In Russian (later)
Contents Türkic languages
Ogur and Oguz
Alans and Ases
E.Pulleyblank Eastern Hun Language
O.Pritsak Onomasticon of Western Huns
W.B.Henning Xiongnu are Huns
L.Gumilev Language of Huns
Kisamov N. Hunnic Oracle Phrase
Tekin T. Hsiung-Nu Language
Vovin A Hsiung-Nu Language
Taskin V. Hsiung-Nu Language
Doerfer G. On Hunnic and Turkic (snippets)
Gmyrya L. Caspian Huns
|Hyun Jin Kim
The Huns, Rome, and the birth of Europe
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013, ISBN 978-1-107-00906-6
© Hyun Jin Kim 2013
This posting is a mirror.
The Eurocentric view of the European history is ingrained not only in Europe, it resonates throughout the world, and practically it is the only item on the menu. Not that it was created by the victors, since at one time all locals were victors and losers, but because the locals held themselves as the ones civilized versus the bulk of the others, and traditionally had parochial perspective in tune with the parochial interests of the audience. The slant colors entire view, in extreme forms burning people alive and cheating allies is expected civilized behavior, while pillaging as punishment is barbaric. On the fringes, individual aspects were disputed, but for 15 centuries the theme, rooted on glorification of farming and outdated notions of nomadic culture as primitive in comparison to sedentary civilizations, remained unquestionable inside and outside of the European science. Moreover, in conceptualizing their own histories much of the outside works replicated Eurocentric version as a creed. In most cases, that was not helpful neither for the European nor for for outside history, propagating false interpretations based on false premises. At the end of the 20th c. the change was lurking right under the surface. For specific topics, an alternate Eurasian perspective started popping up everywhere. But so far, no Sinocentric or Eurocentric writer ventured to deal squarely with the debased fundamentals.
The Hyun Jin Kim's book rolls back the 15 centuries-long inane trend. It addresses fundamentals, and demonstrates that they are unsustainable. Under Eurocentric scheme, the Huns disappeared. But they not only did not vanish, they were instrumental in creating a new Europe where these scholars live now, and a new India. The new China was also created by Zhou Scythians, who preceded Huns by 12 centuries. The Dark Age was far from being dark, it was the age of creative change that reshaped the face and innards of the Classical Europe, and served as a ladder to the modernity. The politics addressed in the book is but a tip of an iceberg that tops a whole body of cultural, ethnological, etiologic, and technical matters. As any re-evaluation, the book modifies extant esthesis, relying on the store of accumulated scientific and largely Eurocentric works that blossom on the other side of reality in grasping European affairs, and yet in grasping the Inner Asian and nomadic world understand much less. The whole book is essentially a summary, a comparable volume of endnotes provides details without cluttering the subject, and ensuring a fascinating reading. Very few boys from the crowds deign to scream that the king is naked. Although the book has addressed many speculations and wanton postulations, an even larger body outside of the author's purview has been taken uncritically, some of them are addressed in the posting annotations.
For the Eurocentric scholars, the book is polarizing and unconvincing on many technical grounds: the sources are not direct, evidence is circumstantial, the style is uncouth, the layout is unconventional, arguments are not developed sufficiently, and there are mistakes. Little can be done to overcome intellectual inertia, the destroyed evidence is not about to resurface, changing presentation style will not impact the flow of history, and mistakes do not affect the vision. Most of the modern science is resting on indirect evidence, and not eyewitness provides our knowledge. Quite the opposite, the science, and the Eurocentric science particularly, routinely discounted direct eyewitness evidence, take the geocentric universe, war and peace reports, and certified genealogical accounts.
Archeology and genetics have determined that in the 3rd mill. BC, in the course of the “killing fields” period and migrations, Europe was largely re-populated by Kurgan people, marked by R1b haplogroup, who came overland in “Kurgan waves”, and circum-Mediterranean with the “Celtic or Bell Beaker” migrations. These migrations, initially Neolithic, have carried and spread the culture, language, traditions, and technology of the Inner Asia, the remote predecessor of the ancestors of the European Huns of the 1st mill. AD. The Huns did not come to a completely alien Europe, as the Classical writers would see them; quite the opposite, the Huns came to Europe that had millenniums-old Inner Asian cultural and economic traditions of pastoral economy, the last nomadic waves preceding the Huns were the fairly well-known migrations of their Kurgan Scythian and Sarmatian kins that paved the way for the Hunnic takeover. The Scythian wave coincided and overlapped with the 1st mill. BC return from the eastern and northern European areas of the European refugees who in the 3rd mill. BC fled the “killing fields”. Albeit spotty, some of these migrations are known from the early Classical writers, and for example, genetics uncovered re-appearance in the Central Europe of the haplogroup I, and appearance in the Caucasus of the same haplogroup G that for a time had vanished in Europe.
A reader will encounter too many insights to list. Among the most interesting are:
Page numbers are shown at the end of the page in blue. Posting notes and explanations, added to the text of the author, are shown in (blue italics) in parentheses and in blue boxes, or highlighted by blue headers. The academic text follows a combination of precedent academic conventions and modern Mandarin pronunciation that straddles the wall of accessibility, to help that the most unusual forms are translated to pronounceable English and shown in parentheses in (blue italics): Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) etc.
|Hyun Jin Kim
The Huns, Rome, and the birth of Europe
From the editors
The Huns have often been treated as primitive barbarians with no advanced political organization. Their place of origin was the so-called ‘backward steppe’. It has been argued that whatever political organization they achieved they owed to the ‘civilizing influence’ of the Germanic peoples they encountered as they moved west. This book argues that the steppes of Inner Asia were far from ‘backward’ and that the image of the primitive Huns is vastly misleading. They already possessed a highly sophisticated political culture while still in Inner Asia and, far from being passive recipients of advanced culture from the West, they passed on important elements of Central Eurasian culture to early medieval Europe, which they helped create. Their expansion also marked the beginning of a millennium of virtual monopoly of world power by empires originating in the steppes of Inner Asia. The rise of the Hunnic Empire was truly a geopolitical revolution.
Hyun Jin Kim is the Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow at the University of Sydney. His first book, published in 2009, was a comparative analysis of Greece and China: Ethnicity and Foreigners in Ancient Greece and China. He has taught Greek history and Greek literature at Sydney University, and has also given numerous invited talks and special seminars in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Greece and Kazakhstan on topics related to Comparative Literature, Greece and the Near East, and the importance of wider Eurasia to the study of Greco-Roman civilization. He is currently undertaking a new research project funded by the Australian government titled ‘Transfer of Hegemony: Geopolitical Revolutions in World History’.
I would like to thank first of all my old friend and DPhil thesis supervisor Doctor Timothy Rood at Oxford whose assistance and advice have been instrumental in my finishing two books over the past five years. Due to a clumsy error in editing, I was not able to thank him sufficiently when I published my first book. I would therefore like to take this occasion to express my deep gratitude.
Special thanks also to Professor Peter Golden, the greatest scholar I know of Inner Asian history. I would like to thank him profusely for his patience and sound advice concerning various etymologies and questions relating to Inner Asia. I am heavily indebted to him in many ways, not least in my understanding of Steppe history in general. All possible errors and assertions made in this book are however naturally my own.
I would like to thank Professor La Vaissiere for his insights on the Hephtalites and other aspects of Central Asian history.
I would also like to thank Professor Sam Lieu for his advice regarding etymologies and Professor Dan Potts for introducing me to critical literature that greatly facilitated my understanding of Iranian history. I would like to thank Professor Alison Betts for providing me with insights into Central Asian archaeology, Professor David Christian for comments on my final chapter, and also my friend Doctor Selim Adali for his helpful insights into Turkish etymologies.
I would also like to acknowledge the assistance provided by people I met during field research in Kazakhstan, in particular my translator Galiya Biltayeva and the academic staff at Ablaikhan University, Almaty.
Thanks also to all my friends and colleagues in the Sydney University Classics and Ancient History Department, in particular Dr. Julia Kindt, Professor Peter Wilson, Professor Margaret Miller, Dr. Peter Brennan and Professor Eric Csapo.
I am grateful to the University and also to the Centre for Classical and Near Eastern Studies of Australia for providing the funding and facilities that made this project possible.
I owe a debt of gratitude also to my mentor Professor Vivienne Gray. Thanks also to Dr. Angus Bowie, Doctor Stephanie West, Professor G. E. R. Lloyd, Dr. Rosalind Thomas and Dr. Robert Chard at Oxford University.
I would like to acknowledge the insights provided by Professor Nicola Di Cosmo in our email correspondence several years ago.
Last but not least I thank my parents who have encouraged me to persevere and complete this book.
In the heyday of the Mongol Empire in the late thirteenth century AD, the Grand Vizier of the Ilkhan Ghazan (the Mongol King of Persia), the famous Rashid al-Din, set about writing a history of the known world - the whole world, not just of Islam or Europe, as many previous histories claiming to be world histories had been, and even today often are. Rashid, a Jewish physician turned Muslim and later Prime Minister of a Mongol Khanate, working in union with scholars and administrators from every corner of Eurasia subdued by the Mongols, set about his task declaring:
Today, thanks be to God and in consequence of him, the extremities of the inhabited earth are under the dominion of the house of Chinggis Qan (Chingiskhan)and philosophers, astronomers, scholars and historians from North and South China, India, Kashmir, Tibet, (the lands) of the Uighurs (Uigurs), other Turkic tribes, the Arabs and Franks, (all) belonging to (different) religions and sects, are united in large numbers in the service of majestic heaven – This book –, in its totality, will be unprecedented- an assemblage of all the branches of history. (Rashid al-Din/ Alizade, vol. I, pt. I, pp. 16-17)1
It was indeed an unprecedented undertaking2 and no similar work was to emerge until the twentieth century. A history which covered the whole of Eurasia from the realm of the Franks, i.e. western Europe, through Muslim lands into India and past the Nomadic world of the steppe to the plains of China and beyond. Even places as far as Java, Korea and Japan are included in this grand survey. This was a historical undertaking made possible by the dominance of the Mongols, the greatest of the steppe empires, over the whole of Eurasia. The world had indeed become one under the Mongols, not just in terms of political unification of most of the known world under the dynasty of Chinggis Khan (better known as Genghis Khan), but intellectually and economically.3
Strangely enough this intellectual unity in our age of globalization and fervent cultural exchange is sadly lacking in the discipline of history. The branches of history that Rashid referred to are today in discordant disunion in a way that would have appalled our thirteenth-century predecessors. World history of the type Rashid engaged in, in our age of departmentalization and compartmentalization, has without doubt lost something of its former allure. The monumental works of intellectual giants such as Max Weber and Arnold Toynbee, never mind distant luminaries of the past, the likes of Rashid, Ibn Khaldun, Sima Qian and Herodotus, are well and truly relics of the past. Those who dare to engage in work that is broad-ranging enough to be categorized, perhaps, as world history, do so with fear that their work may be castigated for lacking specialist knowledge or be lampooned as a random collection of trivial generalizations.4 However, fortunately (or alas!) for those historians who engage in the history of the fourth and fifth centuries AD (i.e. Late Antiquity), the centuries characterized by the rise of steppe empires and the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire, departmentalization and selective specialization are wishful thinking and in fact wholly inappropriate.
Many in fact have tried to engage in such limited research and have arguably produced erroneous conclusions as a consequence. Dependence on nothing but Greco-Roman sources has produced valuable insights to be sure, but has fallen short of providing satisfactory answers to one of the key issues raised in this book: why indeed did the imperial structure of Rome, which had held firm for so many centuries previously, fail miserably in the last century of its existence? To unravel this ‘mystery’ a much broader interdisciplinary and comparative analysis, the type that calls to mind some of the ambitious eclecticism of Rashid al-Din’s enterprise, is needed. In short ‘a Eurasian perspective’ must again be adopted.
Such an analysis would prove the main argument of this book - that the most important historical development of Late Antiquity, which was of critical importance to the later history of the world, was not the fall of the Western half of the Roman Empire, which was one of its consequences, but the world-changing dynamics or convulsions, a veritable revolution in the strategic and political balance of the global power structure,5 which originated in a region that Central Asian specialists identify as Inner Asia,6 the steppe region that has historically linked the main civilizations of Eurasia: China, the Greco-Roman world, Iran and India. Indeed the fifth century AD, which saw the collapse of Western Rome, saw these cultural zones linked together by and under the domination of four well-organized and long-lived empires: the Hunnic Empire in Europe; the White Huns (Hephtalites) in Central Asia, Northwestern India and Eastern Iran; the Rouran (Jujan) Khaganate in Turkestan and Mongolia; and finally the Xianbei (Syanbi) Toba (Tabgach) Empire in Northern China.7 Of these, the first three had a core Hunnic/Xiongnu element and the fourth (Xianbei) (Syanbi) had likewise originated from the Xiongnu/Hunnic political entity.
