AskDefine | Define Hun

Dictionary Definition



1 a member of a nomadic people who invaded Europe in the 4th century
2 offensive terms for a person of German descent [syn: Kraut, Krauthead, Boche, Jerry]

User Contributed Dictionary



Late Latin Hunnus


Proper noun

  1. A member of 4th Century Central Asian nomads most likely of Turkic origin, the Huns
  2. A derogatory term for a German, popular in the UK media

Related terms

Extensive Definition

The Huns were an early confederation of Central Asian equestrian nomads or semi-nomads, with a Turkic core of aristocracy. Some of these Eurasian tribes moved into Europe in the 4th and 5th centuries, most famously under Attila the Hun. Huns remaining in Asia are recorded by neighboring peoples to the south, east, and west as having occupied Central Asia roughly from the 4th century to the 6th century, with some surviving in the Caucasus until the early 8th century.

Origin and identity

Research and debate about the Asian ancestral origins of the Huns has been ongoing since the 18th century. For example philologists still debate to this day which ethnonym from Chinese or Persian sources is identical with the Latin Hunni or the Greek Chounnoi as evidence of the Huns' identity.
Recent genetic research The modern research shows

Turkic theory

see Hunnic language The Huns may be of Turkic (or pre-Proto-Turkic) origin. This school of thought emerged when Joseph de Guignes in the 18th century identified the Huns with the Xiongnu or (H)siung-nu. It is supported by O. Maenchen-Helfen on the basis of his linguistic studies. English scholar Peter Heather called the Huns "the first group of Turkic, as opposed to Iranian, nomads to have intruded into Europe". Turkish researcher Kemal Cemal bolsters this assertion by showing similarities in words and names in Turkic and Hunnic languages, and similarities in systems of governance of Hunnic and Turkic tribes. Hungarian historian Gyula Nemeth also supports this view. Uyghur historian Turghun Almas has suggested a link between the Huns and the Uyghurs, a Turkic speaking people who reside in Xinjiang, China.
This article will not discuss the "White Huns" and "Red Huns", since there is no definite evidence that they were related to the classical "Huns". Furthermore, not much is known of their language.


2nd-5th centuries

Dionysius Periegetes describes a people who may be Huns living near the Caspian Sea in the 2nd century. By AD 139, the European geographer Ptolemy writes that the "Khuni" are next to the Dnieper River and ruled by "Suni". He lists the century, although it is not known for certain if these people were the Huns. The 5th century Armenian historian Moses of Khorene, in his "History of Armenia," introduces the Hunni near the Sarmatians and describes their capture of the city of Balkh ("Kush" in Armenian) sometime between 194 and 214, which explains why the Greeks call that city Hunuk.
Following the defeat of the Xiongnu by the Han, the Xiongnu history became unknown for a century; thereafter, the Liu family of southern Xiongnu Tiefu attempted to establish a state in western China (see Han Zhao). Chionites (OIONO/Xiyon) appear on the scene in Transoxiana in 320 immediately after Jin Zhun overthrew Liu Can, sending the Xiongnu into chaos. Later Kidara came along to lead the Chionites into pressing on the Kushans.
In the west, Ostrogoths came in contact with the Huns in AD 358. The Armenians mention Vund c.370: the first recorded Hunnic leader in the Caucasus region. The Romans invited the Huns east of Ukraine to settle Pannonia in 361, and in 372 they pushed west led by their king Balimir, and defeated the Alans. In the east, in the early 5th century, Tiefu Xia is the last southern Xiongnu dynasty in Western China and the Alchon / Huna appear in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan. At this point deciphering Hunnic histories for the multi-linguist becomes easier with relatively well-documented events in Byzantine, Armenian, Persian, Indian, and Chinese sources.

European Huns

The Huns appeared in Europe in the 4th century, apparently from Central Asia. They first appeared north of the Black Sea, forcing a large number of Goths to seek refuge in the Roman Empire; later, the Huns appeared west of the Carpathians in Pannonia, probably sometime between 400 and 410, perhaps triggering the massive migration of Germanic tribes westward across the Rhine in December 406.
The establishment of the 5th century Hunnic Empire marks a historically early instance of horseback migration. Under the leadership of Attila the Hun, the Huns achieved hegemony over several well-organized rivals by using superior weaponry such as the composite bow, their highly maneuverable hit-and-run tactics with their horsemanship, and a well-organized system of taxation. Supplementing their wealth by plundering wealthy Roman cities to the south, the Huns maintained the loyalties of a diverse number of tributary tribes.
Attila's Huns incorporated groups of unrelated tributary peoples. In Europe, Alans, Gepids, Scirii, Rugians, Sarmatians, Slavs and Gothic tribes all united under the Hun by Ardaric's coalition at the Battle of Nedao in 454, at modern day Nedava.
Memory of the Hunnic conquest was transmitted orally among Germanic peoples and is an important component in the Old Norse Völsunga saga and Hervarar saga, and the Middle High German Nibelungenlied, all of which portray Migration period events a millennium before their written recordings. In the Hervarar saga, the Goths make first contact with the bow-wielding Huns and meet them in an epic battle on the plains of the Danube.
In the Nibelungenlied, Kriemhild marries Attila (Etzel in German) after her first husband Siegfried was murdered by Hagen with the complicity of her brother, King Gunther. She then uses her power as Etzel's wife to take a bloody revenge in which not only Hagen and Gunther but all Burgundian knights find their death at festivities to which she and Etzel had invited them. After defending quite successfully for days against the Huns who outnumber them by an enormous ratio, the remaining tired Burgundians are finally defeated not by the Huns but by Rüdeger (Austrian), who dies in the fight too, and Dietrich von Bern (Helvetic), both being vassals to Etzel and actually very reluctant to fight against their Burgundian friends but caught in personal dilemmas forcing them to do so.
In the Völsunga saga, Attila (Atli in Norse and Etzel in German) defeats the Frankish king Sigebert I (Sigurðr or Siegfried) and the Burgundian King Guntram (Gunnar or Gunther), but is later assassinated by Queen Fredegund (Gudrun or Kriemhild), the sister of the latter and wife of the former.

