The Fighting Huns

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Where did the Huns come from? Were they the descendants of the mighty Xiongnu nomads who invaded China in 318BC? Or did they come from Kazakhstan? Up to the fourth century, the Huns consisted of small nomadic groups without any leader and any tribal cohesion. Their history in South West Europe begins with roaming fighters conquering small tribes and absorbing them into one tribe.

The Huns were master horsemen who were unequalled by any other tribe in Europe. They were taught horse riding from the age of three and soon mastered the skills required in warfare. Although they dressed, their wealth, gold and silver, was displayed on their horses. They roamed the lands taking their livestock with them, and they fed on game and plants and herbs. The Huns also practised skull deformation on babies learned from the Alans and the Sarmatians who had migrated from Asia where this was widely accepted. It indicated a high social position.

Warfare

The Huns fought from horseback, and they moved quickly, losing their arrows with high accuracy. Their bows were made from birch, bone and glue, and they could accurately get their man from over 80m. They were practised at ropework and could catch their horses and cattle with ease. This skill was carried onto the battlefield, and the enemy was roped and dragged to a bloody death. Their main weapon was the fear they instilled in their foes. They killed everything in their way – men, women and children. They seldom took prisoners, and then only to enslave them, and the rest were demolished. Centuries later, the Mongols carried on their warfare as the Huns did. Was this a coincidence or were some of their fighters descendants of the Huns?

Expansion

In 70 AD the Huns crossed the Volga, absorbing tribes as they went. A few years later they attacked the Ostrogoths in the East. These people had made enemies of the Romans and became a thorn in their sides. They then attacked the Visigoths who had joined forces with the Romans against the Huns.

By 395AD, known as the Barbarians by the Romans, they harassed the Romans and invaded their territories. Thirty years later the amalgamated Huns had a leader King Rugila who together with his brother October ruled upper Europe. October was killed in warfare, leaving Rugila to rule single-handedly. He then forced Theodosius, the Roman Emperor, to pay tribute in exchange for the Huns help in defeating the Goths. The Huns grew into a vast army of cavalry and foot soldiers. They carried axes while their enemies carried spears and swords. Their strength and their heavy axes decimated their enemies and shields and armour was no match for the axes.