We will return to these empires shortly, but first a brief and by no means comprehensive overview of the background to these world-changing developments is needed. Scholars have already discussed at some length what the remarkable polymath Hodgson8 and after him Chase-Dunn and Hall identify as the Afro-Eurasian interactive system.9 Between the fifth century BC (perhaps even earlier) and the fifteenth century AD, before the discovery of the New World, this interactive system, in essence a network of trade routes (the most famous being the Silk Road)10 across the Eurasian continent and sea lanes which linked China and India to the Middle East and East Africa via which to the Mediterranean, constituted the most vital avenue of cultural exchange and economic prosperity in the world. This system expanded and contracted over nearly two millennia and arguably reached its climactic apogee with the establishment of the pan-Eurasian Empire of the Mongols under Chinggis Khan.11 The Mongols, as Rashid al-Din so accurately demonstrates, dominated virtually all the traditional continental trade routes and created an unprecedented mechanism for cultural exchange across the known world.12 Their contribution (in fact that of all the steppe polities that had preceded it) to the birth of what is now called the Modern world is somewhat underrated13 and a vast amount of historical data and information concerning this remarkable Eurasian Empire still remains under-researched.14
Tempting as it is to discuss this matter further, the Mongol Empire is only of peripheral concern to the main subject of this book and hence it is hoped that more scholarship will in the future further highlight the importance of this critical phase in world history.15 However, it must be noted in passing that the Mongol Empire was the culmination of nearly a millennium of domination of much of Eurasia by Turkic or Mongolic empires (with a gready heterogeneous population base16) of the Eurasian steppe. Between AD 311, arguably the beginning of the great Inner Asian incursions into China,17 and AD 1405, which marked the death of perhaps the most brutal of the numerous inner Asian conquerors of the known world Timur or Tamerlane,18 every corner of Eurasia from Gaul (France) to the Pacific, from the deep frozen recesses of Siberia to the fertile plains of the Ganges in India, had at one stage or another been ruled by a Turkic (heavily mixed with Iranian19) or Mongolic ruling elite.20 This is surely remarkable and there is simply no parallel in world history to this persistent and millennium-long dominance by a single cultural group originating from basically the same region, the eastern steppes (from the Altai to eastern Mongolia). Arguably, not even the Romans or the Chinese at their height under the Tang Dynasty (seventh to ninth centuries AD) came close to exerting such a far-reaching and long-lasting influence geographically or in temporal terms.
With the exception of the significant, but in fact comparatively brief, interlude of Arab Muslim and Tang Chinese dominance between the seventh and ninth centuries AD (roughly 200 years),21 the millennium that we identify as the Dark Ages-cum-Middle Ages was without a doubt the era of Turco-Mongol supremacy. In this world order Inner Asia formed the core and Europe, China and the Middle East merely the periphery.22 Such a reality was difficult to accept for most historians in both the West and also the East. No Sinocentric or Eurocentric writer could ever admit that their world was of secondary importance in the grand scheme of things and that the ‘nomadic’, steppe barbarians, whom they despised, were at one stage even in the distant past their superiors and overlords.
The solution had been to basically ignore this period of history altogether (as the relative dearth of scholarly interest in the so-called Middle Ages in comparison to the previous ‘Classical Period’ of Greco-Roman preeminence and the later Pre-Modern European era shows) or relegate the Turks and the Mongols to oblivion by attributing to them unbelievably primitive and bestial levels of cultural development and a comprehensive lack of any redeeming civilized features.23 To be sure, the Huns and the Mongols were extremely cruel in their conquests and caused substantial destruction,24 but can we argue that the Romans or even the Macedonians destroyed any less? The Persians at Persepolis, the Greeks of Thebes, the Phoenicians of Tyre, the Sogdians of Cyropolis and the countless thousands of innocent victims in India and Central Asia who were massacred by Alexander’s conquering army25 could hardly appreciate the argument that ‘Greek’26 Macedonian conquest brought them the benefits of a superior civilization.27 The brutal efficiency of Roman conquest doesn’t even need a survey. The ruins and mass slaughter of Carthage, Etruria, Gaul and Jerusalem would be sufficient evidence of that.
However, any student of Classical civilization would certainly reply that the Romans and the Macedonians, after the initial brutality of conquest, left behind them shining monuments of cultural brilliance that are the heritage of the Western world. That is certainly true too. But by the same logic the Seljuks, the Timurids, the Moghuls, the Mongol Yuan Empire and the Ottomans, after the initial terror, all bequeathed to posterity architectural and artistic wonders and a fabulously rich cultural legacy, no less significant than the Romans’.28 They were a brutally efficient and capable group of conquerors and rulers, in every way the equals of the Roman Caesars or the Macedonian kings.
Yet in the plethora of rhetoric concerning racial/ethnic superiority, democracy, western orientalism, Chinese nationalism etc., the group that was the real instigator of momentous changes in the millennium before European dominance has been largely forgotten. The public in both the West and the East are vaguely aware of them, if at all, as simple savages who killed, looted and plundered their ancestors. It is perhaps time to give the steppe empires their due and acknowledge the fact that their world constituted another, important civilization,29 which made a significant contribution to our ‘modern’ civilization by first bringing together the disparate cultural centres of Eurasia out of their comparative isolation into a Eurasian whole and then contributing to the moulding of a new global culture. Central Asians, though they certainly weren’t peace-loving sages, were also certainly not the paradigm of unrestrained barbarism.30 In this book I seek to introduce the reader to the people who began the legend of the ‘rapacious’ and fearsome nomad in the West, the Huns who brought down the Roman and Chinese Empires and ushered in the era of Turco-Mongol pre-eminence.
THE HUNS, A NEW WORLD ORDER AND THE BIRTH OF ‘EUROPE’
Between the year AD 311, when Luoyang the capital of the Jin Dynasty of China was sacked by the eastern Huns (Southern Xiongnu),31 and the 450s AD when the last vestiges of Western Roman military supremacy over Europe vanished as a consequence of losses inflicted on the Empire by the European Huns, in the space of little over a century the steppe powers, mostly referred to as Huns (‘hiungnu’, Hunas, Chionites, etc.) in our various sources, caused the total or partial collapse of four sedentary empires: Rome, Jin (China), Sassanian Persia (which lost its eastern territories to the Hephtalite and Kidarite Huns) and the Guptas (India). The Huns, who brought about these cataclysmic changes and threatened the borders of all the major powers of the ancient world simultaneously across the whole length of the immense boundaries of Inner Asia, were, as mentioned earlier, the forerunners of a whole millennium of military and political dominance emanating from the steppe in world affairs. Han China and Rome, the superpowers of the ancient world, were eclipsed by the third power group, the Huns and other steppe peoples.
This revolutionary shift in the balance of power from the sedentary world to the steppe or rather from the Eurasian periphery to its centre, turned what had once been the poorest and most desolate region of world civilization into the very core of the Eurasian interactive system. Through the ‘nomads’, much maligned and underrated, the Eurasian world became further integrated.32 The concept of east and west was rendered irrelevant and peripheral. Steppe empires ruled both East and West and under the Mongols a truly universal empire was brought into existence. In effect both East and West became merely the wings of the central Inner Asian core.
This dominance of Inner Asia was only broken gradually between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries by a combination of factors, one of which was European maritime activity from the fifteenth century onwards.33 Until in some cases the twentieth century the residual states of this old order, e.g. the Manchu Qing Empire, the Ottoman Turkish Sultanate34 and the Uzbek Khanates of Bukhara and Khiva, survived. The green ‘oceans’ of the steppes and the steppe horse, the old vehicle of rapid movement, were gradually replaced by blue oceans and mechanized ships. East and West Eurasia, in large part due to the unity brought about by Central Eurasians (steppe peoples), which alerted them to the existence of each other and the great benefits (i.e. trade and exchange) that could be gained through greater interaction, chose to meet directly and no longer via Central Asian intermediaries. The world became closer than ever before. In a way the histories of both Greco-Rome and China became the history of the whole world, not just their parochial locality. Steppe history, however, made this later development possible.35 A fourteenth-century sinicized immigrant in Jiangxi, southeastern China, from the west called or rather renamed Wang Li (1314-89), aptly sums up the impact of the steppe empires in the following way:
The land within the Four Seas had become the territory of one family, civilization had spread everywhere, and no more barriers existed. For people in search of fame and wealth in north and south, a journey of a thousand li was like a trip next door, while a journey of ten thousand li constituted just a neighbourly jaunt. Hence, among people of the Western Regions who served at the court, or who studied in our south-land, many forgot the region of their birth, and took delight in living among our rivers and lakes. As they settled down in China for a long time, some became advanced in years, their families grew, and being far from home, they had no desire to be buried in their fatherland. Brotherhood among peoples certainly reached a new plane.36
Yet while the impact of later steppe empires is finally getting some belated recognition at least among interested academics, the significant historical, \\ cultural and political contributions made by earlier steppe empires, especially the Hunnic Empire, to world history and civilization, are still almost entirely neglected by both many academics and the general public. It is the argument of this book that the political and cultural landscape of early medieval Europe was shaped by the fusion of Roman and Inner Asian (Hunnic and Alanic) cultural and political practices. Most importantly, this book will trace the origins of certain elements of early medieval ‘feudalism’ in Inner Asia.37 It will demonstrate that the Hunnic Empire played a decisive role in the unravelling of Roman hegemony over areas that would later become Western Europe and actively facilitated the political formation of the so-called ‘Germanic’ successor kingdoms. It proposes that early medieval Europe was as much Inner Asian as Roman and that this has significant ramifications for how we should view and categorize ‘Europe’ and our ‘modern’ civilization. The book will address these critical issues specifically and is not intended to be a full history of the Huns or the later Roman Empire, though substantial information about the history of Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages will be provided as part of the effort to elucidate the main arguments of the book.
The Huns, a new world order, the birth of‘Europe'
For the sake of clarity it is also necessary to explain here in the introduction the relevance of the concept of‘ethnicity’ to the subject matter of this book. I have already used terms such as ‘Germanic’, ‘Iranian’, ‘Turkic’, and ‘Turco-Mongol’. All these terms are broad linguistic terms referring to speakers of groups of languages (belonging to language families38) and not specific ethnic appellations. In contrast, terms such as Goth, Hun, Alan, Parthian, Scythian, Frank, etc., which will regularly appear, refer to primarily political and ethnic categories. I need not remind the reader that the term ethnicity is a neologism coined in the middle of the twentieth century. Yet in scholarship the ideas and concepts embraced by this neologism have often been used to define and categorize historical ethnic entities and political groupings.39 An extended discussion of ethnicity is out of place here and I must refer the reader to my earlier publication40 on the subject, but a brief overview will be provided to clarify just what is meant when terms such as Hun and Goth are used in this book.
Scholarship on ethnicity is divided among those who follow the model of the Norwegian ethnologist F. Barth, the so-called Modernists (or instrumental approach), who argue that an ethnic group is in reality purely a self-created, artificial entity formed to protect specific political and economic interests41, and the primordialists (sometimes also called the perennialists) who tend to argue that ethnic groups are the product of specific cultural and historical realities such as blood ties (‘race’),
\8\ language, common territory, common religion and common historical memory that function as ‘primordial’ ties.42 A synthesis of aspects of both positions is now generally accepted as best reflecting the reality of ethnicity and ethnic consciousness İn history.43
As will be shown in due course, groups such as the Huns, the Goths and the Franks were neither entirely concrete ethnic entities in the sense advocated by the primordialists, nor simply artificial political-economic constructs as proposed by the modernists. They were a complex agglomeration of peoples who were united for a number of different reasons: political, economic, military, putative blood links, at times by common language(s) and historical memory. Multilingualism was very often a feature of a number of these groups, especially those originating from Inner Asia, and heterogeneity both in terms of language and ‘genetic’ makeup, especially of the elite, was common. Therefore, when reference is made to the Huns or Goths, one should not consider automatically a racial category or a clear-cut ethnic identity. The reality was much more complex, fluid and ever-changing. Identity (both ethnic and political) was inherently unstable. A Hun could transform himself into the leader of the Goths or Franks whom he dominated, as we shall see, and become a Frankish or a Gothic leader. A Goth could also become a Hunnic noble. Such complexities should therefore be recognized when reference is made to ‘ethnic’ names such as the Huns and the Goths.
Before we begin our inquiry on the Huns, however, it is necessary to examine briefly the steppe peoples who came into contact with the Romans before the Huns. Firstly in order to determine how the strategic situation in Western Eurasia was altered by the rise of the Hunnic Empire and secondly to determine what influence, if any, Inner Asian peoples had on the political organization of Rome’s most formidable sedentary enemy, Persia.1 This section is not intended to be a full-length or in-depth history of the Parthians and the Sassanians, but will focus specifically on the steppe characteristics of the Parthian and to a lesser extent Sassanian political systems. It will also attempt to show how these traces of Inner Asian practices in the Persian (i.e. Parthian and Sassanian) political landscape bear witness to the political complexity of Inner Asian society from which the Huns later emerged. It is often taken for granted that the Parthian Empire was a state-level entity that possessed a complex political organization. Yet the Huns, who like the Parthians originated from Inner Asia, are often viewed as politically primitive by modern ancient historians. In this chapter and the following chapter the myth of a politically primitive and backward Inner Asia will be refuted.