Successor nations

Many nations have tried to assert themselves as ethnic or cultural successors to the Huns. For instance, the Nominalia of the Bulgarian khans may indicate that they believed themselves to have been descended from Attila. The Bulgars certainly were part of the Hun tribal alliance for some time, and some have hypothesized that the Chuvash language (which is believed to have descended from the Bulgar language) is the closest surviving relative of the Hunnic language.
The Magyars (Hungarians) also have laid claims to Hunnic heritage. Because the Huns who invaded Europe represented a loose coalition of various peoples, it is possible that Magyars were part of it. Until the early 20th century, many Hungarian historians believed that the Székely people (the Hungarians' "brother nation" who live in Transylvania) were the descendants of the Huns.
The names "Hun" and "Hungarian" sound alike, but differ in etymology. The name "Hungarian" is derived from the Turkic "onogur" which likely meant "ten tribes" and possibly referred to a tribal covenant between the different Hungarian tribes that moved into the area of today's Hungary at the end of the 9th century.
In 2005, a group of about 2,500 Hungarians petitioned the government for recognition of minority status as direct descendants of Attila. The bid failed, but gained some publicity for the group, which formed in the early 1990s and appears to represent a special Hun(garian)-centric brand of mysticism. The self-proclaimed Huns are not known to possess any distinctly Hunnic culture or language beyond what would be available from historical and modern-mystical Hungarian sources.
While it is clear that the Huns left descendants all over Eastern Europe, the disintegration of the Hun Empire meant they never regained their lost glory. One reason was that the Huns never fully established the mechanisms of a state, such as bureaucracy and taxes, unlike the Magyars or Golden Horde. Once disorganized, the Huns were absorbed by more organized polities.


The term "Hun" has been also used to describe peoples with no historical connection to what scholars consider to be "Huns".
On July 27, 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion in China, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany gave the order to "make the name 'Germany' be remembered in China for a thousand years, so that no Chinese will ever again dare to even squint at a German." This speech, wherein Kaiser Wilhelm invoked the memory of the 5th century Huns, coupled with the Pickelhaube or spiked helmet worn by German forces until 1916, that was reminiscent of ancient Hun (and Hungarian) helmets, gave rise to later English use of the term for the German enemy during World War I. However, another reason given for the English use of the term was the motto "Gott mit uns" (God with us) on German soldiers' belt buckles during World War I. "uns" was mistaken for Huns, and entered into slang. This usage was reinforced by Allied propaganda throughout the war, and many pilots of the RFC referred to their foe as "The Hun". The usage resurfaced during World War II.

References and notes

Further reading

* Otto J. Mänchen-Helfen (ed. Max Knight): The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1973) ISBN 0-520-01596-7
Hun in Tosk Albanian: Hunnen
Hun in Azerbaijani: Avropa Hun İmperiyası
Hun in Bulgarian: Хуни
Hun in Catalan: Huns
Hun in Chuvash: Хунсем
Hun in Czech: Hunové
Hun in Welsh: Hyniaid
Hun in Danish: Hunnerne
Hun in German: Hunnen
Hun in Estonian: Hunnid
Hun in Modern Greek (1453-): Ούννοι
Hun in Spanish: Hunos
Hun in Esperanto: Hunoj
Hun in Basque: Huno
Hun in Persian: هون
Hun in French: Huns
Hun in Western Frisian: Hunnen
Hun in Galician: Hunos
Hun in Korean: 훈족
Hun in Croatian: Huni
Hun in Indonesian: Hun
Hun in Icelandic: Húnar
Hun in Italian: Unni
Hun in Hebrew: הונים
Hun in Georgian: ჰუნები
Hun in Kazakh: Ғұндар
Hun in Swahili (macrolanguage): Wahunni
Hun in Latin: Hunni
Hun in Latvian: Huņņi
Hun in Lithuanian: Hunai
Hun in Limburgan: Hunne
Hun in Hungarian: Hunok
Hun in Dutch: Hunnen
Hun in Japanese: フン族
Hun in Norwegian: Hunerne
Hun in Occitan (post 1500): Un
Hun in Polish: Hunowie
Hun in Portuguese: Hunos
Hun in Romanian: Huni
Hun in Russian: Гунны
Hun in Simple English: Huns
Hun in Slovak: Huni
Hun in Slovenian: Huni
Hun in Serbian: Хуни
Hun in Serbo-Croatian: Huni
Hun in Finnish: Hunnit
Hun in Swedish: Hunner
Hun in Tatar: Hunnar
Hun in Vietnamese: Người Hung
Hun in Turkish: Hunlar
Hun in Ukrainian: Гуни
Hun in Chinese: 匈人

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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