I just listed to this episode of the British History Podcast (which is excellent I might add). During the podcast, the podcaster states that climate change was a major contributor to the Anglo Saxons migrating/invading England in the Dark Ages.

I had always heard or at least thought that the Huns were a primary catalyst for forcing many of the Germanic peoples into the Western Empire. Indeed, when I looked this up on wikipedia they make this statement

The Huns may have stimulated the Great Migration, a contributing factor in the collapse of the western Roman Empire.[19]

Whose citation leads to a single quote by Ammianus:

However, the seed and origin of all the ruin and various disasters that the wrath of Mars aroused... we have found to be (the invasions of the Huns)". Ammianus 1922, XXXI, ch. 2

Which seems like shaky support. Is there more support for the Huns being a cause of the Great Migration? Were the Huns a major contributing factor to the Great Migration?

  • Ammianus refers to Ammianus Marcellinus, a 4th century Greek who contributed the last classical history of the Roman Empire. The surviving portion concerns 353-378 and includes commentary on the military, social, and political problems of the late empire.
    – choster
    Aug 22, 2012 at 13:46
  • A little puzzled as to why you think the podcast is excellent if it underestimated the effects of the Huns on the migration.
    – Virgo
    Jan 29, 2016 at 17:41
  • It is an excellent podcast - the value is proportional to the proximity to Britain, but the host is very explicit about that.
    – MCW
    Jan 29, 2016 at 20:03

3 Answers 3


Interesting. My first instinct was to tell you the Huns and the Anglo-Saxons weren't contemporaneous, but it turns out they were.

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The Huns were active players from about 130 to 453 CE. They enslaved the nearest german tribes (most notably the eastern Goths, aka: Ostragoths), and pushed a lot of the rest into Roman territory. Their own armies at one point (451) made it as far West as Orleans.

To say that they were a major factor in the German invasions of the Roman empire is if anything understating things. While adventurous German tribes like the Ostragoths could expand eastward, there wasn't a big problem between the two peoples. However, in about 370 the Huns rose up, enslaved the eastern German tribes (including the Ostragoths), and all the remaining German tribes ended up huddled together in a little strip of central Europe between the two empires. They clearly couldn't stay there, and frankly attacking Rome was much less forbidding than attacking the Huns (and their German clients).

The Anglo-Saxon migrations started happening around the 400's. Considering the Jutes and Angles completely disappeared from their homelands (replaced by Danes), it might be reasonable to assume they were pushed by something or someone.

Based on all this, I could see (and in some cases have heard) the following possible arguments:

  • Advent of The Age of Cavalry. Cavalry had developed to a point where it was so superior to infantry that the matchup between the two was hopeless. A settled farming society had no hope raising a horse-riding army that could compete against pasoralists who naturally spent their whole life in the saddle. The problem here is that I don't think the Germans who invaded England were predominantly pasoralists. However, the Huns were masters at it, and perhaps the domino fall they set in motion ended with coastal farming German peoples skedaddling to a safer side of the English Channel.
  • Disease. A series of plagues ravaged the settled areas of the Roman Empire, leaving them relatively depopulated and easier pickings for the Huns and Germans.
  • Climate change/Environmental Degredation. something caused population declines in Western Europe at this time. If it wasn't disease, perhaps it was climate change, or perhaps they'd exhausted the land, either of which would cause their old farming techniques to not support the population they used to. Whatever it was, something caused 5th Century Europe to have about half the Romans, and way more Germans, than the 3rd.
  • Economic reasons. There are a whole lot of various economic decline theories floating around. Some of them are interesting, but IMHO a country that loses half of its population is naturally going to have economic issues. Better to look at where all the people went.

There are a lot more theories floating around, but these seem the best supported.


According to Gibbon, The first "barbaric" nation that permanently settled on the soil of the Roman Empire were Visigoths with the permission of the Roman emperor Valens. The sole reason they asked to move south of the Danube was escaping the Huns - I guess that answers your question.


The answer appears to be yes, according to sources such as this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Migration_Period

Pressure from the Huns apparently "induced" the Germanic tribes to do what they basically wanted to do anyway: head for warmer climes in the south and west. Following the victory of Arminius in 9 A.D., the Germans began to "push back" the Romans away from their homeland. Three centuries or so later, Hun pressure to their rear put the Germans on a "short fuse," with any "mistreatment" by the Romans, real or perceived. By this time, the Germans feared the Huns more than the Romans.


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