Among the handful of steppe peoples in whom the Romans had any interest, without a doubt the Parthians were the most famous or most dreaded. The military power and organization of the early Parthian state, before its precipitous decline in the second century AD, was formidable and stable enough to sustain this steppe-derived political entity for half a millennium, all the while gaining the respect of its rival, the Roman Empire.2 Yet the steppe origins of the Parthians have not received the attention that they deserve and are not widely regarded as an essential element of the imperial structure that the Parthians created,3 despite the attestations of our ancient sources regarding the persistence of steppe
\\ customs and institutions among the Parthians (Strabo (11.9.2; 16.1.16, 743 c) and Trogus/Justin (41.2-4)).
Rome's Inner Asian enemies before the Huns
One could of course argue that the Achaemenids, who preceded the Parthians before the Macedonian/Seleucid interlude and without a doubt provided a model for imperial rule on which both the Seleucids and later the Parthians built, being Indo-Iranians, also had an Inner Asian origin.4 The critical impact of Inner Asian Saka (Scythian) nomads· on the culture and administrative practices of the Median and later Achaemenid Empires has indeed been vigorously argued for by Vogelsang.6 It has been proposed that the highly militarized population of Eastern Iran, who are likely to have included a significant Saka/Scythian element and were governed in ways very reminiscent of practices found in later steppe political entities and tribal confederacies, may in fact have provided the framework within which the Persian kings built their administration and empire.7
The political system of this Persian Achaemenid empire has been called ‘feudal’ or quasi-feudal8 because it was a system in which the king ruled through local intermediaries (in the eastern half of the empire possibly military lords of Scythian/Saka origin) who provided levies for the king’s army9 and were tied to the central government by an intricate web of land grants in return for providing military resources (as in later Medieval Europe), tribute payments and gift exchanges10 (a system which, as we shall see later, strikingly resembles the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) imperial structure in Central Asia and the Hunnic imperial system in Europe). Now of course the use of the term ‘feudal’ with its Marxist and ‘ahistorical’ connotations is highly problematic and it is very questionable whether the term is applicable to pre-modern societies outside Western Europe without serious qualifications. However, as outlined in the introduction, part of the aim of this book is to trace the origins of elements of early Medieval ‘feudalism’ in Inner Asia. Therefore, before we progress any further, I will take this opportunity to briefly clarify what is meant by early medieval ‘feudalism’ and whether modified variations of that term can legitimately be used to describe similar political systems and practices in Ancient Inner Asia and Inner Asian dominated Ancient Iran.
The ‘feudalism’ that I am referring to is ‘feudalism’ in the political sense of a formal division of state power between the king and his subordinate great vassals (sub-kings and great nobles) within the upper aristocratic elite, so centralized ‘feudalism’, and not the fragmented political-economic system which we identify with later medieval Europe, the seigneurie or manorialism.11 Manorialism is a system in which there is a near complete breakdown of central government authority, where small local fief holders \\ exercise virtual de facto independent power. Some call the earlier centralized form of ‘feudalism’, ‘proto-feudalism’ to distinguish it from the manorial feudalism of the late Middle Ages, but this early ‘feudalism’ or protofeudalism of the early Middle Ages was instrumental in bringing about the formulation of late medieval, feudal society and its political and economic culture. Often the difference between early and later versions of feudalism12 is understood as that between what has been called early Frankish ‘incipient feudalism’, a centralized feudalism which allowed the king to increase his power by distributing land to his followers, thereby gaining their loyalty, but nonetheless bestowing on the ruler the absolute right to take the lands back,13 and the ‘seigneurial-type’ power structures in the tenth century, in which there was virtually no central control over the fiefs distributed to vassals.14
As we shall see throughout the rest of this book and as Cribb points out, a system very similar to this early medieval centralized feudalism or protofeudalism definitely existed also in ancient Inner Asia, where a small powerful elite owned vast numbers of animals that they farmed out to ‘tenant’ households. Political power and large grants of land and peoples were likewise concentrated in the hands of a very select group of royalty and associated aristocratic families. Cribb uses the term ‘pastoral feudalism’ to describe this Inner Asian political model.15 The appropriateness of using the term ‘feudal’ here is debatable, but the similarities are so strong that a case can be made for using modified terms such as ‘quasi-feudal’ or ‘proto-feudal’ to describe this Inner Asian political system. The same could also be said about Iranian Parthian and Sassanian political models, which we will discuss below. Therefore, from this point onwards I will use the term ‘proto-feudalism’ to refer to the earlier centralized version of feudalism that existed in the early Middle Ages in Europe, and use the term ‘quasi-feudal’ and the associated term ‘fiefs’16 to describe similar political practices found in Inner Asia and Iran.
As in Inner Asian states which we shall examine in detail in later chapters, the Achaemenid Persians distributed major ‘fiefs’/satrapies to members of the royal clan and usually other important, minor ‘fiefs’ to Persian nobles who had intimate connections with the ruling dynasty, while allowing a limited number of local, native rulers to rule under Persian supervision in more remote regions difficult to control (e.g. Inaros and Amyrtaios in Egypt, Geshem of Kedar in Arabia, and local chiefs in Ionia, Macedonia and the Central Asian Saka territories on the fringes of the empire).17 The Persian military would also possess six pre-eminent commanders/marshals,18 a decimal system of organization (under chiliarchs,19 Old Persian \\ hazarapatish (commander of a thousand)),20 and under Cyrus the Great it may have been divided into three parts.21 These structures or structures closely resembling them, as we shall see repeatedly henceforth, typify Inner Asian military states from the Scythians and Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) to the later Huns.
Even more noteworthy for our purposes is the fact that Central Asia as early as the middle of the first millennium BC already possessed organized political structures in regions conquered and later loosely controlled by the Achaemenids: Sogdia, Parthia, Bactria and Chorasmia.22 The Parthians therefore did not originate from a political backwater. Advanced political structures and institutions already existed in Central Asia at the time of the Parthian invasion of formerly Seleucid lands.23 As we shall see in the next chapter, the superbly organized steppe empire of the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) and the kingdom of the Yuezhi (月支) (later the Kushans) were already fully established at the time of Parthia’s founding under Arsaces.24 To what extent then was the political structure of the Parthian state Inner Asian?
The Parthian state was formed after the conquest of the satrapy of Parthia by an Inner Asian people of Iranian extraction called the Parni,25 which was itself a member of the three-tribe confederation of the Dahae.26 The kingdom of the Royal Scythians immortalized by Herodotus two centuries earlier interestingly enough also possessed three tribes, which, as will be shown in the next chapter, was probably a reflection of the tripartite division of political power among the dominant tribes that characterized Inner Asian political entities like the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns). Were the Parthians while they were still in Central Asia similarly organized? This is as yet difficult to ascertain. However, what is clear is that the Parthian state became a full-fledged imperial entity under Mithradates I (171-138 âñ) in the mid second century âñ.27
The new masters of Iran and Mesopotamia soon came under intense pressure from new arrivals from Inner Asia, the formidable Saka tribes and the Tochari.28 The Yuezhi who had pushed these peoples into Parthia would eventually triumph in Central Asia under Kushan leadership, becoming the immediate Eastern neighbors of the Parthians.29 Under pressure from steppe enemies, the Parthians were forced to adapt their political and military structures to cope with the threat.30 Significant numbers of Saka and other Inner Asians also entered the Parthian state and became part of its political and military establishment.31
It was with this steppe type army which included large Saka contingents that the great Surena destroyed the numerically superior Roman army under Crassus at Carrhae. In this battle Surena employed the tactics that one would see again and again in steppe warfare: a constant rain of arrows from a distance by mounted archers to wear down the opposing force,
\\ feigned retreats to entice an infantry formation to break ranks, and then the devastating charge of the cataphract, heavy cavalry, to deliver the coup de grace.32 Surena was a member of the Suren noble house that was one of the six elite families of the Parthian Empire.33 The six chiefs of these noble households (curiously resembling the six marshals of the Achaemenid military) supported the original Arsaces in founding the Parthian state and it was the chief of the house of Suren who placed the royal tiara on the head of Arsaces, a function that became hereditary in this family.34
The Suren lords were largely responsible for checking the Saka invasions to the East and they became the hereditary lords of Drangiana (Sistan) (corrupted form of Sakastan).35 According to Plutarch (Crassus 21.6) (ca. 46 – 120 AD), Surena commanded a personal armed retinue of 1,000 heavily armed cataphract cavalry36 and 10,000 other horsemen (his vassals and slaves,37 mainly mounted archers). This system of quasi-feudal appanages and distribution of military commands among elite aristocratic families is also a feature we will discover among other steppe peoples. The Saka ruler Azes I in AD 57 would decorate his coins with the images of cataphract horsemen38 who played such a notable role in the defeat of Roman armies further to the west. Bivar is probably correct in identifying the heavy horsemen in Surena’s cavalry with troops levied among the Saka in Margiana and Sistan (the Surens were marcher lords in charge of the East and hence lived among the Saka).39
The Inner Asian nature of the Parthian state becomes even clearer when we examine the ways in which the empire was governed. First of all, as among other steppe peoples, we find among the Parthians the notion of the divine charisma of the ruling dynasty, which endows it with the unique right to allocate power to subordinate rulers. The Arsacid ‘Great King’ is represented in Parthian iconography as the mediator between the gods and his vassal kings.40 The authority of the Great King was thus seen as paramount, but also at the same time conditioned by the very Inner Asian practice of power distribution among members of the ruling family and nobility.
Instead of the large satrapies of the Achaemenid Empire (twenty in all) we see in the Parthian state an increasing number of smaller satrapies (seventy-two according to Appian by the first century AD) and the new feature of semi-autonomous, but vassal kingdoms (eighteen in the days of Pliny).41 This was without a doubt the result of allocating ‘fiefs’ to members of the royal family and other noble clans,42 a characteristic feature of steppe empires (Dubious speculation based on nescient sources). Feuding over ‘fief (territories or peoples) allocations was an endemic feature of steppe political life and the Parthians were no exception, as can be seen from constant struggles between brothers and cousins over \\ the succession to the throne (reference to the Lateral Order of Succession) and appointments of royal kinsmen as subkings. As in many other steppe polities there was no strict primogeniture (Primogeniture is absurd within the Lateral Order of Succession). Any male of Arsacid lineage was acceptable as monarch (strictly according to the standing in rank, from elder brother to youngest brother and then to eldest nephew from the eldest reigning brother) and this reflects the steppe political notion of regarding the state as the property not of the individual monarch, but of the royal clan.43 This in turn led to the creation of a state structure that closely resembled later medieval feudal realms44 in Europe and this would ultimately contribute to the empire’s demise,45 since it encouraged centrifugal tendencies and decentralization in the last two centuries of the Parthian state.46 The eighteen kingdoms mentioned by Pliny were organized into two groups, the upper (eleven kingdoms) and the lower (seven kingdoms), possibly reflecting the two wings of the traditional Inner Asian political organization47 which is also found among the contemporary Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) in the east.48
Moses of Chorene49 gives us a good example of how the Parthians organized their kingdom and in his descriptions we find the typical Inner Asian state apparatus. In Armenia when it was taken over by the Arsacids, the Parthian ruler Tiridates reorganized his new realm on the Parthian model. We find: the common Inner Asian institution of royal bodyguards (comitatus); high positions that relate to the aristocratic, military interests of the Parthian, steppe elite - e.g. master of the royal hunts (an important feature of steppe life and also military training)50 and the falconer (another hobby common among Inner Asian elites); and other positions such as the chamberlain, head of sacrifices, guardian of summer residences (indicative of the semi-nomadic lifestyle of the steppe ruler), etc. These important posts were distributed among members of the great families in ways, as we shall see in the next chapter, remarkably similar to the contemporaneous Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) (and the court hierarchy in the later English, French, Russian, etc. royalties). This distribution of high offices among nobles, which in effect gave them an important stake in the preservation of the central government, prevented the quasi-feudal nature of the state from degenerating into anarchy. ‘Fiefs’ were granted to vassals and to the four territorial Wardens of the Marches.51 The army thus consisted of the standing army of the king and quasi-feudal levies.52 (“Fiefs” and four-partite division is anachronistic reverse projection, unrelated to the realities of the Eastern or Western Huns)
THE PARTHO-SASSANIAN CONFEDERACY
The Sassanians (224–651) who replaced the Parthians preserved most of the political institutions of their Parthian predecessors.53 In fact the great Parthian noble families continued to rule under a different dynasty,54 that of the Sassanians which simply filled the void left by the declining Arsacids. The powerful Parthian families: Karen, Suren, Mihran, Ispahbudhan, Kanarangiyan were \\ in effect co-partners in imperial rule with the reigning Sassanians.55 Thus the so-called Persian Empire of the Sassanids was in fact a Sassanian-Parthian confederacy,56 a quasi-feudal empire,57 which closely resembled the Inner Asian state polity of the Parthian Arsacids that had preceded it.58 The Parthian nobility, which provided the Sassanids with their heavy cavalry, formed the backbone of the Persian military establishment.59 They were so powerful that towards the end of the Sassanian Period the Mihranid Bahram-i Chubin (AD 590-591) dethroned Khusrow II Parviz and briefly ascended the throne. Another Parthian noble, Vistahm of the Ipahbudhan family, would again threaten Khusrow II with a huge revolt that spread from Khurasan to Azerbaijan (595-600).60
Like the Arsacids, the Sassanians would maintain a comitatus, a royal bodyguard, and would frequently employ mercenary troops from the steppe to augment their cavalry force.61 Their empire, like the Arsacid state before it, had its vassal kings (sahrdaran) ,62 princes of the royal blood (waspuhragan), grandees (ivuzurgan) and minor nobles/knights (azadan), who made up the elite mounted warriors of the Sassanid armies.63 The grandees, as during the Arsacid era, were loaded with various honours and high positions at court to tie them to the central government. They were the viceroys, chiliarchs and chiefs of cavalry, and together with the princes of the blood (who were the sub-kings),64 these select few families monopolized high appointments at court. The great clans would often display their clan emblems or coats of arms on their caps, approximating the practices we find later in medieval Europe.65 Scribes (dibiran) also performed important roles in the Sassanian system and often functioned as the bureaucratic apparatus of government.66 Again we will see echoes of this in the later Hunnic Empire.
