Rouran, Hephthalite, Xiongnu
CKM 2018-19 / Aziz Yardımlı


Rouran, Hephthalite, Xiongnu

  Rouran Khaganate

Rouran Khaganate

Rouran Khaganate

Rouran Khaganate

Rouran Khaganate (W)

Status Khanate
Capital Mumo city, Orkhon River, Mongolia
Common languages Ruanruan, Mongolian, Chinese
Religion Tengrism, Shamanism, Buddhism

• 330 Yùjiǔlǘ Mùgǔlǘ
• 555 Yujiulü Dengshuzi
Legislature Kurultai
• Established 330
• Disestablished 555
Area 405 2,800,000 km2

The Rouran Khagana te (Chinese: 柔然; pinyin: Róurán), Ruanruan (Chinese: 蠕蠕; pinyin: Ruǎnruǎn/Rúrú; Wade–Giles: Juan-juan/Ju-ju), Ruru (Chinese: 茹茹; pinyin: Rúrú; Wade–Giles: Ju-ju), or Tantan (Chinese: 檀檀; pinyin: Tántán) was the name of a state of uncertain origin (Proto-Mongols, Turkic, or non-Altaic), from the late 4th century until the middle 6th century.

Rouran is a Classical Chinese transcription of the endonym of the confederacy. Ruanruan and Ruru remained in usage despite being derogatory. They derived from orders given by the Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei, who waged war against the Rouran and intended to intimidate the confederacy. According to René Grousset, Ju-juan – an alternate Chinese name for the Rouran – was a "disparaging pun" derived from Juan-Juan: "unpleasantly wriggling insects".

The power of the Rouran was broken in 555 by an alliance of Göktürks, the states of Northern Qi and Northern Zhou, and tribes in Central Asia.

It has sometimes been hypothesized that the Rouran are synonymous with the Pannonian Avars – also known by names such as Varchonites and "Pseudo Avars" – who settled in Eastern Europe during the 6th century.



The family tree of the Khaghans of the Rouran

The family tree of the Khaghans of the Rouran




  Hephthalite Empire

Hephthalite Empire

Hephthalite Empire (W)

The Hephthalites (green), c. 500.

Status Nomadic empire
Capital Kunduz (Walwalij, Drapsaka, or Badian) Balkh (Pakhlo)
Common languages Middle Bactrian, Gandhari (Gandhara), Sogdian (Sogdiana), Chorasmian, Sanskrit, Turkic
Religion Hinduism, Buddhism, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism
Historical era Late Antiquity
Established 440s
Disestablished 670

The Hephthalites (or Ephthalites) were a people of Central Asia who were militarily important circa 450-560. They were based in Bactria and expanded east to the Tarim Basin, west to Sogdia and south through Afghanistan to northern India. They were a tribal confederation and included both nomadic and settled urban communities. They were part of the four major states known collectively as Xyon (Xionites) or Huna, being preceded by the Kidarites, and succeeded by the Alkhon and lastly the Nezak. All of these peoples have often been linked to the Huns who invaded Eastern Europe during the same period, and/or have been referred to as "Huns", but there is no consensus among scholars about such a connection.

The Sveta Huna who invaded northern India are probably the Hephthalites, but the exact relation is not clear.

The stronghold of the Hephthalites was Tokharistan on the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush, in what is present-day northeastern Afghanistan. By 479, the Hephthalites had conquered Sogdia and driven the Kidarites westwards, and by 493 they had captured parts of present-day Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin in what is now Northwest China. They expanded into northwestern India as well.

The sources for Hepthalite history are poor and historians' opinions differ. There is no king-list and historians are not sure how they arose or what language they spoke.

They seem to have called themselves Ebodalo (ηβοδαλο, hence Hephthal), often abbreviated Eb (ηβ), a name they wrote in the Bactrian script on some of their coins. The origin of the name "Hephthalites" is unknown, possibly from either a Khotanese word *Hitala meaning "Strong" or from postulated Middle Persian *haft āl "the Seven."

The "Hephthalite bowl", NFP Pakistan, 460-479 CE.

The Hephthalites formed in Bactria around 450, or sometime before. In 442 their tribes were fighting the Persians. Around 451 they pushed southeast to Gandhara. In 456 a Hephthalite embassy arrived in China. By 458 they were strong enough to intervene in Persia.

