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?

  • 1
    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, 2011 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, 2011 at 21:35
  • 2
    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, 2011 at 21:37
  • 1
    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, 2011 at 22:33
  • 2
    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. Oct 12, 2011 at 11:03

8 Answers 8


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.


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 Chinese 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 iranic Alan tribes. So on their further incursions into Europe there were a lot of Germanic and Eastern Iranian speakers riding in their army with them. The Ostragoths were previously Europe's top-notch mounted lancers, with the Alans being not too shabby at it either, so it became rather tough to stop all of them together.


The battle of Nedao (still unidentified Pannonian river) at 455 AD put an end to the Hunnic empire. Some time later, as we learn from the Gothic historian Jordanes, groups of Huns returned to their "inner" territory on the river Dnieper (Ukraine) where they reorganized on a smaller scale (Pritsak, 1982, p. 429 ). These post-Attila Huns were called with different tribal names: Utigurs, Kutrigurs, Onogurs, Bulgars, Sabirs and so on. Despite the fact that these names are not the same as the tribal names from the beginning of the Hun invasion in Europe, it is sure that the Huns did not disappear. As we learn from Gibbon:

" And both Procopius and Agathias represent Kutrigurs and Utigurs as tribes of Huns. There can be no doubt Kutrigurs, Utigurs and Bulgars belong to the same race as the Huns of Attila and spoke tongues closely related, - were in fact Huns. They had all been under Attila's dominion" ( page 537, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 4) ( read more here: Origin of Huns and Bulgars )

So we have come to our first conclusion: Bulgars have something to do with the Huns. But how is that possible? May be Bulgarians and Bulgars are not the same people? After all, Bulgarians are Europeans, they have nothing to do with some Mongols and they are not Turks? May be modern Bulgarians simply inherited the name Bulgar, but they are different people? This was a widespread speculation before 10 years: Bulgarians inherited the name Bulgar, but they are not Bulgars. Now we have genetic research:

“Although many scholars had posited that the Bulgars were Turkic tribes of Central Asia, modern genetic research points to an affiliation with European and western Eurasian populations.” ( Encyclopedia Britannica, Bulgars) “ The phylogenetic analysis of ancient DNA samples shows that mtDNA haplogroups can be classified as European and Western Eurasian and suggest a Western Eurasian matrilineal origin for proto-Bulgarians as well as a genetic similarity between proto- and modern Bulgarians.” ( Digital Commons, Wayne State University) “The Y-Chromosome genetic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Y-chromosome_DNA_haplogroup) tests suggest that a common paternal ancestry between the proto-Bulgarians and the Altaic and Central Asian Turkic-speaking populations either did not exist or was negligible.” (Y-Chromosome Diversity in Modern Bulgarians )

The conclusion is inevitable: At least part of the Huns must have been Indo-Europeans. Indeed western Huns comprised two groups of tribes with different ethnic affinities (Pulleyblank, 1999, p. 37): “ Apart from the ruling group that bore the name Hun, the European Huns undoubtedly included other tribes with different ethnic affinities.” This is evident from the writings of the ancient authors, for example St Jerome tells us about the Great Hun raid of 395-6 into Armenia and Syria that " swarms of Huns and monstrous Massagetae filled the whole earth with slaughter". (The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, page 182) Maenchen-Helfen also noted in his famous monography that despite the fact that the Huns were called Massagetae by the Romans, the Huns, not the Massagetae, attacked the Alans, who threw themselves upon the Goths.(The World of the Huns, page 6) But why Massagetae? There were no Massagetae in the 4th century AD. The Massagetae are known primarily from the writings of Herodotus from the 5th century BC. Let's see if we can find out who were these Massagetae from the 4th century AD.

Alexander Cunningham, B.S. Dahiya (1980, 23) and Edgar Knobloch (2001, 15 ) identify Massagetae with the Great Yuezhi: Da Yuezhi -> Ta-Yue-ti (Great Lunar Race) -> Ta-Gweti -> Massa-Getae. Dahiya wrote about the Massagetae and Thyssagetae : "These Guti people had two divisions, the Ta-Yue-Che and Siao-Yue-Che, exactly corresponding to the Massagetae and Thyssagetae of Herodotus ... " (Dahiya 1980, 23). Thyssagetae , who are known as the Lesser Getae, correspond with the Xiao Yuezhi, meaning Lesser Yuezhi . James P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair also supported this identification and wrote in their book : " Da (Greater) Yuezhi or in the earlier pronunciation d'ad-ngiwat-tieg, has been seen to equate with the Massagetae who occupied the oases and steppelands of West Central Asia in the time of Herodotus; here Massa renders an Iranian word for "Great," hence "Great Getae." (more here Origin of Bulgars and Huns)

Obviously it is quite possible that Yuezhi (Indo-European Scythians who lived in western Kazakhstan in the 4th century AD; one of their tribes were the Tochars of classical sources) have entered Europe together with the Huns. But who were the “core” Huns and what was their relation to the (predominantly European) Yuezhi? Can we relate Yuezhi with some of the post-Attila Huns? Yes, we can. Yury Zuev, Edwin G. Pulleyblank and many modern Bulgarian scholars identify the Utigurs 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." ( Zuev, pages 38, 62 - Ancient Turks)

I will not explain here who were the “core” Huns - they were tribes of Jie people, the little Yuezhi of the second century BC. It is explained in my article "Origin of Bulgars and Huns" (http://hunnobulgars.blogspot.bg/2016/04/origin-huns-bulgarians.html)

Now we know that Huns and Massagetae were actually the Little Yuezhi (Jie people, one of the 19th Xiongnu tribes) and the Great Yuezhi. We see that the hypothesis first proposed by the French sinologist J. Deguignes in 1748 (Huns=Xiongnu) actually is partially true. And the Gothic legend of the origin of the Huns is also true:

At the end of the 4th century the name "Huns and Tochars" (Faunos-Ficarios) surfaces for the last time in the Gothic legend, rooted in annalistic traditions, about an origin of the western Huns: " Filimer, Gothic king and son of Gandaric the Great... learned that among his people are witches, whom he called "Haliarunna" - "diabolic sorcery" in the Gothic language. They were expelled on his orders, and sentenced to range in the steppes, far from the Gothic camp. The forest people Fauns - Fikars ("Huns and Tochars"), upon seeing the witches wandering in the desert, mated with them, and produced these barbarous people - Huns". And in silvestres homines, the "wood people" of the "General history" we see Greek ακατζιροι, Latin Akatziri, Huns - Turkic Agach-eri and Yiysh-teem ("wood people") of the Iranian and Türkic authors. If that so, then according to this version, the Türkic-speaking Huns - Agacheri must be viewed as a western branch of "Huns and Tochars" of the Jetisu.

Absence of information about historical migration of Xiongnu-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 participated also other tribes, and first of all Yuezhi-Massagetae.

Cheers !

A short and very good movie about the whole story was made by my friend Ivo Tcvetanov, enjoy it too!



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] "


They were all of them.The Huns were not a particular tribe but a compendium or confederation of different tribes. Black Huns were Turkics from Russia. White Huns were Turkics from North West China and Western Mongolia Red Huns were Mongolics from Mongolia Blue Huns were Finno Ugrics from Mongolia.

  • 4
    This would be better with some supporting sources.
    – Steve Bird
    Jul 27, 2021 at 22:21

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:




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.


They were probably a tribe formed in Mongolia as a result of the migration of some of the proto-Turks to the west and mixing with the Iranian (Scythian) peoples.

  • 3
    Please add sources and expend on your answer. Mar 5, 2021 at 9:04

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.