Western Hun Empire - 48-216 AD
The Huns were divided into two well-marked sections. The Huns proper, or Black Huns, in the west; and the White Huns, including the Acatziri Saraguri, etc., in the east. In this the names Black and White are compass points : Black is North and West, White is South and East. They were roughly divided, probably, by the Don. The Western Huns migrated across the Volga and into the Ukraine, thence into Europe.
Many historians consider the Huns (meaning "person" in Mongolian language) the first Turkic people mentioned in European history. They originated from lands between modern day Siberia and Korea, then migrated progressively westward. References in Chinese sources to peoples called the Xiong-Nu (Hsiung-nu) go back to 1200 BC. The western Huns controlled at their greatest extent the Balkans, much of central Europe, and the western Russian steppes of the Ukraine and Belarus. The Huns were seldom if ever completely unified. Almost immediately on the appearance of the Hunnish monsters on the Volga, one nation sank before them after the other. They were Chunni (Hunni), of Ugrian race, kin dred to the Hungarians from Mount Oural. The Ugri are of Finnish or Chldish descent, and so are both the Huns and the Hungarians, with the difference, however, that the Huns have an admixture of the Mongol, or Calmuc, while the Magyars have more Turkish blood in their veins.
The Huns are described as the ugliest race of monsters the world ever saw ; and the Goth Jornandes says that their horrible deformity and bestiality gained more battles for them than their arrows. At the time of their invasion they were divided into two numerous tribes - the White Huns or the Hephthalites, on the east of the Caspian, hovering on the frontiers of the Persian empire, where they made desolating incursions; and the Black Huns, the true Ugrians from Mount Oural, exhaustless hordes, sweepmg ever onward from the wilds of Tartary, upon their small but hardy steeds.
The distinction between 'white' and 'black' Huns, made by the mediaeval writers, led Bloch (1901) to put forward the view of a dark race in process of transformation into a white one, but the uncertainty of the connotation of these epithets makes such a startling view even less probable. Like the modern Magyars, Osmanli Turks, etc., the ancient Huns no doubt assimilated themselves to the populations of their environment, and in Europe lost more and more of the distinctly Asiatic character. The 'white' Huns were probably not a little mixed with Asiatic Aryan blood (Iranian, etc.), before they entered upon their career in Europe. About B.C. 200 the Huns overran the Chinese Empire, defeated the Chinese armies in numerous engagements, and drove the Emperor Kao-ti himself to a capitulation and treaty. During the reign of Wu-ti (B.C. 141-87), the power of the Huns was much broken.
Eventually they separated into two distinct camps, one of which, amounting to about 50,000 families, went southward, while the other endeavored to maintain itself in its original seat, but finally the most warlike went west and northwest in search of new homes. Of those that went northwest a large number established themselves for a while on the banks of the Volga. They then advanced into the territories of the Alani, a people dwelling between the Volga and the Don. At what period this took place is uncertain, but probably it was early in the fourth century. The Alani resisted the incursions of the Huns until at length a battle was fought on the banks of the Don, in which the Alani King was slain, and his army utterly routed; the vast majority of the survivors joined the invaders.
The imagination requires some material assistance to form any idea of the immensity of space included within the limits of northern and central Asia, or of its capacity to pour forth such mighty and unceasing tides of population. A movement of tribes beyond the Caspian Sea, occasioned by war or any other cause, and necessitating a change of locality, caused its pulsations to be felt far onward throughout eastern, and then through western Europe, to the very walls of the Roman fortresses along the Rhine. Thus it came to pass that the Asiatic tribes were ever exerting a pressure upon their barbarous neighbors, which gradually propelled them upon the Empire.
The Slaves, in particular, conquered and thrown back by the Teutons on the south and west, felt the full weight of the Turanian migrations upon the east and north, and were compressed by their adversaries on both sides as within a vice, or between the legs of a compass, into central Europe. Of the existence of these outermost barbarians, the Romans had some small notion in the first century, but little more. A few vague words of Tacitus describe the Fenni or Fins, as a race of marvellous ferocity, utterly destitute of all that constitutes the wealth of civilized life, clad in skins, feeding on the grass of the field, and living by the use of arrows, which they pointed with fish-bones for want of iron. Yet it was one of these wild races which proximately caused the fall of Rome.
As early as the second century of the Christian era, the geographer Ptolemy mentions the appearance of the Xowrot, or, as the Latins called them, the Hunni, among the Slave populations on the banks of the Dnieper; and another writer speaks of them as camping between the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea, from which inaccessible locality they extended their plundering raids into Asia Minor. This federation of nomad robbers appears to have gathered strength and consistency during the next hundred and fifty years.
Jornandes, the Gothic historian of this period, or, more correctly, the abridger of the great work of Cassiodorus upon the annals of his countrymen, tells us in his characteristic style, that the stem of the Hunnic stock "budded forth into two infuriated branches " (in bifovriam orum rabiem pullularunt).* Of these, the eastern branch, much less hideous than the other, say the Greek historians, gave to themselves the appellation of White Huns. Their locality was the neighbourhood of the Caspian Sea. The western, or Black Huns, turned towards Europe. M. Thierry, unwilling to plunge into the labyrinth of doubt and conjecture in which modern learning has lost itself more than once upon this subject, states, nevertheless, his conviction that the "domination Hunnique" included the Turkish tribes towards the east, the Fins on the west, and a sovereign Mongol race much more decidedly Asiatic in its attributes than the Fins.
The Goths, who had by this time attained to a high comparative civilization, were, of all the Teuton tribes, most harassed and appalled by the apparition of the Black Huns upon their borders. The Goths themselves were the greatest of all the barbarian tribes which overthrew the Empire. In their alarm they indulged in the wildest imaginations. Jornandes ascribes to these strangers a birth half human, half demoniacal, and tells us they were at first a puny race, dwelling among morasses, hideous to look upon, and possessing no other connection with humanity than the faculty of speech.
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