Around 466 they probably took Transoxianan lands from the Kidarites with Persian help but soon took from Persia the area of Balkh and eastern Kushanshahr.

In the second half of the fifth century they controlled the deserts of Turkmenistan as far as the Caspian Sea and possibly Merv.

By 500 they held the whole of Bactria and the Pamirs and parts of Afghanistan.

Probably in the late fifth century they took the western Tarim Basin (Kashgar and Khotan) and in 479 they took the east end (Turfan). In 497–509, they pushed north of Turfan to the Urumchi region. In 509 they took 'Sughd' (the capital of Sogdiana).

Around 565 their empire was destroyed by an alliance of the Göktürks and the Sasanians, but some of them remained as local rulers in the Afghan region for the next 150 years.

Invasion of the Sasanid Empire (7th century)

Circa 600, the Hephthalites were raiding the Sasanian Empire as far as Spahan in central Iran. The Hephthalites issued numerous coins imitating the coinage of Khosrow II, adding on the obverse a Hephthalite signature in Sogdian and Tamgha symbol.

Hephthalite coin with Sasanian-style bust imitating Khavadh I, whom the Hephthalites had helped to the Sasanian throne. Late 5th century CE.


There are several theories regarding the origins of the White Huns, with the Iranian and Turkic theories being the most prominent.

For many years scholars suggested that they were of Turkic stock. Some have claimed that some groups amongst the Hephthalites were Turkic-speakers. Today, however, the Hephthalites are generally held to have been an Eastern Iranian people speaking an East Iranian language.

The 6th-century Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea (Book I. ch. 3), related them to the Huns in Europe:

“The Ephthalitae Huns, who are called White Huns [...] The Ephthalitae are of the stock of the Huns in fact as well as in name, however they do not mingle with any of the Huns known to us, for they occupy a land neither adjoining nor even very near to them; but their territory lies immediately to the north of Persia [...]”

Religion and culture

They were said to practice Polyandry and Artificial cranial deformation. Chinese sources said they worshiped 'foreign gods', 'demons', the 'heaven god' or the 'fire god'. The Gokturks told the Byzantines that they had walled cities. Some Chinese sources said that they had no cities and lived in tents. Litvinsky tries to resolve this by saying that they were nomads who moved into the cities they had conquered. There were some government officials but central control was weak and local dynasties paid tribute.

White Huns in Southern Central Asia

It is not clear whether the people called Sveta Huna (White Huns) in Sanskrit were the Hephthalites or a related people, the Xionites. In the northwest of the Indian subcontinent, the Hephthalites were not distinguished from their immediate Chionite predecessors; both are known as Huna (Sanskrit: Sveta-Hūna, White Huns). In Ancient India, names such as Hephthalite were unknown. The Hephthalites were apparently part of, or offshoots of, people known in India as Hunas or Turushkas.

Hephthalite customs struck outsiders as unusual. Brothers shared a common wife. Wives placed horns on their headdress to indicate the number of their husbands. The head-binding of infants produced deformed, elongated skulls. Deliberate cranial deformation was widespread among some steppe peoples. The practice may have produced seizures in some individuals, which were akin to the hallucinatory trances of shamans.

Central Asia in World History, Peter B. Golden (Oxford University Press, 2011, s. 37).



  The Xiongnu empire (3rd century BCE to 2nd century CE) is the earliest and longest-lasting of the so-called steppe or nomadic empires witnessed in Inner Asia over the past two millennia.

Asia in 200 BC.


Xiongnu (W)

Territory of the Xiongnu which includes Mongolia, Western Manchuria, Xinjiang, East Kazakhstan, East Kyrgyzstan, Inner Mongolia, Gansu.

The Xiongnu [ɕjʊ́ŋ.nǔ] (Chinese: 匈奴; Wade–Giles: Hsiung-nu) were a confederation of nomadic peopleswho, according to ancient Chinese sources, inhabited the eastern Asian Steppe from the 3rd century BC to the late 1st century AD. Chinese sources report that Modu Chanyu, the supreme leader after 209 BC, founded the Xiongnu Empire.

After their previous overlords, the Yuezhi, migrated into Central Asia during the 2nd century BC, the Xiongnu became a dominant power on the steppes of north-east Central Asia, centred on an area known later as Mongolia. The Xiongnu were also active in areas now part of Siberia, Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Xinjiang. Their relations with adjacent Chinese dynasties to the south east were complex, with repeated periods of conflict and intrigue, alternating with exchanges of tribute, trade, and marriage treaties.

