of the most important groups of the Germans. According to their own unproven tradition, the ancestors of the Goths were the Gotar of S Sweden. By the 3d cent. A.D., the Goths settled in the region N of the Black Sea.
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 and VisigothsVisigoths
(West Goths), division of the Goths, one of the most important groups of Germans. Having settled in the region W of the Black Sea in the 3d cent. A.D., the Goths soon split into two divisions, the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths.
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 before them and thus precipitated the great waves of migrations that destroyed the Roman Empire and changed the face of Europe. They crossed the Danube, penetrated deep into the Eastern Empire, and forced (432) Emperor Theodosius to pay them tribute. AttilaAttila
, d. 453, king of the Huns (445–53). After 434 he was coruler with his brother, whom he murdered in 445. In 434, Attila obtained tribute and great concessions for the Huns in a treaty with the Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II, but, taking advantage of Roman wars
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, their greatest king, had his palace in Hungary. Most of the territories that now constitute European Russia, Poland, and Germany were tributary to him, and he was long in Roman pay as Roman general in chief. When Rome refused (450) further tribute, the Huns invaded Italy and Gaul and were defeated (451) by AetiusAetius,
c.396–454, Roman general. At first unfriendly to Valentinian III, he later made his peace with Valentinian's mother, Galla Placidia, and was given a command in Gaul.
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, but they ravaged Italy before withdrawing after Attila's death (453). Their later movements are little known; some believe that the White HunsWhite Huns
or Hephthalites
, people of obscure origins, possibly of Tibetan or Turkish stock. They were called Ephthalites by the Greeks, and Hunas by the Indians. There is no definite evidence that they are related to the Huns.
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 were remnants of the Hunnic people. The word Huns has been used as an epithet, as for German soldiers, connoting destructive militarism.


See T. Hodgkin, Italy and Her Invaders, Vol. I (rev. ed. 1892, repr. 1967); W. M. McGovern, Early Empires of Central Asia (1939); E. A. Thompson, A History of Attila and the Huns (1948); F. Teggart, China and Rome (1969, repr. 1983); J. D. Maenchen-Helfen, The World of the Huns (1973).



a nomadic people originating in the Urals region in the second through fourth centuries A.D. from among the Turkic-speaking Hsiung-Nu people, who had migrated there from Central Asia in the second century, and from local Ugrian and Sarmatian elements. The beginning of the mass westward movement of the Huns, which touched off the so-called Great Migrations, dates from A.D. 370–380. Having subdued the Alani in the northern Caucasus, the Huns crossed the Don River under the leadership of their chief Balamber and defeated the Goths of the coastal region north of the Black Sea (in 375), bringing most of the Ostrogoths under their rule and forcing the Visigoths to withdraw into Thrace. In 394–395 the Huns crossed over the Caucasus and laid waste Syria and Cappadocia. Subsequently, they established their base in Pannonia, from where they made raids on the Eastern Roman Empire. (In relation to the Western Roman Empire they served as allies in the struggle against the Germanic tribes up until the middle of the fifth century.) The Hunnic union of tribes included, besides the Huns themselves, certain subject peoples such as the Ostrogoths, Heruli, Gepids, and certain other Germanic and non-Germanic tribes. This alliance reached its greatest territorial extension and power under Attila, who ruled from 434 to 453. Even under Attila the social system of the Huns did not advance beyond the stage of military democracy. (Although inequality of ownership increased among them, slavery became quite widespread, and the chieftainship became hereditary.) The Huns continued to be nomads. They imposed tribute upon their subject tribes and forced them to participate in military campaigns. Under Attila’s leadership they invaded Gaul in 451 along with their allies but were defeated upon the Catalaunian Fields by the combined forces of the Romans. Visigoths, and Franks. After the death of Attila in 453, internecine feuds broke out among the Huns. and the Gepids took advantage of this and led a revolt of the Germanic tribes against the Hunnic rule. The Huns were defeated near the Nedao River in 455 in Pannonia and withdrew to the steppes north of the Black Sea; their alliance fell apart. In 469 attempts by the Huns to penetrate into the Balkan Peninsula were unsuccessful. Gradually the Huns disappeared as a separate people, although their name continued to be encountered for a long time afterward as a general term for the nomadic tribes of the Black Sea area.


Inostrantsev, K. A. Khunnu i gunny. Leningrad, 1926.
Bernshtam. A. N. Ocherk istorii gunnov. Leningrad. 1951.
Thompson. E. A. A History of Attila and the Huns. Oxford. 1948.
Altheim. F. Geschichte der Hunnen. vols. 1–4. Berlin, 1959–62.
Moravcsik, Gyula. “Byzantinoturcica.” Berlin, 1958. (Berliner Byzantinistische Arbeiten, vol. II: includes a bibliography on the Huns.)



Mongolian invaders of western Europe until 453. [Eur. Hist.: Espy, 167]
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