This question is very close to a previous question, Who were the Huns and/or Xiongnu?, but I hope it is clear that I'm not asking the same point.

In fact, I'm asking about the common assumption such as the one held by that earlier question, by asking explicitly:

Why do we believe (or on what basis make the assertion) that the Huns were the Xiongnu?

Example 1: On the earlier question, Who were the Huns and/or Xiongnu?, the question itself makes the assertion that they could be one and the same. But it was not explained why they could be (one and the same). Therefore, I am getting into the rationale, why OP or other readers are assuming the Huns and Xiongnu are related.

Example 2: This was an answer to the question which also made an assertion that the Xiongnu and Huns are related but, unfortunately, did not provide any historical documents/reasons, except referring to a blog/website that made an assertion.

If you need me to clarify my question further, please tell me in the comments but do say how this question is confusing or unclear.

  • For anyone who require more context about steppe nomads such as the Huns and Xiongnu, this Wikipedia article could be useful: Nomadic Empire
    – J Asia
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 20:15
  • 3
    Well, there was a reason I added my own answer to that question a year later. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 21:09
  • 1
    I believe that the variety of skepticism and theoreticism is healthy, as it lends itself to a cautionary conclusion.
    – John Dee
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 13:31

2 Answers 2


As I touched in the last paragraph of this answer, we don't really know who the Huns were. Its one of the great mysteries of history, up there with the identity of the Sea Peoples.

It appears the initial idea that they were the same people as the Xiongnu in the Chinese records came from an 18th Century French historian who also argued that China was initially an Egyptian colony. His contemporary Gibbon repeated the former (thankfully not the latter!) idea in his seminal Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which was the English-language text on its subject for the next 200 years.

The initial logic appears to been circumstantial: after their defeat by the Han, the Xiongnu were pushed westward out of the Chinese sphere into modern Khazakhistan. A mere three centuries later, the Huns suddenly appeared as players around the steppe north of the Caspian sea (400 miles to the southwest).

There is some argument about whether the two names themselves would have been pronounced similarly. Some argue it would. There are some archeological similarities too (they both used the same kind of bronze pot, as did nearly everyone else on the steppe at that time).

Sadly the Hunnic language is no help, as we have only have 3 recorded words, and some names to go by. IMHO that would be determinative, but barring some lucky find in a Sogdian library, we are not likely to find out any time soon.

  • Who is the French guy?
    – John Dee
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 4:03
  • @JohnDee - His name was Joseph de Guignes. I'd never heard of him, but perhaps others have. I've linked his Wikipedia page into the answer.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 4:24
  • Who says that everyone used Hunnic Cauldrons? I doubt that it's from a specialist of nomadic history. Maenchen Heflen listed every one that he knew about. Maybe he was focusing on European Huns, but they were all from European Huns or the Kazakhstan region.
    – John Dee
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 4:24
  • @JohnDee - The reference for that bit seems to go back to a book by another French Historian (still living) named Étienne de la Vaissière. His specialty seems to be Sogdian culture and the nomadic invasions of the period. To be fair, its seems like his argument is in favor of them being the same people, and that the spread of that style of pot shows their influence spreading.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 4:32
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    @JAsia - After looking it over, that's clearly a pro-Xiongnu source. Nothing wrong with that, but I'm trying to cover the gamut of historical opinion here, not just one side. Additionally, the two main arguments presented in them (the name and the pots) were already presented in my 2nd to last paragraph.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 14:44

Hunnic cauldrons were the same style as the Xiongnu of the 1st century AD. People think that the Huns brought them from Mongolia, to Central Asia and Europe, where they are found. Westward migrations, driven by nomadic warfare or Chinese offensives, were the prevailing trend in Pre-Genghissid Steppe History. There were almost never west-east migrations.

When they are not portrayed as some kind of malicious race, descriptions of the Huns suggest Turkic or East Asian origins. They are said to have had thin beards. There is a common description that the opening of the eyes were different "so as not to let light penetrate". It sounds like they are saying that they had very dark irises, small "whites", and maybe epicanthic folds. They were short, with long torsos. They had rounder heads and dark hair. One person says they had flat noses. A thorough, objective description of them is wanting.

Grousett has an interesting proposal for the Western Huns. "From the year 35 B.C., we lose track of the western Xiongnu. It was then that Che-che, the dissident Chanyu, having carried with him some of the Hunnic tribes of Upper Mongolia to the steppes north of the Aral Sea and Lake Balkash, was overtaken and killed by a Chinese expeditionary force. The descendent of the tribes which he led into this region were to remain there for centuries; but as they lacked civilized neighbors to record their deeds and adventures, nothing is known of their history. Not until the 4th century AD do we hear of them again..." Christopher Beckwith, who does not connect the two people, says that "The Huns had taken up residence northeast of the Sea of Azov... by about 200 A.D."

Here, we first hear about the Huns in 375 AD. They were located to the east of Ermeneric's vast new Ostrogothic kingdom, which they invaded and ended. The only reason I have seen proposed for this invasion, is that it was as a response to the threat of the new Ostrogothic kingdom on the Huns (Beckwith, 2009). They were now a Turkic people ruling over a Gothic-Sarmation population. These are the Huns that the Romans dealt with.

The Hunnic Empire broke up after Attila. Out of its core came Oguric tribes, the Kutrigurs and Utigurs. Ogur (or Oghuz) is the Turkic word for tribe, giving them their -gur name. the Kutrigurs became the Bulgars, and were Turkic. The first Bulgarian dynasty, the Dulo clan, claimed descent from Attila.

Many Hunnic names were Iranian. Therefore we see a core Turkic and Iranian component of the Huns. This is the same as the Xiongnu, especially early Xiongnu. The steppe at the time was divided into Sarmatians, in the west, and Xiongnu in the east. This is was the situation at the end of the Iron Age transition for the steppe. I've never seen any mention of a Turkic empire between them, it just wasn't likely.

The Xiongnu connection with the Huns isn't nearly as obscure as with the Hepthalites (Xionites). This is due to the obscurity of the latter. They migrated in a similar time frame to Bactria, and later India. Here I will also note a similarity between all these is the Xion- or Hun sound.

Otto Maenchen-Heflen. The World of the Huns. pg 297-331.

Rene Grousset. Empire of the Steppes

Christopher Beckwith. Empires of the Silk Road. pg 94.

  • 1
    Thanks for your answer. Any pictures of the cauldrons of the "same style"? And who said they were the same style? Also, what pattern are you referring to?
    – J Asia
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 6:23
  • @J Asia See pages 306-20: archive.org/details/bub_gb_CrUdgzSICxcC I recommend reading the history section for European Huns, at least. The book is widely available for about $5 if you want a copy.
    – John Dee
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 13:22
  • @J Asia I don't recall pictures of Xiongnu cauldrons in there, but am referring to the text on page 330-33.
    – John Dee
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 23:38
  • I forgot you did try an answer and I forgot because none of your statements are substantiated. As you know, sources are important in history, and better if you can give an actual paragraph for each non-trivial assertion (instead of a biblio list). Did you want me to comment/explain in greater detail? Let me help you with your very 1st sentence, "Hunnic cauldrons were the same style as the Xiongnu of the 1st century AD". Try this. Does it help you?
    – J Asia
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 18:11
  • 1) Be nice 2 ) Please don't discuss in comments. Comments request clarification; clarifications should be edited into the answer.
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 12:33

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