Attempts to identify the Xiongnu with later groups of the western Eurasian Steppe remain controversial. Scythians and Sarmatians were concurrently to the west. The identity of the ethnic core of Xiongnu has been a subject of varied hypotheses, because only a few words, mainly titles and personal names, were preserved in the Chinese sources. The name Xiongnu may be cognate with that of the Huns or the Huna, although this is disputed. Other linguistic links – all of them also controversial – proposed by scholars include Iranian, Mongolic, Turkic, Uralic, Yeniseian, Tibeto-Burman or multi-ethnic.

Gold stag with eagle's head, and ten further heads in the antlers. From a Xiongnu tomb on the frontier, 4th-3rd century BC.

Xiongnu Empire
University of Bonn, Germany

The organization of the unified Xiongnu polity was based on a decimal structure of leadership and an appanage system of territories of the “left” (east) and “right” (west). Although scholars have often assumed this structure reflects Chinese organizational logics, evidence points more to parallels westward in the Achaemenid Empire (Di Cosmo 2011: 47). At the top of the political order was the supreme ruler, the chanyu, who belonged to a ruling royal lineage, and the highest political ranks were restricted to this and only a few other secondary lineages, tied to the royal lineage by intermarriage. The uppermost ranks consisted of the 24 Great Chiefs, referred to as kings and commanders, which were hereditary positions at the head of a military decimal system (i.e., the Chiefs of Ten Thousand Cavalry) and were linked to particular “left” and “right” appanages. These were followed by several other ranks of kings, highorder generals, commanders, and officials, some of which were open to other lineages. Each of the Great Chiefs appointed his own subordinate kings and officials, and such lower-level leaders within and outside of the recognized system surely represented significant social forces in the steppe polity (Miller 2014). The Xiongnu sought to replicate their political and military titles at the local level to support the hierarchical structures in the center and thus incorporate the elites of conquered people (Di Cosmo 2013: 34). The elite ranks also included a group of high-ranking appointments amidst the Xiongnu nobility, which included foreigners, such as Chinese defectors, who were directly placed under the authority of the chanyu, indicating a personal entourage of trusted advisors for the latter (Di Cosmo 2013: 30–31).
The Xiongnu (LINK)
The Xiongnu

The important early Chinese historian Sima Qian (145-90 BCE) gives us one of our earliest glimpses into the lives and culture of the people known to the Han as the Xiongnu. In his Shiji (Record of the Historian), he describes them as a pastoral nomadic people wandering in search of grazing lands for their herds of horses, cows and sheep. He also relates that the Xiongnu had no walled cities and did not engage in agriculture, and that the men were formidable warriors, trained from an early age to hunt on horseback with bow and arrow. Historical records also describe the Xiongnu as skilled charioteers, a characterization supported by the discovery of bronze chariot post filials in archeological excavations.

Originating in the northeastern Ordos region, the Xiongnu Empire was the first of its kind on the Eurasian steppe, and serves as a prototype of sorts for the many empires to follow, including that of the Mongols. The Ordos was an important gathering point for the various pastoral peoples of Inner Mongolia, and it is more accurate to describe the Xiongnu as a confederacy of these various groups rather than a single, unified culture. The founder of the Xiongnu confederation was Maodun, the son of a powerful and influential shanyu (high chieftain) among the nomads of the Ordos. After Maodun rose to the ranks of military commander he assassinated his father, and succeeded in unifying the various nomad groups under his leadership.

From 209 to 128 BCE the Xiongnu were at their most powerful. Under Maodun the confederacy established a firm power base in the Ordos, from where it began to expand in all directions. They retook the lands to the south lost to encroachment by the Qin dynasty, and absorbed the various smaller nomadic groups that roamed Inner Mongolia to the north. In the east they overwhelmed the Eastern Hu. In the west they defeated the Yuezhi (a rival coalition of nomadic peoples), driving them into Central Asia as far as northern Afghanistan. During this western campaign, the Xiongnu also took control over a number of oasis communities that had developed in the Tarim basin. The sub-commander in charge of overseeing these conquered city-states was given the title “general-in-charge-of-slaves”1, which tells us something about the Xiongnu's attitude towards those they conquered. From these agricultural communities they received grain, fruit, and animal feed, and from the nomads they enriched their herds of cattle, sheep, and most importantly, horses.

