Monday, 01 January 2018 20:36


Oleksandr Palii, A History of Ukraine, 01.01.2018 



The first Huns are known to have inhabited the territory between the Danube River and the region near the Sea of Azov from the 2nd century AD. 


Most scholars believe that this was a small tribe of Turkic or Mongol origin which came from the east to an area surrounded by numerous Slavic, Scythian-Sarmatian and Gothic tribes. 


In the 5th century AD, the Huns mostly spoke a “Scythian” language which included the words med (honey) and strava (dish), now in the basic vocabulary of standard Ukrainian


Hunnic set of horse trappings 4th century

Hunnic set of horse trappings, 4th century; chamfron, bridle mounts and whip handle 


The multiethnic Hunnic Empire emerged after the Huns defeated the Goths in 375 AD. It covered most of what is now Ukraine, as well as Hungary and parts of Romania and Moldova. 


Hunnic kings believed they continued the cause of the kings of Greater Scythia. Their land continued to be called Scythia. Hunnic kings accomplished something that Scythian kings had failed to do — conquer nearly all the Greek cities along the northern coast of the Black Sea. 


Detail of Hunnic gold and garnet bracelet 5th century

Detail of Hunnic gold and garnet bracelet, 5th century 


The Hunnic Empire reached the zenith of its power under King Attila (434–453 AD) whom Romans and Greeks nicknamed “the Scourge of God” for the fear he instilled in both empires. 


Since the end of the 4th century, the Roman Empire began paying tribute to the Huns. Until 442 AD, this tribute was 114 kilograms of gold annually, and the amount was later raised to 687 kilograms. 


According to a contemporaneous account, a cow happened to dig up an ancient Scythian sword which the Scythians used for sacrifice offerings. A shepherd gave the sword to Attila who viewed it as a good omen for conquering both the Roman and Byzantine Empires. Attila had a condescending attitude to these empires and told the emperors that they were equals not to him but to his “generals”. 


huns attila

The Feast of Attila, painting by Mór Than (1870), based on the memoirs of the eyewitness Priscus of Panium


The Pope had a personal meeting with Attila in which he begged him not to destroy Rome. 


In 451 AD, a battle of the Catalaunian Plains between the Hunnic Empire and the joint forces of the Roman Empire and the Visigoths did not yield a decisive outcome. 


Before the battle, Attila said the words that were often cited in the Middle Ages: “Those who are marching towards victory are not hit by any arrows, while those who are bending down towards decline are ruined by fate even at the time of peace.” 


The Hunnic Empire fell into decline soon after Attila’s death. His numerous sons each demanded a share of the empire and cast lots to split up the lands and subjects, which enraged the other princes. No strong leader emerged. The surrounding lands, which had been conquered with much difficulty, were lost, and the core of the polity broke up into hostile principalities.



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