The courtly life of the Sassanian nobility brings us even closer to the medieval, feudal world. Various instruments including flutes, harp, cither and drums were used to liven up the feasts of the king and his nobles with the mandatory accompaniment of dancing and bard recitations.67 Juggling and various other performances that one would expect to find in a medieval European court were all to be found in the court of the Sassanians. These ‘medieval’ courtly ceremonials were also
practiced in the court of Attila on the Danube.68 The aristocracy, the grandees and the knights of Sassanian Iran, as during the Parthian period, engaged in riding (aswarih), archery
(kamanwarih), polo, jousting with spears (nezagivarih) and more importantly royal hunts that imitated military manoeuvres.69 The same kind of customs of course also characterized the nobility of Medieval Europe.
Did these Achaemenid-Parthian-Sassanian quasi-feudal practices influence the Hunnic Empire in any way? Probably not directly, but certainly via other Central Asian Iranian70 states (in what is now Kazakhstan and ancient Sogdia and Chorasmia), who were first neighbors of both the Sassanians and the Huns and then later subjects of the growing Hunnic Empire in Central Asia, and perhaps also via the Yuezhi Kushans71 (who possessed a remarkably similar political structure to the Huns and Xiongnu (Eastern Huns), as we shall see in the subsequent chapter) and Kangju, the Iranian culture (political and material) of the Persians-Parthians and Sassanians seems to have had an impact on the Hunno-Alanic culture72 that spread into Europe and thereby heralded the dawning of the Middle Ages.73 It is certainly no accident that in the grave of the seventh-century Bulgar Hunnic Khan Kubrat, discovered in Pereshchepyne, Sassanian silverware was discovered alongside weapons and exquisite dress accessories.74 The empire of the Parthians and to a certain extent that of the Sassanians are also good examples of the adaptation and imposition of steppe political structures and practices on a conquered, sedentary population and provide us with an interesting precedent for examining Hunnic practices in Europe.
On the strategic level the armies of the Inner Asian Parthians and the Sassanians, although they undoubtedly did pose a serious challenge to Rome, did not constitute a mortal danger to the Roman Empire between the first century BC and the sixth century AD. The Sassanians, it is true, inflicted one embarrassing defeat after another on the Romans in the third century AD(most famous of all being the capture of emperor Valerian in AD 260) and were without a doubt Rome’s most formidable opponent until the arrival of the Huns. As we shall see in Chapter 4, the Sassanians (together with the military pressure from the Sarmatian and Germanic75 barbarians on the Danube) were largely responsible for the excessive concentration of Roman military resources in the east, which placed imperial defenses in the west at a comparative disadvantage.76 When Rome’s enemies in the west were disorganized Germanic tribes, this was a manageable situation for the Roman Empire, but when an Inner Asian Empire organized similarly to the Parthian Empire emerged in Europe, Rome could not hold its frontiers or avoid military collapse. The establishment and impact of this Inner Asian Empire, the Hunnic Empire, will be the topic of discussion of the rest of the book. However, before embarking on the examination of the Hunnic Empire it is necessary to locate its origins in Central Asia, in the original political milieu that gave rise to the empire’s imperial organization.
The altering of the strategic balance across Rome’s European borders in the fourth century AD, which should rightfully be examined in the broader Eurasian context of Hunnic expansion across the entire landmass of Eurasia, has until now been analyzed with an excessive focus on the Germanic migrations or Roman internal collapse. The Huns, more barbarous and primitively organized than the Germanic tribes, so we are told, have at best been allotted a peripheral role in what was arguably the single most important event in the formation of Western Europe.1 They are never considered as the prime agents of the cataclysmic changes that they brought about.
It is the argument of this and subsequent chapters that the events of the fourth and fifth centuries AD in Western Eurasia, from Central Asia to the Atlantic, can only be accurately understood if we place the Huns at the centre of the debate and
analyze historical developments from a Central Eurasian perspective. The diminution or neglect of the Hunnic Empire in modern historiography largely stems from the myths concerning their society and culture spread through the absurdly literal reading (now often rejected, it is true, but nonetheless so internalized in our understanding of the Huns that it prevents a more objective assessment of Hunnic political organization) of the mythological account on the Huns written by Ammianus Marcellinus. Famously in Ammianus, our principal source (sadly) for the early history of the Huns in Europe, the Huns are mythologized to the extent that they become practically unidentifiable in the real world. They are the most primitive savages conceivable who instead of resorting to ‘normal’ food for their sustenance eat roots of wild plants and
\18\ half-raw meat of any kind of animal, use bone tips instead of iron for their arrowheads,2 and most importantly lack any rudimentary form of kingship. According to Ammianus they improvise policy on the spot as a common body under the disorderly leadership of their important men and are therefore at the lowest possible level of social evolution:
Et deliberatione super rebus proposita seriis, hoc habitu omnes in commune consultant. Aguntur autem nulla severitate regali, sed tumultuario primatum ductu contend, perrumpunt quicquid incident.
The obvious inadequacy of this distorted representation, that was taken rather literally many years earlier by Thompson, who envisaged the absurdity of the Huns conquering the Goths and Alans without sufficient iron weaponry,4 has often been pointed out. Maenchen-Helfen has already identified clearly anachronistic and outright mythical elements in Ammianus’ account.5 It is surely amazing that his analysis, though always acknowledged in passing, is not taken up as seriously as it should be in the latest works that discuss the Huns. On another level the lack of enthusiasm among many historians of late Roman history for comparative research and for Central Asian historical data already available (concerning what is arguably the single most important shift in strategic balance across the Eurasian continent, which heralded the millennium of dominance of steppe empires), has caused immense difficulties in accurately assessing the real impact of the Huns. A more in-depth comparative analysis that critically examines both late Roman history and Central Asian history can shed new light on the much distorted and misunderstood nature of Hun society and its political and social organization. It will be argued henceforth that the Huns, contrary to Ammianus’ mythical account, possessed a highly sophisticated state or ‘early state’ structure originating from state or ‘early state’ models already available in the steppe region since the time of imperial entities such as the Royal Scythians and more importantly the great, universal steppe empire of the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns).
Before we progress any further, however, it is necessary to address the argument that early steppe empires such as the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns), which, it will be argued, provided the political models on which the Huns later built their empire, were super-complex chiefdoms or tribal confederacies with imperial dimensions rather than supra-tribal state entities.6 No historian with specialist knowledge of steppe empires, to my knowledge, now contests the
\20\ reality of the existence of political complexity within steppe empires. However, the need to accurately define what exactly constitutes a ‘state’ has created a slight divergence in opinions as to how exactly steppe polities before and after the Huns should be defined. Kradin has applied the most rigorous criteria in his definition of what exactly a state should be and claims a state should have the following characteristics: (i) access to managerial positions by a form of merit-based, extra-clan and non-kin-based selection; (2) regular taxation to pay wages to officials; (3) a special judicial power separate from political power; (4) a ‘class’ of state functionaries engaged in running a state machinery consisting of services for the administration of the whole political community. Kradin argues that the earliest steppe empire of the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) only fulfilled these requirements at best at an embryonic level and therefore cannot be defined as a state.7
This view is, however, quite erroneous and as Di Cosmo points out the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) Empire even by Kradin’s definition was much closer to a state than to a chiefdom. As we shall see shortly the Xiongnu (Eastern Hun) state administration possessed distinct military and civilian apparatuses separate from kin-based hierarchies (1). Top commanders and functionaries received their wages (in various forms) from a political centre headed by the Xiongnu (Eastern Hun) emperor (Shanyu/Chanyu) (2), who was also in charge of ceremonies and rituals that were meant to include the entire political community. The incredibly complex organization of Xiongnu armies, its imperial rituals, government structure and politically centralized functions of trade and diplomacy all bear witness to a political machinery and supratribal, imperial ideology.8 Kradin himself acknowledges that special judicial manpower (i.e. judges) was also available in the Xiongnu Empire (3) and that there were special state functionaries (Gu-du marquises) who assisted the emperor in the overall administration of the empire (4).9 In short, even on the basis of the scant information we do have on Xiongnu (Eastern Hun) political organization, it is possible to argue that the Xiongnu (Eastern Hun) Empire in all likelihood met the definition for a state or an ‘early state’.10
Also, there is absolutely no doubt at all that the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) constituted an empire, ‘a political formation that extended far beyond its original territorial or ethnic confines and embraced, by direct conquest or by the imposition of its political authority, a variety of peoples and lands that may have had different types of relations with the imperial centre, constituted by an imperial clan and by its charismatic leader’.11 It is difficult to see how without even a rudimentary state structure and state institutions of some sort the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) could have accumulated the political ability and military power to create a vast empire and maintain it for centuries. The same principle applies also to the \21\ later Huns,12 who, as I will demonstrate, possessed very similar organization to the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) which they in all probability inherited directly from the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns). It is logical to assume, therefore, that the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) Empire was a state or an ‘early state’. The comparative analysis which follows will offer an explanation as to why the Huns alone of all the ‘barbarians’ north of the Danube managed to provide a political system that integrated all the peoples in barbaricum and to pose a persistent political as well as a military threat to the Roman Empire.13
The question is, how can one even contemplate governing an empire that stretches from Gaul to the Volga without sophisticated political structures even for a single generation (i.e. Attila’s reign, the length of time many scholars erroneously grant for the life-span of the Hunnic Empire)? This is obviously impossible. Has any state even tried to govern nearly half of Europe for nearly eighty years without any advanced apparatus of government? This is, however, the picture that is created, if we accept what many historians up until now have been suggesting. Yet the Huns held their empire together for a substantial length of time in non-Roman Europe, where, especially in Germania, there was simply no precedent for imperial, political unity. We will elaborate on the organization of the Hunnic Empire later, but what is clear is that former models proposed for the nature of the Hunnic Empire are vastly misleading and wrong.
The Xiongnu (Eastern Huns), the Scythians and the Sarmatians
The mistaken assumptions regarding the organization of steppe societies have led to the persistence of these many myths concerning the Huns and their empire. When we observe, however, the level of administrative sophistication achieved among the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) and the Scythians14 long before the appearance of the Huns in Europe, such myths can be swiftly dispatched. Many historians and literary critics, who simply ignore Central Asian history in their analysis of Classical texts which discuss steppe nomads, typically assume that ‘a nomad power is something inconceivable: if it is a power, it cannot be nomad’.15 Such an assumption derives from the mistaken presupposition that nomadism is an insurmountable obstacle to sophisticated social organization and centralization of authority.
