Registered & Protected  EWYF-AUCZ-AAR8-HLZT Bulgarians: 2016-11-27


Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Huns - short history

Huns were a nomadic pastoralist people who invaded southeastern Europe 370 AD and during the next seven decades built up an enormous empire there and in central Europe. Appearing from beyond the Volga River some years after the middle of the 4th century, they first overran the Alani, who occupied the plains between the Volga and the Don rivers, and then quickly overthrew the empire of the Ostrogoths between the Don and the Dniester. About 376 they defeated the Visigoths living in what is now approximately Romania and thus arrived at the Danubian frontier of the Roman Empire.

As warriors the Huns inspired almost unparalleled fear throughout Europe. They were amazingly accurate mounted archers, and their complete command of horsemanship, their ferocious charges and unpredictable retreats, and the speed of their strategical movements brought them overwhelming victories.
Huns Bulgars Empire
Hun Empire

Between 395-398 CE, the Huns overran the Roman territories of Thrace and Syria, destroying cities and farmlands in their raids but showing no interest in settling in the regions.

Their pressure on surrounding tribes, and on Rome, continued as they raided at will and without restraint. In December of 406 CE, the Vandals crossed the frozen Rhine River and invaded Gaul to escape the Huns and brought the remnants of many other tribes along with them. In 408 CE the chief of one group of Huns, Uldin, completely ransacked Thrace and, as Rome could do nothing to stop them militarily, they tried to pay them for peace. Uldin, however, demanded too high a price, and so the Romans opted to buy off his subordinates. This method of keeping the peace was successful and would become the preferred practice for the Romans in dealing with the Huns from then on.

It is no surprise that the Romans chose to pay off the Huns for peace rather than face them on the field. To emphasize Ammianus' description of the Hun's tactics in war, already cited above:

"they fight in no regular order of battle, but by being extremely swift and sudden in their movements, they disperse, and then rapidly come together again in loose array, spread havoc over vast plains, and flying over the rampart, they pillage the camp of their enemy almost before he has become aware of their approach."

They were expert horsemen, described as seeming to be one with their steeds; they were rarely seen dismounted and even carried on negotiations from the backs of their horses. Neither the Romans nor the so-called barbarian tribes had ever encountered an army like the Huns.

For half a century after the overthrow of the Visigoths, the Huns extended their power over many of the Germanic peoples of central Europe and fought for the Romans. By 432 the leadership of the various groups of Huns had been centralized under a single king, Rua, or Rugila. When Rua died in 434 he was succeeded by his two nephews, Bleda and Attila. The joint rulers negotiated a peace treaty at Margus (Pozarevac) with the Eastern Roman Empire, by which the Romans agreed to double the subsidies they had been paying the Huns. The Romans apparently did not pay the sums stipulated in the treaty, and in 441 Attila launched a heavy assault on the Roman Danubian frontier, advancing almost to Constantinople  and sacked the cities of the province of Illyricum, which were very profitable Roman trade centers. They then further violated the Treaty of Margus by riding on to that city and destroying it. The Roman emperor Theodosius II (401-450 CE) then declared the treaty broken and recalled his armies from the provinces to stop the Hun rampage.

In 447 Attila, for unknown reasons, made his second great attack on the Eastern Roman Empire. He devastated the Balkans and drove south into Greece as far as Thermopylae.

Since Ammianus’ time the Huns had acquired huge sums of gold as a result of their treaties with the Romans as well as by way of plunder and by selling their prisoners back to the Romans. This influx of wealth altered the character of their society. The military leadership became hereditary in Attila’s family, and Attila himself had autocratic powers in peace and war alike. He administered his huge empire by means of “picked men” (logades), whose main function was the government of and the collection of food and tribute from the subject peoples who had been assigned to them by Attila.

In 451 Attila invaded Gaul but was defeated by Roman and Visigothic forces at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, or, according to some authorities, of Maurica. This was Attila’s first and only defeat. In 452 the Huns invaded Italy and sacked several cities, but famine and pestilence compelled them to leave. In 453 Attila died; his many sons divided up his empire and at once began quarreling among themselves. They then began a series of costly struggles with their subjects, who had revolted, and were finally routed in 455 by a combination of Gepidae, Ostrogoths, Heruli, and others in a great battle on the unidentified river Nedao in Pannonia.

