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Who were the Hun people who made several appearances in Eurasian history?

Were they Finno-Ugric, Paleo-Siberean, Mongolic or Turkic?

Were the Hun who attacked Roman Empire extensions of the Xiongu, the first nomadic sovereign state in Central Asia?

Were the Hun a confederation of different tribes speaking different languages, or was there one specific ethnically distinct tribe who were the Hun?

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These are good set of questions (although I suspect lifted from Wikipedia to seed the site)... might be better split up though? – Noldorin Oct 11 '11 at 21:31
@Noldorin I read quite few sources about the issue, not just Wikipedia. It is still an open issue and can raise constructive comments. – Dagvadorj Oct 11 '11 at 21:35
Oh definitely... I like your question. My main suggestion was really that the question might have enough parts to be split up into separate bits. – Noldorin Oct 11 '11 at 21:37
Thanks to Travis and @Noldorin as well as the lesser known friend called crowd-sourcing, the question is all better now :P – Dagvadorj Oct 11 '11 at 22:33
While I also have a book claiming that Huns were one of the Xiongnu tribes, it seems that this is an older and now abandoned assumption - with good reason because there aren't many reliable historical sources for that period outside of China and tracing the way of Xiongnu from China to Europe that supposedly took several centuries is pretty impossible. Fact is, there don't seem to be any reliable facts about Huns before they entered the European arena and nobody really knows where they came from. – Wladimir Palant Oct 12 '11 at 11:03

6 Answers 6

This source on the "Xiongnu Empire" seems to suggest a Turkic origin of the Xiongnu. I believe this is the most widely accepted theory among modern academics. The extent of mixture between Mongolic and Turkic peoples in the 3rd/4th centuries BC is debatable, but certainly much less than it was at the zenith of the Mongols in the 13th century AD.

The Xiongnu (Hongnu in Old Chinese, Xwn in Soghdian, probably Old Turkic Qun), also known as the Asiatic Huns, were one of the nomadic peoples of Ancient Central Asia. They're thought to have descended from various Turkic peoples known as Xianyun, Xunyu and Hongyu, yet all the knowledge we have come from Chinese sources written centuries later. However, as time passed, the name Xiongnu was applied to the Xiongnu’s subjects too, including Turkics, Mongolics, Tokharians, Iranics, etc.

The connection with the later European Huns is also a very tempting one, given the gap of a few centuries from their disappearance in Ancient Chinese's sources and appearance in late Roman histories.

The remnants of both Xiongnu empires lived as scattered throughout Western Turkestan for a long time, until they began migrating westwards around 350 AD. Under the leadership of their leader, Balamïr, they entered the territories of the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Ukraine in 375, and they founded the European Hunnic Empire (there are some scholars who doubt that the European Huns descended from the Xiongnu). Even though the majority of Xiongnu went to Western Turkestan, some Xiongnu stayed in Northern China where they set up small kingdoms after the fall of the Han Dynasty (Second Zhao, Xia, Northern Liang and Loulan were the Xiongnu kingdoms in Northern China).

The significant amount of detail provided by this source may suggest accurate information, but I personally would like to see citations, it being a secondary source. Nonetheless, several of the views reflected here are fairly widely accepted by modern historians (although with notable contention) from what I have read.

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My understanding is that the Huns were generally considered to be speakers of a Turkic language. (Wikipedia seems to agree at the moment). There do appear to be theories that they were roughly the same folk the Chineese referred to as Xiongnu.

However, that's just the most popular theory. Apparently only about 3 words of the language survive, along with some names. That really isn't enough to say anything definitive about it.

Of course one of the first things they did in Europe was conquer the germanic Ostragoth and Alan tribes. So on their further incursions into Europe there were a lot of Germanic speakers riding in their army with them. The Ostragoths were pretty badass mounted lancers, so it became rather tough to stop all of them together.

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The Huns were Turkic in the sense that they originated in the Ural Mountains.