Yet many Classical authors, even as early as the historian Herodotus, had no such presuppositions. Herodotus in his discourse on the Scythians mentions the existence of a nomarch in each province of the Scythian kingdom (4.66). In Book 4.62.1 he also mentions the nomes. This is all the more important in that the same word is used to denote administrative \\ units of Egypt and Persia.16 To many critics, who refuse to believe that the Scythians could have developed such a level of organization, this is simply an example of Herodotus observing the principle of symmetry between Egypt and Scythia and explaining Scythian practices in Egyptian terms. However, the level of administrative sophistication achieved by the Eastern Xiongnu (Eastern Huns),17 (Early Middle Chinese (EMC), pronounced Hun-nul8) in Mongolia and Turkestan, whose empire co-existed with that of the Scythians, should radically alter our interpretation of Herodotus’ early account of Scythian administrative organization.19
The Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) (匈奴, as a united imperial entity third century BC - 48 AD 20), despite their ‘nomadism’, managed to achieve an astonishing degree of centralization and pioneered the classic model of imperial rule for later steppe (and sedentary) empires to imitate.21 Their society was essentially quasi-feudal,22 characterized by a complex hierarchy which is outlined in detail by the first-century BC Han Chinese historian Sima Qian:
Under the Shan-yü23 are the Wise Kings of the Left and Right, the left and right Lu-li kings, left and right generals, left and right commandants, left and right household administrators, and left and right Ku-tu marquises. The Hsiung-nu (Eastern Huns) word for ‘wise’ is ‘t’u-ch’i’, so that the heir of the Shan-yü is customarily called the ‘T’u-ch’i King of the Left’. Among the other leaders, from the wise kings on down to the household administrators, the more important ones command ten thousand horsemen and the lesser ones several thousand, numbering twenty-four leaders in all, though all are known by the title ‘Ten Thousand Horsemen’. The high ministerial offices are hereditary, being filled from generation to generation by the members of the Hu-yen and Lan families, and in more recent times by the Hsü-pu family. These three families constitute the aristocracy of the nation. The kings and other leaders of the left live in the eastern sector, the region from Shang-ku east to the land of the Hui-mo and the Ch’ao-hsien peoples. The kings and leaders of the right live in the west, the area from Shang province west to the territories of the Yiieh-chi and Ch’iang tribes. The Shan-yü has his court in the region of Tai and Yün-chung. Each group has its own area, within which it moves about from place to place looking for water and pasture. The Left and Right Wise Kings and the Lu-li kings are the most powerful, while the Ku-tu marquises assist the Shan-yü in the administration of the nation. Each of the twenty-four leaders in turn appoint his own ‘chiefs of a thousand’, ‘chiefs of a hundred’, and ‘chiefs of ten’, as well as his subordinate kings, prime ministers, chief commandants, household administrators, chü-ch’ü officials and so forth. (Shiji no: 9b-10b)24
From what is known about the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) we can deduce the following about their administrative system. The supreme power rested in the hands of the Shanyu/Chanyu (單于 meaning ‘emperor’, likely to have been pronounced
dan-wa, representing darywa in EMC25) who was assisted in his duties by the
\23\ Gu-du (Ku-tu in the Wade-Giles transliteration above) marquises who ran the central imperial government and co-ordinated the affairs of the empire. As in the contemporary Parthian-Sassanian system to the west mentioned in the previous chapter, in the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) Empire in the east, flanking the central government there seem to have been four principal, regional governorships in the East and West (later called in the Hou Hanshu, ‘the four horns’ or ‘angles’26): the Worthy King of the Left and the Luli King of the Left in the East and the Worthy King of the Right and the Luli King of the Right in the West. Each of these four governorships had its own government bureaucracy27 and the kings (sons or brothers of the reigning Shanyu) constituted the highest ranking aristocrats in the empire.28 The Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) also possessed (or perhaps gradually added after 97 BC to the system described in the Shiji above) six more eminent aristocratic titles (the six horns or angles,29 perhaps by coincidence (?) slightly reminiscent (though with obvious differences) of the system of six great aristocratic families in the Parthian Empire), consisting of the
Rizhu kings of the Left and Right (titles reserved also for the sons and younger brothers of the Shanyu),30
Wenyuti kings of the Left and Right, and the Zhanjiang Kings of the Left and Right.31
Below these top-ranking nobles or including them there were the so-called twenty-four imperial leaders/ministers32 (each titled Ten Thousand Horsemen), who acted as imperial governors for the major provinces of the empire and were (and this will also have important ramifications for the Hunnic political system later on) usually close relatives of the Shanyu or members of the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) aristocracy (probably related to the royal house).33 These princes and senior nobles were divided into Eastern and Western groups (dualism)34 and the successor to the throne (Shad, the Crown Prince) was usually appointed the Wise King of the Left, i.e the ruler of the Eastern half of the empire (again we will see echoes of this in the Hun system later on). All the appointments (within the immediate high officials) were made by the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) central government under the direction of the Shanyu (with strong compliance with the traditional Lateral Order of Succession, which pretty much defined the order of succession to each position, and could not be arbitrarily changed by any Shanyu).
At the bottom of the administrative hierarchy was a large class of subordinate or vassal tribal leaders (sub-kings, prime ministers, chief commandants, household administrators, chü-chu officials etc.) who were under the command of the twenty-four imperial governors, but enjoyed a level of local autonomy.35 A non-decimal system of ranks was used for the political administration of tribes and territory within the empire which included groups of many different sizes.36 However, a more rigid system of decimal ranks (thousands, hundreds, tens) was used in times of war when large armies were formed from troops drawn from different parts of the steppe under a single command structure.37 A census was also taken to determine the empire’s reserves of manpower and livestock.38
It is highly probable that Herodotus was in fact referring to a similar organization among the Scythians.39 The nomarchs are likely to have been division commanders of the kind found among the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns). The Scythian legend of their origin which divides their nation into three parts (Hdt. 4.7) may also reflect a similar tripartite division of power among the leading tribes/clans which characterized the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) form of government.40 Ivantchik notes that the element -xais with which all three names of the brothers in the Scythian foundation legend end (Lipoxais, Arpoxais and Colaxais), is etymologically connected to the Iranian word xsaya (king) (This misguided speculation of Ivantchik is absurd. The word sai/tai means “family, clan”, and is a component of the Türkic kurultai, lit. “be cured (family) ties”, made famous by Mongol expansion. Such self-serving ideological speculations are the hallmark of the Eurocentric quasi-science).41 He also suggests quite plausible etymologies which would connect the names Cola, Arpo and Lipo with the Iranian words for sun, water, and mountain.42 The names are probably indicative of the division of the world into three levels, which is one of the principal ideas of Indo-Iranian cosmology found in various Vedic and Zoroastrian texts and traditions.43 The three levels may correspond to the three castes mentioned in various Indian and Iranian texts (priest, farmer and warrior).44 The Scythians of Herodotus, therefore, probably possessed a highly stratified, politically organized state45 and as Bichler puts it ‘sehr festen herrschaftlichen Institutionen’.46
At the pinnacle of the Scythian political structure was the king whose power, contrary to what critics like Hartog believe, was in all probability very real and certainly not a mere product of the narrative constraint which imposes the need to assign a king to every non-Greek power.47 Among the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns), to use once again the same analogy, the political power wielded by the Shanyu was truly formidable. Chinese sources report that Modun
(200 BC), the Shanyu, could boast of having subjugated twenty-six states and reduced them to obedience as a part of the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) nation.48 In war the Shanyu could reputedly mobilize an army of 140,000 men from among his subjects
(This would assess the reputed total nomadic population (1/5th is army) at
700,000, other estimates extend to 3 mln.).49 Herodotus portrays the Scythian king in a similar way. As the head of the so-called Royal Scythians50 who held supremacy over all other groups of Scythians the king, like the Shanyu, was the military leader in times of war, as is demonstrated by Idanthyrsus’ direction of the war against the Persians. In times of peace the king was also apparently the distributor of justice and presided over duels between relatives (4.65.2). Furthermore, the taking of the census by King Ariantes (4.81) and the punishment he used to enforce his decree (4.81.5) reveal the substantive nature of royal power which turned Scythia into a real state with the necessary means to impose order and control.51 In fact archaeological excavations from Arzhan in Tuva, northwest of Mongolia, from the Scythian period (eighth century
BC), have revealed the existence of highly organized steppe polities in Central \25\ Asia that corroborate Herodotus’ observations. A huge Scythian or rather Saka type tomb that included 70 chambers and 160 saddle horses buried with the king, who obviously ruled a large and powerful steppe confederacy, was brought to light. That he ruled over a more or less typical steppe hierarchical state/quasi-state entity is confirmed by the fact that subordinate princes or nobles were buried to the north, south and west of the king and his wife.52
One startling difference between the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) and the Scythians, though, was the degree to which they absorbed the political institutions of their sedentary neighbors. The Scythians do not seem to have adopted any institutional features from either the Greeks (highly disorganized in any case) or even the Persians (that is unless their organization mentioned above in some way can be seen as an imitation of Achaemenid administrative ideas).53 The Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) in contrast seem to have absorbed some of the sophistication of their Chinese neighbors when it came to state organization and administration.54 The essentially ‘feudal’ character of their empire with its hierarchy of kings and marquises, the highest ranks of which were reserved exclusively for members of the royal clan and the lesser ranks for leaders of other leading clans that intermarried with the royal clan (of immense significance for our later examination of the Hunnic Empire and its successor kingdoms in Europe),55 has obvious analogies with the kingdoms and marquisates of the Han Empire, but with clear differences in functions. The Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) territorial divisions which favored the left, i.e. the east (when viewed with orientation towards the south in the Chinese manner or right when viewed with orientation towards the north in the steppe manner56), over the west may also reflect the influence of Chinese ideas of rulership which identified the left (east) with ûvzyangişs in óinyanğ) forces of generation and growth. The use of colors as symbolism for territory, blue for east, white for west, black for north and red for south, correspond to the symbolism of Chinese cosmology (Wuxing, five elements theory).57
In the west the Scythian political tradition was to some extent continued by the Sarmatians and Alans (considered a branch of the Sarmatians,58 who seem to have been somewhat more fragmented in comparison to other steppe nomadic peoples further to the east59), later conquered by the Huns upon their entry into Europe.60 According to Strabo,61 the Sarmatians at one stage in their history (possibly from the late second century BC to c. 60 BC), before they fragmented, possessed tighter organization and a ruling royal tribe who were situated in the centre of the Sarmatian tribal confederacy/empire and surrounded by a protective ring of vassal tribes (Iazyges to
\26\ the south, Urgi to the north and the Roxolani to the east).62 The Alans further to the east, like the Scythians and western Sarmatians in the second century BC, also possessed a royal clan63 and regiments of professional warriors in the Scythian manner (presumably in the usual decimal system)
(Scythian manner means mounted archers and Scythian tactics).64 The kings, like the Scythian Ariantes of old, carried out a general census of male warriors
(Martyrdom of Sukuasyants65) and even built royal palaces66 and city fortifications. An inscription at Olbia also bears witness to their observance of the steppe custom of collective or joint rule among brothers
(Lateral Order of Succession) who are referred to as the ‘greatest kings of Aorsia’.67 Furthermore, the Alans apparently possessed a ranking system, in much the same way as the Scythians and the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns). The kings used a royal title similar to the Scythian ksais
(Scythian ksais is not exactly Scythian, it is
Ivantchikian), local princes or chiefs were titled ardar (literally ‘holding in a hand’, perhaps related to sceptre holders mentioned in Tacitus Annals 6.33)
(Scythian ardar probably is as much Scythian as the Scythian
nomarchs, unless it is a title like sardar bahadur
known from Bulgars and Moghulistan) and were distinguished from the class of slaves called
čagar (Tr. čaɣruq “trumped on”).68 We also learn that the Alans used
color to designate segments of their tribal confederation in the same way as the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns). Thus we find Ptolemy making reference to white
(sary, i.e. dynastic, ruling) (hapax) Alans.69
Even if we were to discount the Alans, who may well have possessed similar though obviously more haphazard political and social institutions in comparison to the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns), it is nonetheless clear that in the territory from which the Huns derived there were already historical precedents for highly sophisticated organization, both social and military, that facilitated the emergence time and again in the steppe region of formidable empires. Han Chinese administrative and political practices, more complex than even the Roman model,70 also seem to have had a profound effect on the early Huns/Xiongnu (Eastern Huns). If so, then what is the evidence for the possibility of this organization being transmitted to the Huns in the fourth century AD?
The Hun – Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) connection
To fully understand the nature of our European Huns, it is necessary first of all to re-examine their possible links to the above-mentioned Xiongnu (Eastern Huns). The now almost legendary work of Deguignes, Histoire generale des Huns, des Turcs, des Mogols et des autres T artares occidentaux (1756-1824), sparked a debate that has raged for centuries. Were the European Huns the political and physical descendants of the imperial Xiongnu (Eastern Huns)? Deguignes with remarkable intuition asserted that they were, but later scholarship tended to voice
skepticism concerning this link between Huns and Xiongnu (Eastern Huns). Renowned and distinguished historians of the Huns and Central Asia openly rejected any links other than possible cultural affinities between the Huns and the
\\ Xiongnu (Eastern Huns).71 For our purposes cultural links, and in particular the preservation of political institutions, are obviously of greater importance and sufficient for the argument that the Huns were politically organized. However, it is possible to strengthen this cultural link with actual physical, ‘genetic’ links between the later Huns and the earlier Xiongnu (Eastern Huns).
In 1948 Henning published a remarkable text from the year AD 313, a letter sent by a Sogdian merchant by the name of Nanaivandak from Gansu in China concerning the fall of the Chinese capital of Luoyang to the Southern Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) in AD 311. In the letter, without a shadow of a doubt, the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) are called Huns.72 The response to this amazing discovery has been equally amazing. Sinor suggests that this only proves that the name Hun was a general term used by Sogdians for all nomads.73 Bailey for his part, believing the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) to be Iranians, not Turkic like the western Huns presumably were,74 argues that the name Hun derives from the term Hyaona, a designation used in the Avesta to denote a hostile people. This he assumes was used by the Sogdian merchant to refer to the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns), as a generic term for nomads.75
However, as La Vaissiere points out, both Sinor and Bailey are wrong to attribute the use of the name Hun as a general designation for all nomads before the time of the great Hunnic invasions76 It was only after the fourth-and fifth-century exploits of the Huns, which made their name famous, that historians in the West would start to use their name in a generic sense to designate nomads. There is no evidence whatsoever that their name was used as a generic term for nomads before the sixth century AD. It is also highly problematic to treat the name Hun as a fourth-century pan-Iranian term for steppe nomads. For starters the ‘h’ in the Avestic initial ‘hy-’ (as in Hyaona) disappears in Sogdian and words that derive from Avestic with the ‘hy-’ initial prefix never commence with ‘X’ in Sogdian, with which the name Hun begins in the letter of Nanaivandak77 In other words there are formidable linguistic problems with associating the term Hyaona with the Huns.