The literary evidence for the Huns

The earliest systematic description of the Huns is that given by the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, writing c. 395. They were apparently primitive pastoralists who knew nothing of agriculture. They had no settled homes and no kings; each group was led by primates, as Ammianus called them. Whether or not they had a single overall leader in the 4th century is still a matter of dispute. The savage hordes of the Huns were demonized earlier. In 364 Hilary of Poitiers predicted the coming of the Antichrist within one generation. After the battle of Adrianople Ambrose wrote that "the end of the world is coming upon us". Behind the Huns the Devil was lurking. Jordanes tells us a curious story about the origin of the Huns:

"Filimer, king of the Goths, son of Gadaric the Great, who was the fifth in succession to hold the rule of the Getae after their departure from the island of Scandza,--and who, as we have said, entered the land of Scythia with his tribe,--found among his people certain witches, whom he called in his native tongue Haliurunnae. Suspecting these women, he expelled them from the midst of his race and compelled them to wander in solitary exile afar from his army. (122) There the unclean spirits, who beheld them as they wandered through the wilderness, bestowed their embraces upon them and begat this savage race, which dwelt at first in the swamps,--a stunted, foul and puny tribe, scarcely human, and having no language save one which bore but slight resemblance to human speech. Such was the descent of the Huns who came to the country of the Goths." [1]

The Huns were not a people like other peoples. They were fiendish ogres roaming over the desolate plains beyond the borders of Christian world from where they brought death and destruction to the faithful. Even after the fall of the empire of Attila, the most famous king of the Huns, the people who were believed to have descended from the Huns were in alliance with the devil.

Ancient authors seem to know next to nothing about the origin of the Huns. Instead of facts they serve us with equations. They used the names of Scythians and Massagetae interchangeably with that of the Huns. Themistius (317-390), Claudian (370-404), and later Procopius (500-560) called the Huns Massagetae. However the Huns, not the Massagetae, attacked the Alans, who threw themselves upon the Goths. The Gaul called the Huns by their name, the Greek called them Massagetae. Eastern writers looked on the Huns as "bandits" and called them Scythians, a name that in 4-5 century had lost its specific meaning. Eunapius only suggest their identity with Herodotus's Royal Scythians who dwell near the Ister (Danube). Ammianus Marcellinus hated all barbarians, but for him the Huns were the worst. His descriptions of the Huns are distorted by hatred and fear:

" None of them ever ploughs or touches a colter. Without a permanent seats, without a home, without fixed laws or rites, they all roam about, always like a fugitives... restless roving over mountains and through woods. They cover themselves with clothes sewed together from the skins of forest rodents."...

"...they neither require fire nor well flavored food, but live on the roots of such herbs as they get in the fields, or on the half-raw flesh of any animal, which they merely warm rapidly by placing it between their own thighs and the backs of their horses."

" There is not a person in the whole nation who cannot remain on his horse day and night. On horseback they buy and sell, they take their meat and drink, and there they recline on the narrow neck of their steed, and yield to sleep so deep as to indulge in every variety of dream. And when any deliberation is to take place on any weighty matter, they all hold their common council on horseback. They are not under kingly authority, but are contented with the irregular government of their chiefs, and under their lead they force their way through all obstacles...."

Archaeological evidence confirms deformation of Hunnic children and Ammianus Marcellinus, writing about fifty years before Attila’s reign, describes a barbaric practice: "At the very moment of their birth the cheeks of their infant children are deeply marked by an iron..." Jordanes, an historian writing about one hundred years after Attila’s death, elaborates:

"Their hardihood is evident in their wild appearance, and they are beings who are cruel to their children on the very day they are born. For they cut the cheeks of the males with a sword, so that before they receive the nourishment of milk they must learn to endure wounds."

It was their cruelty, and their military prowess, which made the Huns a conquering people even before Attila became their king. As Ammianus Marcellinus observes, at the beginning of his history:
"The people called Huns, slightly mentioned in the ancient records, live beyond the Sea of Azov, on the border of the Frozen Ocean, and are a race savage beyond all parallel."

Huns Warfare 

The Huns were expert horsemen, they were rarely seen dismounted and even carried on negotiations from the backs of their horses. Neither the Romans nor the so-called barbarian tribes had ever encountered an army like the Huns. They seemed to have been bred for mounted warfare and used the bow with great effect. Their ability to appear out of nowhere, attack like a whirlwind, and vanish away made them incredibly dangerous opponents who seemed impossible to defeat or defend against.