It is unlikely the Huns are related to the Xiongnu, who were a Mongolian people. Theories have been made that the Huns, who came later than the Xiongnu, were descended from Xiongnu migrants, but this is pure speculation. Moreover, it is unlikely because the Huns are known to come from the deep mountainous regions of the Urals. Usually tribes originating in harsh places are indigenous to a region.

The Huns were not known to be confederated in any way and no sub-tribes of the Huns are known. Very little, possibly nothing, is known of the Hunnish language. Some of the supposed words traditionally attributed to the Huns, upon modern analysis, appear to be Gothic, not Hunnish.

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European Huns were a conglomeration of Yuezhi and Usun tribes, probably mixed with Iranian Saka tribes. They cannot be Xiongnu because they were present at Europe borders even before 3 century AD. Read Zuev, he has very good ideas:

" Absence of information about historical migration of Sünnu-Huns to the west before the end of the 4th century AD, and existence of the "Hun" population on the eastern fringes of Europe in the 3rd century and earlier, lead to the conclusion that in the composition of the western Huns also participated other tribes, and first of all Usuns." - page 23.

Also - I added this to Wikipedia:

The Huns practiced artificial cranial deformation, while there is no evidence of such practice among the Xiongnu.[20] Artificial cranial deformation of the circular type can be used to trace the route that the Huns took from north China to the Central Asian steppes and subsequently to the southern Russian steppes.[28][29] The people who practiced artificial cranial deformation in Central Asia were Yuezhi/Kushans.[30][31] Yury Zuev and Edwin G. Pulleyblank identify Utigurs, a successor tribe of European Huns, as one of the tribes of the Yuezhi : "the Utigurs of Menandr are Uti, and the word Uti was a real proto-type of a transcription Yuezhi < Uechji < ngiwat-tie < uti".[32][33] The taxonomic analysis of the artificially deformed crania from 5th–6th Century AD (Hun-Germanic Period) found in Northeastern Hungary showed that none of them have any Mongoloid features and all the skulls belong to the Europid "great race".[34] Otto Maenchen-Helfen questioned the lack of anthropological and ethnographic proximity between European Huns and Xiongnu.[35] E. A. Thompson in his monograph on the Huns also denies the continuity of European Huns with the Xiongnu.[36]

article Huns on Wikipedia, Evidence against Xiongnu:

If you analyze carefully - it obvious - European huns were Yuezhi-Usuns tribes.

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So - Danube-Bulagian Huns are Yuezhi - because of the artificial cranial deformation, Volga Bulgars originate from Usuns, European Avars - from little Yuezhi. About the language - it is difficult, usually is assumed to be Turkic, but Pritsak (the leading specialist, Harvard), is using the term Hunno-Bulgarian:

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Most likely the Huns were Xiongnu-Mongoloid ruler combined with Yuezhi and Usun subjects.

The upper class and ruler of Huns were of Turkic origin, While the lower class were of Iranic origin.

The Chinese recorded that the Xiongnu mongoloid groups did in fact invaded and subjugated a Iranian group like sogdians during their expansion westward and many groups like the Yuezhi submitted to Xiongnu. I believe these groups later invaded Europe and became European Huns.

Besides the 5th–6th Century AD (Hun-Germanic Period) is not that accurate in opinion. They need to have more samples just a few skulls. Not to mention the Huns in the last of the 5th century had a huge demographic change and absorbed many local Europeans into the Hunnic empire.

There was another anthropological study but I don't know how accurate this is.

" Hungarian archaeologist István Bóna argues that most of Europeans Huns were of Caucasoid and that less than 20-25% were of Mongoloid stock.[47] Turanid was most common among the Hun, According to the Hungarian anhtropologist Pál Lipták (1955) the Turanid type is a Caucasoid type with significant Mongoloid admixture, arising from the mixture of the Andronovo type of Europoid features and the Oriental (Mongoloid).[48] Eickstedt's concept on this race as a variety of the Turanid type, transitional between the Europeoid and Mongoloid.[49] "

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