Another problem with the Iranian theory is that the term Hun was without a doubt the self-designation adopted by the Huns themselves. Hyaona may possibly be a Zoroastrian term applied to hostile enemies, but it by no means designated exclusively nomads, who were more often referred to as the Tuirya.78 If so, why on earth would the Huns adopt this name as their own ethnonym and why would non-Zoroastrian Sarmatians and Goths refer to the Huns in this manner? And we must also take note of the fact that there were plenty of other nomadic tribes in eastern Turkestan at the time when Nanaivandak travelled through it, who were not called
\28\ Huns, but referred to themselves as the Dingling
(Dingling is a Chinese
moniker, not an endonym), Var, Xianbei (Syanbi) etc. Are we to assume that Nanaivandak, who was an eye-witness to the events of
AD 313, was ignorant of the proper name of the invading horde? This surely can’t be right and it is totally unacceptable to dismiss primary evidence like this in a cavalier manner.
In fact recently further evidence has come to light, this time from India and Tibet, which in my view renders the identification of the name Hun with Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) highly probable, if not certain. Two texts, the Tathagataguhya-sutra and Lalitavistara, translated into Chinese by Zhu Fahu, a monk from Dunhuang, by origin of Bactrian descent (translations AD 280 and AD 308 respectively, i.e. roughly contemporaneous with Nanaivandak’s letter), identify the Huna (Huns), then a distant people to the Indians, with the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns), as a specific political entity adjacent to China.79 There is no indication at all that the use of the term Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) for Huna here is generic in any sense. Given this contemporary evidence, it seems quite natural to agree with La Vaissiere and Pulleyblank that the imperial Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) and the European Huns had the same name.80
Having the same name is a start, but this certainly does not prove that the Huns (Western Huns) and the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) were culturally linked. Archaeological evidence, however, in this case supports the link and leaves no doubt as to the cultural connections between the European Huns and the old territory ruled by the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns). Most serious scholars of the Huns and Xiongnu are in agreement that Hunnic cauldrons, an archaeological marker of Hunnic presence, derive from Xiongnu cauldrons in the Ordos region in Inner Mongolia.81 Remarkably, the placement of the Xiongnu and Hunnic cauldrons are virtually the same, on the bank of rivers, a fact which proves that the continuity between the old Xiongnu and the European Huns is not only artistic or technological, but also cultural.82 Furthermore, both the Huns and the Xiongnu practised a very similar sword cult (in Xiongnu the cult of the kenglu).83 In other words, even if one were to reject an ethnic/genetic link between Huns and Xiongnu,84 it is impossible to deny a cultural continuity or affinity between the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) and the Huns (Western Huns). Of course it might be possible that the Huns residing in Kazakhstan (from where they would in the fourth century AD move into Europe)85 had no blood links with the Xiongnu of Mongolia, though how this could be given the history of prolonged Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) presence, migration to and rule of the very regions occupied by the Huns, is problematic to say the least.86
It must, however, be recognized that the Hunnic confederation that entered Europe, despite having the same name as the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) and also very likely a similar mix of ethnic groups (at least initially) and cultural \\ traditions to those which characterized the latter, was not the exact replica of the old Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) Empire. During their migration west the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) (Huns) seem to have undergone a transformation. Whereas the original Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) in Mongolia, according to Pulleyblank and Vovin, may have had a Yeniseian core tribal elite87 which ruled over various Iranian and Altaic (Turco-Mongol) groups,88 if the names of Hunnic tribes and rulers are a rough guide to ethnicity89 (poor indicators at best in the steppe region), the Huns seem to have had a core Turkic element, ruling over initially a large Turco-Iranian population (in the east) and then after their conquests in Europe a largely Germanic population in the western half of their empire.
The heavier concentration of Turkic peoples90 in the western half of the old Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) Empire is likely to have contributed to this shift from a Yeniseian core language group to a Turkic one.91 A very similar transformation can be noted in the later history of the steppe in the Golden Horde and the Chagatai Khanate where the Mongol ruling elite from the east rapidly adopted the Turkic language which was the dominant spoken language of the tribes that made up the bulk of their armies in the West.92 The Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) who migrated west are likely to have done the same.
Yet the fact that the Huns chose to hold on to the name of the imperial Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) as their own ethnonym or state name, even after the probable Turkification of the elite, is a clear indication that they regarded this link with the old steppe tradition of imperial grandeur as valuable and significant, a sign of their original identity and future ambitions no doubt. The preservation of Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) cultural identity (as the preservation of Xiongnu (Eastern Huns)-type cauldrons all the way from the eastern steppe to the Danube shows) among the western Huns suggests also that a culturally dominant inner core of Xiongnu/Huns remained intact through their long migration from Inner Asia to Europe.93 The old Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) confederation was in any case highly heterogeneous,94 a polyglot empire containing Yeniseian, Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, Iranian and even Chinese elements. The name Xiongnu (Eastern Huns)/Hun could also refer to either a specific ethnic entity or more frequently to all dwelling within the political entity established under the name Hun.95 The later descendant of this imperial confederacy, the Hun Empire would, following the old traditions of the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns), be equally heterogeneous, containing mainly Turkic, Iranian and Germanic elements, but also Slavic, Baltic, Finno-Ugric and even Greco-Roman minorities.96
This heterogeneity of the Hunnic state in Europe has led numerous scholars (most recently Heather) to make the unverifiable assertion that the official language of the Hunnic Empire was Gothic due to the rather disputable assumption that the names of three Attila era kings - Ruga (or \30\ Roga/Rua/Rugila), Bleda and Attila - are Gothic.97 Naturally we also have more probable Turkic etymologies for these names, especially for those of Attila and Bleda.98 However, even if they were Germanic or Germanicized Turkic names,99 this does not allow us to make any hasty assumptions about the official language of the empire, if it ever existed. What Heather ignores is the fact that we have convincing or highly probable Turkic etymologies for the names of many of the other Hunnic kings and nobles before and after Attila, e.g. Mundzuk100 (Attila’s father, from Turkic Muncuq = ‘pearl/jewel’), Oktar/Uptar (Attila’s uncle, Öktar- ‘brave/powerful’), Oebarsius (another of Attila’s paternal uncles, Aîbârs = ‘leopard of the moon’), Karaton (Hunnic supreme king before Ruga, Qaraton = ‘black-cloak’), Basik (Hunnic noble of royal blood, early fifth century, Bârsig = ‘governor’), Kursik (Hunnic noble of royal blood, from either Kürsiğ, meaning ‘brave or noble’, or Quršiq meaning ‘belt-bearer’).101 All three of Attila’s known sons have probable Turkic names: Ellac, Dengizich, Hernak, and Attila’s principal wife, the mother of the first son Ellac, has the Turkic name Herekan, as does another wife named Eskam (Esqam - ‘companion of the Shaman’).102
It seems highly likely then from the names that we do know, most of which seem to be Turkic, that the Hunnic elite was predominantly Turkic-speaking.103 However, in the western half of the empire, where most of their subjects spoke Germanic languages, the Huns may have used both Hunnic (Oghuric Turkic104) and Gothic. Thus fief holders and royal family members in the west who ruled Germanic tribes often bore Germanic or Germanicized titles (of great significance, as we will discover later on in the book), e.g. Laudaricus and Ardaric.105 Priscus, who is our only reliable source, being an actual eye-witness, tells us that at the Hunnic court Hunnic, Gothic and Latin were spoken, but with Hunnic always mentioned before Gothic. All three languages were apparently understood by the elite to some degree,106 so much so that Zercon the Moor could provoke laughter by jumbling all three together at a Hunnic banquet in the presence of Attila.107 There is, however, no indication anywhere that any of these three languages was the lingua franca.
It is highly probable that like the later Ottoman Turkish Empire, in which Persian was used for administration, Arabic for religion and Turkic for the army, and as in the contemporary Hunnic Kidarite Empire in Central Asia which used Sogdian, Bactrian, Middle Persian and Brahmi on different occasions for administrative purposes,108 the Hunnic Empire used three (possibly four: Hunnic, Gothic, Latin, Sarmatian (i.e. Alanic)) languages at various levels in order to govern its vastly polyglot army and population.109 All levels of Hunnic society are also likely to have been heavily mixed through inter-marriage. Some of that mixing would have taken place as far back as old Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) times.110 Thus to refer to Hun-Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) links in terms of old racial theories or even ethnic affiliations simply makes a mockery of the actual historical reality of these extensive, multiethnic, polyglot steppe empires.111 It is nonetheless clear that the ancestors, if they need to be mentioned at all, of the Hunnic core tribes (mostly Turkic and Iranian) (sic! Iranian) were part of the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) Empire and possessed a strong Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) element, and that the ruling elite of the Huns, as their very name indicates, claimed to belong to the political tradition of this imperial entity.
However, as many historians have pointed out there is a historical gap (i.e. gap in the European and Chinese chronicles, not in the archeological record) of about two centuries between the final defeat of the Northern Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) confederation at the hands of the Xianbei (Syanbi)112 (166 AD) and the Hunnic invasions of the mid fourth century AD.113 The Hou Han-shu (89.2953-4) records that the last known Shanyu (emperor) of the Northern Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) in AD91 either disappeared in the west or moved to the territory of the Wusun in modern day eastern Kazakhstan.114 The Wei Shu (102.2268) indicates that he moved further west to Kangju (Kangar) (Tashkent region) and that the Yueban (悅般, Weak Huns, east of the Kangju (Kangar)) who dominated the old territory of the Wusun (烏孫, Usun) in the fifth century AD were Xiongnu (Eastern Huns)/Hun remnants.115 The Xianbei (Syanbi) under their leader Tian Shi-huai,n6 however, defeated the remaining Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) feudatories in the Tarim basin c. AD 153.117 After this, due to the decline of Chinese interest in the West, nothing more is heard of the western Huns until the fourth century. Some might question whether the western Huns, despite their pretensions to Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) heritage, could still have had the capacity after this lull to create an imperial structure with the sophisticated social and military organization that was the distinguishing feature of the early Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) polity.
Eastern Huns' migration stages
The Yuezhi (Kushans), Kangju (Kangar) and the Wusun (Usun)烏孫
In order to address this issue it is first necessary to observe the political situation in Inner Asia before and at the time of the Hunnic onslaught on the Alans and Goths. During the so-called two-hundred-year gap in our records we find in close proximity to the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) residing in the Altai (from where the European Huns would start their long trek west), not immediately adjacent, but to their southwest from the Tarim basin118 to Northern India, the formidable empire of the Kushans founded by the five Da Yuezhi (Greater Tokhars) (大月氏) tribes.119 The Yuezhi (Tokhars)120 were steppe nomads driven out \32\ of Chinese Turkestan by the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) c. 162 BC.121 Their migration west,122 according to the Han Shu, caused a chain reaction which drove the Sai (塞) (Saka123)124 into the Greco-Bactrian kingdom125 (ca 140 BC) and then even further west into Parthia.126 In the end the Yuezhi (Tokhars) migration resulted in the permanent conquest of Bactria by the Yuezhi (Tokhars)127 (Tochari128 led by the Asiani/Asi129) and the establishment of Scythian/Saka states all over Afghanistan and northwestern India. The Parthian kings Phraates II (Justin 42.1.5) and Artabanus II (Justin 42.2.2, combating the Tochari) were killed by the invading ‘Scythians’130 and only in the reign of Mithradates II (beginning c. 124 BC, Justin 42.2.4-5) could the Parthians contain the Saka in Sistan.131
The Yuezhi (Tokhars) would later in the first and second centuries AD struggle with other Tocharians, ‘Scythians’ and even the Han Empire in Central Asia. The Chinese interestingly refer to the five xihou (Yabgu) or Lords of the Yuezhi who rule the five tribes of their imperial confederation.132 According to Pulleyblank, this xihou corresponds in the EMC pronunciation to what would later become the Turkic title yabgu135 and this originally Yuezhi (Tokhar) royal title appears on the coins of the greatest of the Yuezhi (Tokhar) rulers, Kujula Kadphises, as ‘IAPGU/yavuga’.134 Of the five Yabgus,135 the Lord of the Guishuang/Kushan tribe136 would become the ruling power under the above mentioned Kujula.137
These rulers of steppe origin, who on their coins proudly depicted themselves wearing the typical Central Asian/Scythian peaked headdress and long boots,138 fascinatingly possessed political institutions that closely resemble the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) and later Hunnic models. Like the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) the Yuezhi (Tokhars) had a political and ceremonial centre even when they were ruled by the five Yabgus.139 In AD90 we learn that a fu-wang (sub-king) called Xie was sent out by the Kushan king to attack the Han Chinese military commander in the Tarim basin, Ban Chao.14° Another Kushan ruler Vima Kadphises, the father of the famous Kanishka,141 would appoint a general to supervise the administration of the Upper Indus Valley,142 which is probably a demonstration of the overlapping of military and civilian administration so typical of the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) system of government. Kushan inscriptions also show that officials with titles such as dandanayaka and mahadandanayaka performed both civil and military functions throughout India.143
Even more revealingly we learn that among the Kushans collateral succession to the throne and some form of joint rulership
(Lateral Order of Succession) and association of sub-kings in the imperial administration were persistently
practiced right up to the end of the empire in the third century AD.144 By way of example, Kaniska I was succeeded by Huviska, but Vasiska and Kaniska II appear to
\33\ have been associated with them respectively as joint rulers and used the same imperial titles.145 Thus, as among the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) and later steppe empires, the Yuezhi
(Tokhars)/Kushans may have practiced dualism and collective rule and possessed an elaborate hierarchy of sub-kings and officials. The Kushans even
practiced the custom of artificial cranial deformation which would later be introduced into Europe by the Huns and Alans and was also
practiced by the Hephtalite Huns.146
Kushan (Tokhar) power in Central Asia (Transoxiana and the Tarim Basin147) southwest of the Northern Xiongnu (Eastern Huns)/Huns in the Altai would fade under Sassanian pressure in the mid third century AD (Shapur I, r. AD 240-70, would dissolve the Kushan Empire), but their remnants would continue to rule in various capacities as Kushanshahs148 under Sassanian overlordship until the Hunnic conquest in the fourth century.'49 The Yuezhi (Tokhar) Kushans, however, were by no means the only Inner Asian steppe people (possibly of Tocharian origin150) to possess an elaborate political structure during the second and third centuries AD. We also know that the Dayuan (Greater Ionia (Greece)) perhaps pronounced in \\ EMC as Taxwd151), who were situated in Ferghana,152 and the Kangju (Kangar) (康居 in modern Uzbekistan around Tashkent, south of the Dingling (Tele) (as mentioned earlier, probably Oghuric Turks in Kazakhstan who were gradually absorbed by the Huns some time during the so-called two-hundred-year gap153)), who may have been ruled by an elite called the Asi154, also possessed state level organization.