In warfare they used the bow and javelin. Early writers such as Ammianus (followed by Thompson) stated that they used primitive, bone-tipped arrowheads, but this claim has been contested by archaeological findings in Hunnic tombs, which have exclusively yielded iron arrowheads. Maenchen-Helfen states: "Had the Huns been unable to forge their swords and cast their arrow-heads, they never could have crossed the Don. The idea that the Hun horsemen fought their way to the walls of Constantinople and to the Marne with bartered and captured swords is absurd." They also fought using iron swords and lassos in close combat. According to archaeological data the Hun sword was a long(90 cm), straight, double-edged sword of early Sassanian style. These swords were hung from a belt using the scabbard-slide method, which kept the weapon vertical.The Huns also employed a smaller short sword (50–60 cm) or large dagger which was hung horizontally across the belly. A symbol of status among the Huns was a gilded bow. Sword and dagger grips also were decorated with gold.

With the arrival of the Huns, a tradition of using more bone laths in composite bows arrived in Europe. Bone laths had long been used in the Levantine and Roman tradition, two to stiffen each of the two siyahs (the tips of the bow), for a total of four laths per bow. (The Scythian and Sarmatian bows, used for centuries on the European steppes until the arrival of the Huns, had no such laths.) A style that arrived in Europe with the Huns (after centuries of use on the borders of China), was stiffened by two laths on each siyah, and additionally reinforced on the grip by three laths, for a total of seven per bow.

The main body of Hun armies consisted of light-armed cavalry equipped with big (120–150 cm) and powerful composite bows that were the Hun principal weapon of offence. The Huns, including their leaders, were particularly noted for their great skill of archery. The bow served, too, as a badge of power among the Huns. This is confirmed by the fact that among their high nobility there were in use models of the arm outfitted with golden end laths, the so-called "golden bows", playing a very prestigious social role. The Hun warriors were dressed in heavy leather greased with animal fat, making their battle dress both supple and rain resistant. They wore soft leather boots that were excellent for riding but probably useless for foot travel. Speaking of Hun arrows, Ammianus Marcellinus (XXXI, 2, 9) refers solely to those provided with bone heads skilfully attached to shafts. Bone arrowheads were widespread among the Xiongnu of Central Asia. Huns also made use of metal (iron) arrowheads and, in fact, the Huns even brought with themselves new types of metal arrowheads. There is an opinion that arrows shot from Hun bows could pierce through armour at a distance of 100 m. One more important offensive arm, very typical for nomadic peoples of Eurasia, was the lasso, which the Huns threw on their opponents at a middle range. Heavy armour did not spread to any considerable degree in the bulk of Hun troops because of their tactics of mobility and fight from a distance.

Hun ordinary soldiers had curved fur-caps ("galeri incurvi": Amm. Marc. XXXI, 2, 6) that served as protectors to their heads. The Huns used whips as riding equipment but also as a weapon of close combat. The whips were also used to give the prearranged tactical signals. The whip was also esteemed as a symbol of high social status and power.

The Hun saddles were rigid wooden construction with the high front and rear arches allowing the Hun riders to have a firm seat on horseback when riding at full speed and shooting arrows both forward and backwards without any problem. The Hun cavalry always charged first and did that with swift movement using a loose battle formation. According to Ammianus Marcellinus (XXXI, 2, 8–9) one can distinguish two main phases of the Huns’ tactics:

1. initial charge by the deep loose formation accompanied by a terrible war cry and with intensive shooting bows at the enemies from a distance

2. middle-range and hand-to-hand combat, when the Huns, moving fast through the battle field threw the lassos on their foes and face to face fight with swords.

Very usual stratagem for the European Huns was a feigned retreat to deceive and fatigue their foes, which was then followed by a sudden counterattack. While retreating, they shot the bows backwards with so high accuracy that their persecutors, not expecting such a tactic, had serious losses both in killed and wounded. Two other favorite stratagems of the Huns were surrounding the enemy order and laying ambushes. Once again should be noted that the Huns preferred to fight from a distance, not in close combat. Beyond any doubt, their strategy and tactics went back again to military practices of the Xiongnu. The outcome of battle was decided not in hand-to-hand-combat, but in methodical and very efficient shooting at the enemy from afar, i. e. with the least losses for themselves.