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European Kingdoms

Barbarians

 

 

 

FeatureHuns

These Asiatic horse warriors are understood to have originated in the Ordos region of Mongolia. Usually identified as the Hsiung-nu (Xiongnu) people in contemporary Chinese  records, they may not have formed this group directly but could have been part of a temporary confederation that included them (as could the similarly obscure Göktürks who did not migrate alongside them). For whatever reason (probably population pressure on traditional hunting grounds) they began a migration towards the west in the fourth century AD. In the 360s, they were in Scythia (also known as Samartia), a wide range of plains to the north of the Black Sea which reached as far as the Caspian Sea (now largely contained within Ukraine). For millennia this region had provided good feed for cattle and good horse-raising opportunities that were vital for its various nomadic dwellers, largely Indo-Europeans and their descendants until the third to six centuries AD.

Once established in Scythia, by the 370s, they clashed with the Germanic Ostrogoths and other barbarians on the northern borders of the Roman empire. They were described at this time as a loose confederation of nomadic tribes. Once they reached the Danube, they established their main base in the the Carpathian basin, part of the Roman province of Pannonia. This region eventually came to be known after them as Hungary, although later Hungarians referred to themselves as Magyars, thanks to the ninth century invasion of Pannonia by that group.

It is a matter of contention as to whether the Huns had a single, overall leader before 374. The historian Ammianus Marcellinus, writing circa 395 states that they had no kings, and that each group was lead by a 'primate'. Perhaps the greater chance of large-scale conquests and the opportunity of facing more organised enemies in Europe forced them to accept a single leader.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Peter Klinko (on AD 453), Kemal Cemal (supplying further rulers' names - shown in red), Edward Dawson (supplying name breakdowns), and Vassil Karloukovski (on Bulgar origins), from The World of the Huns, Chapter IX, Language, O Maenchen-Helfen, from The Barbarians: Warriors & Wars of the Dark Ages, Tim Newark (Blandford Press, 1985), and from Res Gestae, Ammianus Marcellinus.)

c.360

Vund

Hunnic leader before the entry into Scythia.

c.360 - 378

Balamber / Balamir

Possibly fictitious to cover the beginnings of European invasion.

372

The Huns cross the River Volga which empties into the Caspian Sea, dragging with them many other groups of horse-borne nomads, including the ancestors of the Kutrigurs and Utigurs. They burst into Scythia and stir up a wave of rumours and horror stories which sweep through Europe, and reach the ears of the Romans by 376. They clash with a group of steppe people called the Alans, defeating them. The Alans have little choice but to become Hunnic allies.

372 - 432

The Huns and Alans arrive in the territory north of the Danube and take control of the steppeland which lies above the Black Sea. The region is nominally under the control of the Ostrogoths, and is peopled by Gepids, Heruli, Illirs (called Pannons by the Romans, they later give their name to Illyria - the region at the top of the Adriatic Sea), Scirii, Slavs, and Avars, plus some Saxons who had settled in Dacia (later Transylvania) and quite probably the southernmost groups of Venedi. The Germanic Rugian kingdom in Austria is also made a client state and the Quadi are effectively destroyed. The Huns eventually unify and only then begin to threaten the Western Roman empire. They start by clashing with the mighty Ostrogoths, overrunning them, and in 376 they also defeat the Visigoths.

Huns
The approach of the Huns into central Europe spread terror and fear, and not without good reason as their unfamiliar battle tactics defeated opponent after opponent

378 - 390

Baltazár / Alypbi

Son.

390 - 410

Uldiz / Uldin

Aided Stilicho to defeat a barbarian army in 406.

407

The Alans leave the Western Huns of Uldiz behind when they cross the Rhine along with the Suevi and Vandali, both of which have been forced to migrate westwards by the Hunnic invasion. The death of Uldiz leads to the Hunnic confederation splitting into three main groups which are not fully reunited until Attila's reign.

c.410 - 412

Donatus

Khan of the Eastern Huns of the Black Sea.

c.412 - 415

Charaton / Karaton / Karatun / Aksungur

Charaton and Aksungur may be western and eastern rulers.

c.415?

Continuing their southwards migration, the Langobards enter 'Vurgundaib'. This is believed to be the original lands of the Burgundians, and can be located in the northern Carpathians. Once there, they are attacked in their encampment by 'Bulgars', probably as recruits of the Huns. They are defeated, their king is killed, and they are subjugated. However, it seems that they quickly rise up under the leadership of the king's son and inflict an unusual defeat on the Huns. How long it takes for this to happen after their subjugation is unclear.

c.415 - 422

Bendeguz / Muncuk

c.422 - 432

Octar / Uptar

Brother. Reunited some elements of the Huns.

c.422

Octar's name is an interesting example of Hunnic names being recorded in non-Hunnic forms. O Maenchen-Helfen says: 'Before the East Romans had any contact with the Huns, they heard about them from the Goths. They must have heard many names as they were pronounced by Goths and other non-Huns, [including the Gaulish tribes in the Balkans. Even after it had been recorded as Octar by Jordanes], Octar's name underwent some alteration in the course of transmission. The transition from "-ct-" to "-pt-" is characteristic of Balkans Latin, [and it] was probably there that Octar became Optar-Uptar'. Which suggests that Gaulish tribes in the Balkans were following the usual Celtic habit of swapping 'k' to 'p' even this late.

c.432 - 434

Rua / Rugila

Brother. United the Huns under a single kingship.