The Dayuan would submit to the Han Empire and then later to the Kushans,155 but the Kangju (Kangar) would become a power to be reckoned with in the first century AD 156 and would also subjugate the Yancai (later the Alans157) further west and keep them in that state until at least the second century AD and possibly even the third century AD.158 The Kangju (Kangars) were also ruled by a Yabgu like the Kushans with whom they were dynastically related by marriage159 and at least during the Early Han Period they possessed a system of five ‘lesser kings’,160 indicating that they too had very similar political institutions to their southern neighbours.161 In ways reminiscent of the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns)/Huns, the Kangju (Kangars) would impose their ruling elite upon the conquered Alans. Thus we find among the western and Caucasian Alans the ruling clan/tribe of the Dukhs-As (Asi).162 These Kangju (Kangars) were in direct contact with the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) (Huns) who had moved west and in the first century BC we hear of the migration of a Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) Chanyu called Zhizhi who went west with his people to the Kangju (Kangar) and borrowed troops from them with which he attacked the Wusun (Usun).163 Zhizhi would be killed by the Han Chinese in 36 BC, but the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) of the Altai (the later Huns of Central Asia and Europe) in the second-fourth centuries AD, as they gradually absorbed the Dingling (Tele)\\ (Oghuric and Oguzic Turks) in northern and central Kazakhstan, came to share a common boundary with the Kangju (Kangar) and continuously interacted with them.104
The Wusun (Usuns) (direct neighbors of the Huns to the southwest in the Ili basin),105 who had earlier in the second century BC (174 BC) expelled the Yuezhi (Tokhars)/Kushans from the Ili basin166 and whose territory the Xiognu/Huns would later absorb in their expansion west and south in the fourth century AD, also possessed a highly developed political structure. Their political structure was apparently modeled after that of the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns).107 There was a hereditary king who was assisted by a council of elders, which could also act as a restraint on the powers of the sovereign. There was likewise a fairly developed administrative apparatus consisting of sixteen graded officials, who were recruited from the ruling nobility. Social stratification and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small elite class, some of whom possessed as many as 4,000-5,000 horses in a pastoral economy, evidently caused social tensions among the Wusun (Usuns),168 noted by Chinese visitors. The officials and nobles of the realm maintained themselves by taxes/tribute collected from subordinate tribes, war booty and profits from trading activities (much the same as the Hunnic elite, as we shall see later). The Kunmo or the Great king169 and his two sons, the rulers of the left and right domains (wings) (again in exactly the same way as the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns)), each commanded a personal force of 10,000 horsemen.170 The remnants of the Wusun (Usuns) seem to have survived until AD 436 (that is, unless this is an anachronistic reference to the Yueban (Weak Huns), who occupied their former lands171). Most of the Wusun (Usuns), however, seem to have been either absorbed or assimilated by the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns)/Huns.
It is unclear as to exactly when the Kangju (Kangar) disintegrated,172 but they too like the remnants of the Kushans and the Wusun (Usuns) were caught up in the Hunnic expansion west and south. Until then the Kangju (Kangar) for several centuries ruled over a large political entity stretching from the steppes of western Kazakhstan to the borders of the Huns and Wusun (Usuns) in eastern Kazakhstan with its core situated around Tashkent in modern Uzbekistan. The sophisticated inhabitants of this empire, many of whom were actually urban dwellers or only semi-nomadic173 like the later Yueban (Weak Huns to the east, who were surprisingly enough deemed to be the most civilized people among the barbarians by the Chinese in the fifth century AD), were under heavy Xiongnu (Eastern Huns)/Hun influence.174 Is it possible then to defend the illogical idea of a primitive Hun society with no political organization whatsoever, when in fact the peoples and states conquered or vassalized by the Huns while they were still in Central Asia possessed high levels of civilization and sophisticated political structures?
Contemporary Inner Asian empires
Contemporary Inner Asian empires
In the first and second centuries AD the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns)/Huns were indeed at the nadir of their political and military fortunes. They were practically under siege in the Altai region. To the west and south the Dingling
(Kangar) and Wusun (Usuns) exerted pressure. To the east the powerful Xianbei
(Syanbi) and the Han Empire had expelled them from their eastern domains. However, remarkably after the third century AD these menaces disappeared one after the other. To the east the Han Empire descended into civil war following the Yellow Turban revolt. The Xianbei
(Syanbi) who had earlier exerted such pressure on the Huns during the second century AD were divided into feuding tribes and their confederacy would completely disintegrate by
AD 350.175 To the west and southwest the Kangju
(Kangar) state was slowly disintegrating.176 Is it then an accident that we find the Huns up in arms and expanding west and south in the fourth century? In fact archaeological evidence from the Ural region seems to point to the expansion of the Huns into that area by the early fourth century AD,177 suggesting that the nations between the Altai and the Urals had succumbed to Hunnic conquest by the early fourth century. This was then followed by Hunnic thrusts in two directions, one into Kangju
(Kangar) and Wusun
(Usuns) territories to the south and the other into Alan territory to the west. What is clear from all this is that during the so-called gap between references to the Huns in our sources (of c. 200 years) the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns)/Huns were in constant contact with imperial and state-level (or early-state-level) entities (in particular the Kangju
(Kangar) and the Wusun
(Usuns)), all of whom possessed elaborate political structures.
CONTEMPORARY INNER ASIAN EMPIRES (FOURTH, FIFTH AND SIXTH CENTURIES AD)
The eventful fourth century AD, as already pointed out towards the beginning of this book, opened with the Southern Xiongnu/Hun sack of the capital of the Chinese Jin Empire in
AD 311. The Southern Xiongnu (Huns) power in China (Earlier/Later Zhao Empire178) quickly collapsed as other ethnic groups (The Murong Xianbei
(Syanbi), Chiang (Kiyan) etc.) and Chinese resistance drove them from their domains.179 In the meantime in the steppe further north and northwest new nomadic confederations called the Rouran
(Jujan) (situated later firmly in Mongolia, possibly the Avars180) and Hua (EMC either Var or Ghor181), originally vassals of the Rouran
(Jujan),182 were gradually taking shape. The Liangshu (54.812) provides evidence that would link the latter confederation (Hua) to the Hephtalites183 of the fifth century AD who ruled the
// White Hun Empire. If the name Hua was transliterated as Var and not Ghor in EMC, the Hua may also be considered as the forerunners of the later Eurasian Avars.184
The Huns in Central Asia
Czegledy, regarding the Hua to be Vars (Avars), argued that a migration wave of Vars/Avars may have reached western Turkestan in the middle of the fourth century AD and this may have had some kind of an impact on the Hun migration west.185 More recently it has been proposed that the Huns started moving west out of the Altai in the fourth century AD, not because of renewed military pressure from the east, but because of radical climate deterioration in the Altai region in that century.186 Neither explanation is satisfactory since the Hunnic expansion west may have commenced well before the fourth century. Erdy, on the basis of archaeological evidence provided by Hunnic cauldrons, has argued for a Hunnic presence in the Tobol, Irtish, Middle Ob region already in the third century AD.187 However, the drastic change in climate in the fourth century may have had something to do with the sudden thrust of the Huns remaining in the Altai region in an opposite direction into Central Asia. As La Vaissiere shows in his excellent analysis of the Chinese sources on the early migration of the Hephtalites, the Huns from the Altai suddenly moved south in the 350s AD.188 The invasion of these Huns would have dire consequences for the Kangju (Kangar) (based in Tashkent and Sogdia), the Sassanians and Kushan remnants in Central Asia.
The Kidarite189 Huns190 appear on the scene sometime in the middle of the fourth century and are in firm possession of Bactria by AD 360.191 According to an embassy from Sogdia that visited the Toba Wei court in AD 457, the Huns (called Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) in the Wei Shu, proving without a shadow of a doubt that the White Huns (Central Asian Huns) at least were Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) and that the people whom our sources call Huns and Hunas in Central Asia and India are Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) in origin192) conquered Transoxiana in the mid fourth century AD (three generations before the embassy).193 These Huns, whom the Persians would call collectively Chionites,194 at a later stage in the fifth century AD,195 under the name White Huns (or Western Huns), were all ruled by a new royal clan named the Yeda/Yanda (嚈噠)196 or Hephtalites197 (sometimes also identified with the Eurasian Avars198).