In 201 BCE, the first Han emperor Gaozu personally led his troops to the northern border in order to chastise a provincial governor who had declared independence. The governor had allied himself with the Xiongnu, and this first military encounter with the confederation of the steppes ended in humiliation for the Han. Unfamiliar with the attack-and-retreat strategy of the Xiongnu, Gaozu allowed himself to be separated from his main army, and was surrounded by the Xiongnu cavalry. Gaozu had no choice but to negotiate, and offered a settlement to win his own release.

Though the Han continued to hold the Xiongnu and their nomadic way of life in disdain (“xiongnu” is a Chinese word that translates roughly into “illegitimate offspring of slaves”), they could not ignore the very real military threat they posed to the Han Empire. To avert continued hostilities, the Han court was forced to maintain marital ties with the shanyu and offer annual tribute of silk, wines, rice and other foodstuffs.

Another Xiongnu demand that the Han were most loathe to recognize was the right to trade with Chinese communities at the frontier, for this would undermine the Han desire to keep a healthy buffer zone between the two empires. The Xiongnu countered this reluctance in the tried and true method: through raids, looting those goods that the Han court denied them purchase. Eventually the right to trade was granted, though the sale of arms and goods that could be used for military purposes was outlawed. This policy forced the Xiongnu to look to Central Asia for such as materials as iron, for which they traded many of the goods they had acquired from the Chinese. In this manner, Han trade policies with the Xiongnu were indirectly responsible for the increase in trade between East and Central Asia along the silk routes.

The Xiongnu was not only the first of the East Asian steppe empires; it was also the longest, lasting almost three hundred years. By 104 BCE the Han had reclaimed much of the northern territory they had lost a century earlier, and had driven the Xiongnu out of the west. They established military outposts as far west as Dunhuang to protect the city-states of the Tarim Basin from Xiongnu incursion, a position that also allowed them to enjoy the revenues generated by increased traffic along the trade routes. In 47 CE the Xiongnu split into northern and southern factions as a result of internal disputes. To protect themselves, the weaker Southerners asked for the protection of the Han Empire. Meanwhile, the northern Xiongnu suddenly found themselves threatened by the nomadic groups to the north, which they had previously dominated.

In 78 the Xianbei (ancestors of the Toba Wei, who would found the Wei dynasty three centuries later) attacked the northern Xiongnu. Seizing this opportunity, the Han court sent a force to join the southern Xiongnu faction to attack the Northerners. By 91 the northern Xiongnu were driven from the Ordos and fled west, their leadership dissipated.

(1) Ma Yong and Sun Yutan, "The Western Regions Under the Hsiung-nu and the Han," from History of Civilizations of Central Asia, vol. II (Paris: UNESCO Publishing), p. 228.

📹 The origin of Tatars — Xiongnu, Huns, Göktürks, Great Bulgaria (VİDEO)

The origin of Tatars — Xiongnu, Huns, Göktürks, Great Bulgaria (LINK)

Montclair State University professor H. Mark Hubey (1998) concludes that ... "The common Turkic branch which includes all the rest can be split into the /c/j/y/ branch and the /x/ġ/w/ branches. Seeing that the 't' to 's' transition is already in Sumerian, and that the Uralic 't' to 's' shift is thought to have occurred 6,000 years ago, we can be reasonably sure that some of the words traced out here certainly belong to quite an ancient age and to the west. This means that the proto-Turks or at least one of their ancestors moved from the Euphrates area north through the Caucasus and then to the steppes, and then eastwards. The historical ‘Turks’ are those moving back towards the west. Since all the branches of Turkic seem to occur in the West (Chuvash, Oguz, Kipchak, Khalaj) there is no reason to look for Turkic homelands beyond the Altays. That was their second home."


📹 Battle of Mobei 119 BC — Han-Xiongnu War (VİDEO)

Battle of Mobei 119 BC — Han-Xiongnu War (LINK)

Since the start of its history, China was in a constant state of war with the neighboring nomadic peoples and no enemy was as fierce as the Xiongnu. In this animated historical documentary, we will describe the Han-Xiongnu war and the battle of Mobei of 119 BC and how this battle influenced the fates of China and the Three Kingdoms period, and the Roman empire when it was attacked by (arguably) the remnants of the Xiongnu the Huns.




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