434 - 453

Attila

Son of Bendeguz. Died in bed.

434 - 445

Bleda / Buda

Brother. Joint ruler. Killed by Attila.

434 - 453

Although highly successful in his initial command of the Huns, Attila never takes his people into the Roman empire to settle among the rich villa estates: the aim of all barbarians. Instead he leads major incursions into Roman, Byzantine and Goth territory. There are also incursions into southern Lithuania around this time, suggesting the Huns or their allies also raid northwards.

451

To preserve their new domains, the Visigoths fight on the side of Rome to halt the advance of the Huns at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, in the former territory of the Catalauni. Atilia is aided by his own allies, which include the Gepids, Ostrogoths, Rugii, and Scirii. Although both sides fight to a standstill, it is Attila who withdraws and it is seen as his first major defeat, ending his reputation for invincibility.

452

By this time, the Hun headquarters are situated on the west bank of the Danube at Sicambria (Roman Aquincum, and modern Buda). Attila meets Pope Leo I and is persuaded not to attack and destroy Rome, and also to give up slaughtering Christians. Even so, his approach into Italy causes panic, and refugees from Aquileia and other cities which had been burned down by Attila before his meeting with the Pope escape into the lagoon marshes and form a settlement which becomes Venice.

453

Upon the death of Attila, his sons fight each other for control, and the Huns begin to dissolve as a cohesive entity. Many elements of the empire start drifting away, some returning to their homelands. A sudden appearance of Roman solidi to the south of the Baltic Sea suggests that various Germanic groups return to their former homelands here, merging into the melting pot of leftovers known as the Vidivarii.

Attila the Hun
Despite his great success over the barbarian tribes of eastern and central Europe, Attila's stalemate against an allied Roman-led army in 451 was a blow to his prestige, and his death soon afterwards caused his empire to crumble

453 - 454

Ellac / Ilek

Son of Attila. Killed in battle.

454

Ellac is defeated and killed at the Battle of Nedao by an alliance between Ardaric, king of the Gepids, and former Hunnic subjects. The defeat ends any presumption by the Huns to be the major power in the region. The Pannonian basin is occupied by the Gepids, while the Rugii head for Bohemia and northern Austria.

454 - 456

Dengisich / Dengizik / Dintzic / Tingiz

Brother. After 456, ruled Kutrigurs & Altyn Ola. Killed.

456 - 457

The Ostrogoths defeat and rout Attila's sons in their fight for independence. The central core of Huns apparently divides into the Kutrigurs and Utigurs (the 'Bulgarian Huns'). Dengisich may be king (khan) of the former, while Ernakh could be king the latter. The two also apparently control the Altyn Ola horde during their lifetimes. An alternative is that the Kutrigurs and Utigurs are named after, and are led by, two of Ernakh's sons.

The Ostrogoths reassert power over the region following their military victory, and most Huns drift back to Scythia. They probably take elements of various subject groups including the Venedi with them, one of the latter of which seemingly reappears in 668, while others remain behind, including further Venedi, probably the bulk of them. One group of Huns and their subjects settles permanently in Dacia (the Szekelys). They find that the plains of Pannonia (essentially western Hungary, northern Croatia, Slovenia, and eastern Austria) to the west of Dacia, secured by the Carpathians, is a perfect place in which to maintain their nomadic lifestyle, with its wide open grazing lands.

Another group which migrates post-Attila is that of the so-called 'Gothi minores', according to Jordanes. They still lead a secluded existence in their mountain refuge a century after arriving there, close to Nicopolis ad Istrum (Thrace - its ruins are located at the village of Nikyup, in modern northern Bulgaria).

fl 457

Tuldila

A Hun in the Roman army of Majorian.

454 - 456

Ernakh / Irnek / Hernach / Belkermak

Brother of Dengisich. Ruled the Altyn Ola & Utigurs.

Ernakh governs the surviving eastern territories, and is king of the Akatirs, a Turkic tribe within Roman territory (probably the Utigurs). It is claimed by Procopius that his two sons later share power and give their name to their subjugated people, who emerge in two groups named the Kutrigurs and Utigurs. The entire Pontic-Caspian steppe is now awash with steppe tribes that jostle for supremacy, either as remnants of the Hunnic empire or having been part of an ongoing process of further tribes being forced westwards by population pressures in what is now Mongolia and Central Asia. These include the Bulgars, Onoghurs, Sabirs, and Saraghurs.

Map of Eastern Europe AD 450-500
Soon after the middle of the fifth century AD the Hunnic empire crashed into extinction, starting with the death of Attila in 453. His son and successor, Ellac, was killed in battle in 454, and the Huns were defeated by the Ostrogoths in 456, ending Hunnic unity (click on map to view full sized)

Other Hunnic remnants remain in the western core of the former empire's territory, Dacia and Pannonia. These include Huns, Turks, Indo-Iranians, Germanics, Celts, and even Romans.

The region of Pannonia, and whatever Hunnic empire remnants it still contains by AD 898, is subjugated by the invading Magyars. Popular theory claims that it retains its Hunnic-inspired name, even when the Magyars later form the kingdom of Hungary (although this is largely disproved in the introduction for the Magyars). Other elements of the Hunnic peoples may resurface in the early Bulgarian state in the early eighth century, whatever the modern objections against such a possibility.