History Files


Barbarian Europe

The Origins of the Huns

A new view on the eastern heritage of the Hun tribes.
Text edited from conversations with Kemal Cemal, Turkey, 1 November 2002



Editor's Note: When it was published in 2002 the subject of this article was somewhat controversial, and is even more so with hindsight. The views expressed here are the author's own. They are presented here as the 'opposition' view of Hunnic origins, a view which did not fully tie in with prevailing thought on the Huns, and does so even less today. For a more accurate portrayal of the Huns please see the king list page via the sidebar links.

Although in the past the Huns are thought to have been Mongolian emigrants, it is far more likely that they were of Turkic origin. This point has been repeated by thousands of historians, sinologists, turcologists, altaistics, and other researchers. Let me try to state how this idea began with Sinology researchers.

Sinology research in Europe

While the Mongol Empire was in the ascendancy, the power of the Catholic Church seemed to be fading, and the power of the Pope was somewhat shaky. At the same time, the Mongols opened the eastern roads for travel, and the Pope decided that there were now so many evident non-Christians that his power in the West was under severe threat. If he could convert these non-Christians he could regain power. As a result, Jesuit missionaries started to head east. Before spreading Christianity, they researched Chinese beliefs. They examined Chinese history and philosophy. There were some missioners who stayed twenty or thirty years in China, and built up healthy relations with Chinese scholars. They also started to translate Chinese books about both history and philosophy into Western languages. The first translations were made in Portuguese. Then this was translated to the other languages; Spanish, Italian and French. So the West started to learn about China from these Jesuit missionaries.

Sin means China in Latin and Sinology means “sciences of China." Sinology mainly started with these translations in the sixteenth century, and Turk history became part of this study. Later, the number of Sinology studies increased with many travellers from the West heading to China. The book written by de Guinness in the eighteenth century is accepted as one of the important collected studies about Turkish history. De Guinness did not know Chinese but he wrote the history of the Turks, Mongols and Tartars by using Jesuit missionaries' translations. It was printed under the name of "General History of Turks, Tatars and Mongols."

All the information obtained to this point by the researchers showed that the Huns were of Turkic origin. We learn nearly all our current knowledge on the Huns from the information left to us by their contemporary neighbours.

For example. It is pretty definite that their language was Turkic. Chinese annals reveals that the Hunnic language was very close to that of the Töles, a Turkic tribe. The Byzantine Empire said that the language of the Huns was the same as the languages of the Bulgars, Avars, Szeklers (the last of whom were descended from the European Huns themselves - Ed.) and other tribes which were flooding into Eastern Europe from Central Asia. The historians of that period accepted that these Turkic-speaking tribes were no different from the Huns because their languages were the same.

There are many words written in Chinese chronicles which were used by Huns in daily life. These are Turkic words. K Shiratoriy, reading a Hunnic sentence which has survived to the present day, has proven that it is Turkic. Hunnic-runic writings belonging to European Huns in Cafcasia [sic] has been read and has been proven to be of Turkic origin.

One area for backing up this claim is that of Hunnic names. It is difficult to explain the names belonging to Asian Huns because of fact that they were translated into Chinese in the form of Chinese names. The meanings of the names of European Huns can be comfortably explained in Turkish. One of the most striking features related to European Hunnic names is that they can't be explained by any language but Turkish. Some of the names belonged to the German language due to cultural interaction, but the majority of them were Turkish.

I will try to explain some of these:

(a famous hunnic leader) Balamir = Bala (child, kid) + Mir (king)

(the son of Attila) Dengizik = sea storm

(a general) Oniki, known to Europeans as Onegesios, = the number 12

(the son of Attila) Csaba = shepherd

(a Hunnic leader) Atakam = Ata (grandfather, father), Kam = the person who is responsible for the religious rituals (in shamanism)

Eskam = Es = couple + Kam = (as above)

Aybars = Ay = moon (and also the colour white in Turkish) + Bars (or Pars) = leopard, or a wild animal

The author W Bang has proven the name of Attila's wife was Arikan in Turkish in the result on his researches.

Some Hunnish Words







* Tengri also means "God" or "Heaven" in Mongolian.

However, there are many names and captions belonging to Hunnish leaders which were written down in a document at Duro-Eropas, a border castle in Doma which was captured by the Persians in 260 BC. These names and captions are Turkish names and captions.

Aramaic writing in present-day Georgia appeared in the period following the Huns' penetration into the Caucuses. This writing was also used by the Bulgars. It is estimated that this writing was proto-Turkic and appeared before the Orkhun inscriptions in Mongolia.

A book written by Gyula Nemeth, the world famous Hungarian historian is recommended for further reading on this subject, and will greatly expand on this short feature. There are many Turkology institutes which study on the origins of the Turks in many European countries from Denmark and Germany to Russia and Japan. All of these contain a great number of resources regarding the origin of the Huns.

As stated, many sources claim the Huns were of Mongol origin, since European Huns were somewhat mongoloid in appearance. Some historians also accept Turks as Mongols. All of these views are somewhat back-to-front. The Chinese annals say the Mongols always lived to the east of the lands in which the Huns dwelt. The Mongols originate from what is now known as Manchuria.

The Mongol Empire was based on Turkic elements rather than Mongol elements. The governing structure of the empire was based on Turkic ideas of governing. The official language of the Mongol Empire was Uigrian, which is a Turkic language. Eighteen Turkish tribes played an important role in the founding of the Mongol Empire. There are many more examples that show the effects of Turkic elements on the Mongol Empire.

For example, the Indian Moghal Empire was established by Turks. But many scholars still hold the belief that the Moghals were of Mongol origin. The truth is that the language of the Moghals was Turkic, and that the founders of this empire were proud of being Turk.

You can come across many researchers who say the Huns are a nation whose origin is still mystery. When you look at bibliographies on internet sites you will see that those sites have referenced the work of historians such as McGovern and Haelfen-Manchen, but these sites don't say these authors already accept the Huns as Turkic. Haelfen-Manchen accepts that Asiatic Huns were in fact of Turkic origin and says that their language was also Turkic, but he raises an objection by adding that, in his view, European Huns are not descended from Asiatic Huns.

I don't know the reason for it but many European researchers still seem not to accept that Attila's Huns were of Turkic stock.

Hunnic Descendants

The word "Hun" comes from the word "kun" in Turkish ...It means people, or nation. Many now accept that the Bulgars are the descendants of the Huns. The ancestor of the Bulgars is Kobrat Han, who was the son of Irnek. Irnek was the son or grandson of Attila. So the Bulgars are directly descended from the Huns. Their writings were a different version of the Turkish-Runic writing used in Mongolia.

The Magyars (Hungarians) are also the descendants of the Huns (a false assumption, although Hungary itself did contain some Huns, plus Avars and many others - Ed). The dynasty of Arpad, which founded the present-day Hungary, is descended from the dynasty of Attila. The very name of the country comes from the name On-Ogur, which is a Turkish tribe. The Magyars consisted of six amalgamated Turkish tribes and one other Turkish tribe (a common fallacy which has largely been disproved, see the Magyar entry for details - Ed).

Magyars and Bulgars were accepted by the Byzantines as Turkic. for example, the Magyars were called Turks by the Byzantines during the ninth and twelfth centuries. Both of these tribes have since been assimilated into the native peoples in which they migrated and settled and have lost their own cultural features.

There are still hundreds of Turkish words in the Hungarian language. I hope these few examples will help you in clarifying the origin of the Huns.



The views expressed here are the author's own. They may not reflect the views of others and no inference should be made that this is the case.
Images and text copyright the original author(s). An original feature for the History Files.