There is general consensus among historians that the Chionites and the Huns were one and the same.199 In
AD 350 the Sassanian King Shapur II had to call off the siege of Nisibis to deal with a grim threat developing to the east. In fact this was an eight-year-long conflict (AD 350-8) that brought the Persian Empire to the brink of destruction.200 After somehow managing to forge an uneasy alliance with them, Shapur used Hunnic allies to augment
\37\ his army in the siege of Amida in AD 360. There Grumbates, the king (probably a sub-king) of the Chionites (his name being possibly Kurum-pat: Turkish, ‘ruling prince’),201 lost his son.202 The subsequent reign of Bahram IV saw the Sassanids losing almost all of their east Iranian lands
(what are the “Iranian lands” here?) taken earlier from the Kushans203 to the western Huns. Later incursions, especially those during the reigns of Bahram V (421-38), Yazdegard (438-57) and Peroz (457-84)204, in other words at exactly the same time when the European Huns were menacing the Romans under Rua, Bleda and Attila, reduced the mighty Persians to tributary status to the Huns.205
In AD 454, a year after the death of the European Hunnic King, the Hephtalites (by now having more or less displaced the previous reigning dynasty, the Kidarites,206 except in Gandhara and India207) won a decisive victory over the Sassanians. The next Sassanian King to reign, Peroz, was placed on the Persian throne by a Hephtalite army.208 Later Peroz bravely tried to free himself of Hephtalite dominance and tried his luck against them. He was defeated by a Hephtalite king called Akhshunwar by Tabari and Khushnavaz by Firdausi.209 He escaped death on that occasion (AD 469), but according to Procopius he was afterwards slain with most of his army in another encounter with the Huns (AD 484),210 who placed his only surviving son Kubad on the throne as a vassal king.211 In AD 487 Kubad was temporarily dethroned and again with Hephtalite support he was able to regain his kingship.212 However, the price was high and in order to pay the required annual tribute to the Huns he asked the Romans, with whom Persia had good relations for about half a century (largely due to Hunnic pressure which prevented the Persians from upsetting the Romans and vice versa the Romans the Persians due to the European Hunnic threat), for loans. The Roman refusal would later in AD 502 lead to renewal of ancient hostilities between the two empires.213
The Chinese historical records mention the vast extent of the Hephtalite Hunnic Empire. The Liangshu 54 lists among their domains Persia, Kashmir, Karashahr, Kucha, Kashgar and Khotan, and the Bei Shi 97: Kangju (Kangar) (Sogdia), Khotan, Kashgar and Persia.214 More than thirty lands of the west are seen as being subject to the White Huns in our sources.215 The Hephtalites by the year AD 500 would also deal the death blow to the Indian Gupta Empire.216
In India the terrified Indians identified two branches of the Hunnic nation: the Sveta Huna (White Huns, i.e. the Hephtalite Huns) and the Hara Huna (possibly Black Huns), the word Hara, according to some scholars, being a corruption of the Turkic word Kara (black).217 Although it is far from certain, it has been speculated that the Hara Huna is a reference
\38\ to Attila’s Huns in Europe.218 All sorts of bizarre ideas have been put forward by historians from Procopius onwards about this identification: white and black. Procopius notes that the Hephtalites were ruled by a king and were guided by a lawful constitution,219 i.e. that they had a sophisticated state structure comparable to those of the Sassanians whom they had vassalized. But he then misinterprets the appellation ‘white’ to mean that the Hephtalites were white and not swarthy like the European Huns supposedly were.220 As Pulleyblank221 points out white was symbolic of west among the steppe nomads. Black signified north and red the south, hence the existence also of Red Huns (Kermichiones).222
As Pritsak points out, in steppe societies the colour black signifying north and the color blue signifying east, both of which carried connotations of greatness and supremacy,223 always had precedence over white (west) and red (south). Thus whoever the Hara Huna were, they are likely to have had precedence over their formidable cousins the White Huns, at least initially. The fact that the term kara suggested elevated status among the European Huns too, as it did among other Inner Asian Turkic peoples, seems to be confirmed by the report in Olympiodorus that the supreme king of the Huns was called Karaton.224
The examination of the Chionite and later Hephtalite conquests also shows clearly that these White Hunnic conquerors (claiming Hunnic heritage like Attila’s Hun), who according to the Wei Shu125 (103. 2290; 102.2278-9226) originated from exactly the same area as the European Huns (from the Altai region227) in the same time period ca. 360,228 possessed a military and social structure that matched those of the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) in the past. Without them it is impossible to explain how they managed to defeat formidable opponents such as the Sassanians and the Guptas. The Wei Shu as mentioned above even specifically states that the fifth-century rulers of Sogdia,229 i.e. the White Huns, are Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) in origin (102.2270), thereby confirming the link between Central Asian Huns and the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) of old, and calls the country iven-na-sha, pronounced ‘Huna sha’ in EMC, i.e. King of the Huns.230
A fifth-century Chinese geographical work called the Shi-san zhouji by a certain Gan Yin preserved in Sung Shu 98, furthermore insists, on the basis of information derived probably from Sogdian merchants,231 that the Alans of Europe and the Sogdians (whom the Chinese had just learned had been conquered by the Huns three generations earlier) were under different rulers. As Pulleyblank notes, the need to clarify this implies the misapprehension that both peoples were ruled by the same ruler. In fact this is only natural given the fact that both had been conquered within the space of some ten years by the same people called Huns.232 Also in ways remarkably
\39\ similar to the European Huns, the succession to the Hephtalite throne could pass from uncle to nephew233
(Lateral Order of Succession) and artificial cranial deformation was
practiced among their elite, as among the European Huns and Alans.234 They also
practiced the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) system of appointing vassal kings, e.g. the king of Zabulistan who held an autonomous fief within the empire and was instrumental in spearheading the Hephtalite thrust into India,235 and collective governance of the empire was
practiced by several high-ranking yabgus and tegins.23Ğ In India the Kidarites and then the Hephtalite Huns also introduced the rule of multiple rajas and rajputs who held territories in ‘fief to their overlord the Hunnic supreme king. Thus a form of quasi-feudalism was introduced to India and a transformation in the administration of revenues took place.237 In subsequent chapters we will see very similar transformations occurring in Europe after the Hunnic arrival.
The Rouran (Jujan) Khaganate
However, this is not yet the whole story. Some forty years before Attila ascended the throne of the Huns in Europe, in the East in Mongolia and Turkestan another mightier and even more formidable empire was being created by a Chinggis Khan-like figure, Shelun Khagan of the Rouran (Jujan).23 The Rouran (Jujan) like the Hephtalites and the European Huns contained a strong element of Huns (Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) remnants239) who collaborated with certain Xianbei (Syanbi) tribes to form the Khaganate under Shelun.240 In AD 394 Shelun broke free from vassalage under the Toba Xianbei (Syanbi) Empire (also steppe nomads) whose centre of power had begun to shift south away from Mongolia after the Toba conquest of Northern China.241 In just six to eight years Shelun subdued almost twelve powerful, nomadic tribal confederacies or states in the vast region stretching from the borders of Koguryo (Korea) in the east to Dzungaria in the west (the original homeland of the White Huns and the European Huns). Even the great Hephtalites were for a while vassals of the Rouran (Jujan) Empire.242
As Kradin points out, the Rouran (Jujan) Empire was very much a typical steppe empire. Its organization and hierarchical structure was almost a complete replica of former Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) practices. The empire, like that of the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns), was divided into two wings in a dual system with the ruler of the east holding greater prestige and overall authority,243 though later the western ruler seems to have reversed the equation, thus mirroring a similar process among the Huns under Attila, who overthrew his Eastern overlord Bleda.244 The empire had a core Rouran
(Jujan) tribe leading ethnically related tribes as vassals and holding in servitude conquered tribes like the Uighurs under
\40\ Zhi-paye-zhi.245 Shelun enforced in the Xiongnu (Eastern
Huns) manner a compulsory registration of all warriors, who were instructed to follow
strict rules of conduct in battle. Disobedience was punished with severe penalties which mirror the
policies of the Great Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) Shanyu Modun.246
The entire nation was organized in a decimal system, again exactly like the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns). The 1,000 formed the detachment (raw/military head) and 100 the banner (Zhuang commanded by the Shawut leader or commander) (Sounds much like Su-bat “Army father, elder, sire”). In all in times of full mobilization between 100,000 and 300,000 horsemen could be raised for military service (again approximating the size of earlier Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) armies).247 Political power was concentrated in the hands of a charismatic, ruling clan. The ruler, Khagan, was chosen usually from among the direct male heirs of the previous ruler or from a collateral line within the royal family (Lateral Order of Succession). The closest relatives of the Khagan were given fiefs, usually in the form of large military units with the title of Xielifa. Under them were the leader of the 1,000 and 100, usually tribal chiefs and clan elders of different levels. Among them were chosen the dachen, the grandees of the empire, classed as high and low ranking with titles distributed at the will of the Khagan. ‘It was a complex hierarchical multi-level system.’249
The succession to the Rouran (Jujan) throne also shows the features that we discover in Hunnic contexts. The ruling Khagan would always try to pass on his throne to his sons. However, if a close relative had greater prestige, this could lead to a succession struggle, which in most cases ended without bloodshed,250 though there were notable exceptions. Thus out of sixteen Khagans, eight were collateral members of the royal family, nephews who, like Attila and Bleda, inherited the throne from an uncle (Lateral Order of Succession). Under the rule of Doulun Khagan, however, the system could not prevent bloodshed. The Uighurs under a Rouran (Jujan) ruler Abuzhiluo (we see here the typical steppe practice, also found among the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) and later the Huns and Gokturks as well, of appointing a member of the royal clan or a close subordinate from the ruling tribe, Rouran (Jujan), Hun or Turk, as the ruler of a vassal horde251), 100,000 tents in all, revolted and had to be suppressed (the constant Hun demands to the Romans for the return of fugitives comes to mind and also the destruction of the horde of fugitive Goths under Radagaisus by Uldin in AD 406).252 In the process two armies were raised to suppress the rebellion. One was led by the Khagan, the other by his uncle Nagai. The Khagan suffered defeat, but Nagai had success. This was interpreted by Rouran (Jujan) troops to be a sign that heaven’s favor had left the Khagan and passed to Nagai. Nagai murdered the Khagan and ascended the throne in a coup,253 demonstrating the extraordinary importance attached to military success in steppe politics, which as we shall see later explains a lot of the behaviour of Hunnic kings in Europe.254
Contemporary Inner Asian empires
We also hear that a Rouran (Jujan) Khagan Anagui255 later built a capital city, Mumocheng encircled with two walls (Liangshu 54), and hired Chinese defectors as clerks to maintain written records (Song Shu 95). We are no doubt reminded of Attila’s Roman secretaries Orestes (the father of the last Roman emperor Romulus Augustulus) and possibly also Onegesius.256 The Khagan was also guarded by a staff of bodyguards (which mirror the institution of intimates (epitedeioi) among the Huns of which the Hun king of the Sciri, Edeco, was a member) who watched over the person of the ruler in shifts.257 This Rouran (Jujan) institution would be inherited by the Turks who overthrew them in the sixth century. Curiously these guards would be referred to as the böri (wolves), the wolf being the traditional sacred totemic symbol of the Turco-Mongol peoples.258 The Ashina ruler of the Gokturks and the later Mongols all held the wolf in reverence.259 What is intriguing is that the son of Attila’s bodyguard, Edeco, was called Hunoulphus (‘the Hun wolf). It is to be wondered whether this name is suggestive of his father’s association with the imperial bodyguard.260
Sedentarism among steppe peoples
Another important aspect of steppe empires contemporaneous with and prior to the Huns is the presence of a sedentary, agrarian element in their polities.261 The early Iranian-speaking ‘nomads’ collectively named the Scythians/Saka in our sources (named Iranian-speaking, not Scythians/Saka) were often by no means pure nomads.262 In the fifth century BC Herodotus claimed that certain Scythians had become settled farmers (4.17-18) and this observation has been proved correct by archaeology.263 Herodotus relates that the Budinians, who are part Greek and part Scythian, had established a town called Gelonus (4.108.1) which was later burned down by Darius (4.123.1). According to Rolle, archaeologists have discovered ‘more than a hundred - fortified settlements - in the forest steppe region’264 which closely resemble the wooden town described by Herodotus.265 Some scholars even believe that they have found in the large ancient settlement of Bel’sk the town of Gelonus.266 There is evidence of craft industry, agriculture and even horticultural activity in this town.207 The Xiongnu (Eastern Huns), who are often viewed as quintessential nomads,268 also possessed a strong sedentary element. Modern archaeology has shown that, like the Scythians, part of the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) had become settled or was from the very beginning sedentary and engaged in agriculture and craft production.269
The steppe confederations and empires originating from Central Asia were particularly hybrid in the sense that their economy had always been sustained \41\ from very early on by a combination of pastoralism and irrigated agriculture,270 which was introduced into southern Central Asia as early as the middle of the first millennium BC. The combination of nomadic conquerors and agriculturalists triggered the rise of the first political federations or empires in Central Asia around the seventh century BC.271 Following in their footsteps the steppe empires of the Yuezhi (Tokhars) (Kushans) and the Kangju (Kangar) (overlord of the Alans) in fact presided over the highest level of development in Central Asian irrigation systems.272 The Kangju (Kangar) (which intermittently controlled Sogdia) and also the neighboring state of Khwarezm,273 were hybrid polities that contained both pastoral elements and long-established communities (some dating back to the fifth century BC) with irrigation systems, agriculture, mining and manufacturing centers.274
Although their military power was dependent upon the nomadic population in the steppe, the elite of the Kangju (Kangar) spent their winters in a capital city and their culture shows a considerable level of sophistication.275 The neighboring Wusun (Usuns), whose territory would be seized by the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns)/Huns, also possessed a walled capital city, which functioned as the political and administrative centre of their state. They also practiced agriculture to supplement their semi-nomadic pastoral economy.276 This symbiosis of pastoralism277 and sedentary agriculture would continue to be a regular feature of steppe polities in the Middle Ages.278 The European Avars, who displaced the Hunnic Empire in the sixth century in the western steppe, were noted by the Romans for their grain-producing capacity which distinguished them from Germanic federates of earlier centuries. The Avars on several occasions supplied defeated Roman armies and populace with food and deported Roman civilians (270,000 (!) in c. 619 alone, so we are told279) to areas north of the Danube in order to augment their agricultural base.280 Mahmud al-Kashgari, a member of the Karakhanid Turkish dynasty that ruled Transoxiana (centred around modern Uzbekistan) in the eleventh century,281 who wrote the famous Diwan Lugat at-Turk (written c. AD 1075), in his overview of medieval Turkish tribes, also alerts us to the fact that of the twenty Turkic tribes, ten were sedentary.282 Thus the domination of a core of steppe pastoralists was by no means a hindrance to co-existence/symbiosis with a subject sedentary population and the steppe political system was structurally not incompatible with stable tributary administration. The longevity and essential stability of steppe-based empires like the Xiongnu (Eastern Huns) and steppe-derived entities such as the Parthian Empire are a telling reminder that the myth of political anarchy and rampant disorder that dominates our perception of Central Asian steppe societies requires a radical re-evaluation.
In Russian (later)
Contents Türkic languages
Ogur and Oguz
Alans and Ases
E.Pulleyblank Eastern Hun Language
O.Pritsak Onomasticon of Western Huns
W.B.Henning Xiongnu are Huns
L.Gumilev Language of Huns
Kisamov N. Hunnic Oracle Phrase
Tekin T. Hsiung-Nu Language
Vovin A Hsiung-Nu Language
Taskin V. Hsiung-Nu Language
Doerfer G. On Hunnic and Turkic (snippets)
Gmyrya L. Caspian Huns