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The Huns. The Scourge of God

Hunnic tribes invaded Northern Coast of Black Sea and the Crimean peninsula in the late fourth century. This people shaped in the steppes on the western and northern borders of faraway China. Thence the Huns started their migration to the west and reached Europe in the 370s. The Huns belonged to the Mongoloid race and spoke a language of the Turkic group. Their economy was based on nomadic cattle-breeding with a great role of the spoils of war. 

Europe and Huns in 4th - 6th cen. A.D.

The appearance of the Huns in Europe opened the Great Migration period when huge masses of barbarians started their invasions into the Roman empire, searching for the lands to settie there. The raids of the Huns lead to "domino effect" when one barbarian people drove others away from the areas earlier populated by them. A contemporary wrote: "And what great battles... we learnt of! The Huns threw themselves upon the Alans, the Alans upon the Goths, and the Goths upon the Taifalians and Sarmatians. [The barbarians] made us [the Romans] exiles... and the end is not yet."

The Hunnic cavalry made the enemies' blood creep. "And in one respect you may pronounce them the most formidable of all warriors, the eye-witness of the invasion of the Huns Ammianus Marcellinus wrote, "when at a distance they use missiles of various kinds tipped with sharpened bones instead of the usual points of javelins, and these bones are admirably fastened into the shaft of the javelin or arrow; but when they are at close quarters they fight with the sword, without any regard for their own safety; and often while their antagonists are warding off their blows they entangle them with twisted cords, so that, their hands being fettered, they lose all power of either riding or walking".

The Huns were armed with new types of weapons and new (or more exactly, long-forgotten old) tactics of battle. Every adult man was warrior, so their raid was prepared in a short time. Their sneak attacks always caught their enemies napping. When the Huns went into battle, they formed a wedge body and, if not succeeded in putting the enemy to fly, they used feign retreats to lure the enemy into a vulnerable position. 

Prior to hand-to-hand fighting, the Huns showered their arrows upon the enemy from a distance. Hunnic bow was made of several pieces of wood laminated together and was additionally strengthened with plates of bone and antler. It shot bows able to hit a target at a long distance and, besides that, these arrows could have big and heavy heads capable of piercing all types of armour. It was the time when people did not know stirrups, so the saddle was the only implement that held the man on horses back in the heat of battle. Ihe saddle of the pre-Hunnic period was soft like a leather pillow. The Huns introduced hard saddle on wooden frame that firmly kept the rider helping him to shoot a bow, to throw a spear, and to fight with a sword. 

A surprise for the Europeans was unusual appearance of the Huns with their Mongoloid faces. Besides, the nomads considered that elongated head was the symbol of noble origin and beauty, so they bandaged the child's head so that the growing skull received the intended elongated form. It is no accident that a legend emerged that related the origin of the Huns with witches banished from one Gothic tribe and marsh spirits. They were puzzled with the nomads' way of life when they did not have "even a hut thatched with reed" and always roamed along the sleppe following herds of their animals. 

An example would be Ammianus Marcellinus' words: "But although they have the form of men, however ugly, they are so hardy in their mode of life that they have no need offire nor of savoury food, but eat the roots of wild plants and the half-raw flesh of any kind of animal whatever, which they put between their thighs and the backs of their horses, and thus warm it a little. They are never protected by any buildings, but they avoid these... they think they are not safe when staying under a roof. They dress in linen cloth or in the skins ot field-mice sewn together, and they wear the same clothing indoors and out. But when they have once put their necks into a faded tunic, it is not taken off or changed until by long wear and tear it has been reduced to rags and fallen from them bit by bit. They cover their heads with round caps and protect their hairy legs with goatskins... they are almost glued to their horses, which are hardy, it is true, but ugly, sometimes they sit on them woman-fashion and thus perform their ordinary tasks. From their horses by night or day every one of that nation buys and sells, eats and drinks, and bowed over the narrow neck of the animal relaxes into a sleep so deep as to be accompanied by many dreams. And when deliberation is called for about weighty matters, they all consult as a common body in that fashion..." 

The Christians described the life of the Huns with disgust: the nomads were idolaters and, if they were going to know the future, sacrificed animals to their gods and read their entrails or the location of streaks on bones that had been scraped. In result of all that, the ancients developed the idea of the Huns as cruel and merciless pagans that had neither homeland, nor state, nor the notion of honour, so even the name of this people became a proverb. 

A symbol of Hunnic savageness, barbarism, and infidelity was the tale told by Ammianus Marcellinus: "No one in their country ever ploughs a field or touches a plough-handle. They are all without fixed abode, without hearth, or law, or settled mode of life, and keep roaming from place to place, like fugitives, accompanied by the wagons in which they live; in wagons their wives weave for them their hideous garments, in wagons they cohabit with their husbands, bear children, and rear them to the age of puberty. None of their offspring, when asked, can tell you where he comes from, since he was conceived in one place, born far from there, and brought up still farther away... Like unreasoning beasts, they are utterly ignorant of the difference between right and wrong; they are deceitful and ambiguous in speech, never bound by any reverence for religion or for superstition. They burn with an infinite thirst for gold, and they are so fickle and prone to anger, that they often quarrel with their allies without provocation, more than once on the same day, and make friends with than again without a mediator." There certainly are many exaggerations because of the fear and consternation experienced when meeting with a mode of life hitherto unseen. 

When the most part of the Huns was moving westwards, one of their groups crossed the Kerch straits and came to the Crimea. A tale states that this road was found by a herdsman who followed a bull that strayed from the herd or by hunters who pursued a wild deer. The Huns went to the other shore by banks of sand that were covered by seawaters but little. 

The arrival of the Huns led to the panic of the Crimean residents. The population left the foothill part of the peninsula and migrated to the areas deep in the mountains that were difficult to access. Crimean steppes lost their inhabitants and became the place where the Huns roamed. It was the late fourth century when Roman "mechanics" repaired fortifi-cations of Chersonesos. These works were arranged probably because the city residents or the Roman authorities were frightened by the Huns. But the barbarians did not dare to assault this well fortified city, or the Greeks came to agreement with them by negotiations; however that may be, Chersonesos did not fell a victim of the Huns in contrast to many other centres. 

The Hunnic tribe that made the Crimea a zone of their roaming was called the Altziagirians. According to the early mediaeval historian Jordanes, the Altziagirians lived near Chersonesos, "where the avaricious trader brings in the goods of Asia. In summer they range the plains, their broad domains, wherever the pasturage for their cattle invites them, and in winter returning to over the Pontic [i. e. Black] Sea." The Huns probably had an interest in trading hides, wool, meat and other  goods received by exchanging with remote areas ("Asia") at Chersonesos, in return for the products of Greek and Roman craftsmen, wine, and textiles.

 The Hunnic realm reached its maximum climax in the mid-fifth century under the reign of king Attila, whose name kept both the Romans and barbar ians scared. Attila had his headquarters  in the territory of modern Hungary. Thence he and his great army of the Huns and their allies raided the Balkans and areas of modern Germany, France and Hungary. The Christians called Attila "the scourge of God" that was sent from Heaven as a punishment for humans' sins. Even a thousand years after the death of Attila, when the Huns ceased to exist long ago, fine art kept the memory of those events. Modern painters depicted Attila wearing knight's armour, or wolf's skin, or pompous oriental dress, which were certainly never worn by the ancient Hun, and made him the symbol of savageness, cruelty, and barbarism, a character in various allegorical paintings. 

Attila suddenly died in 453 that caused the collapse of his realm. A group of the Huns appeared themselves in Bosporos. Excavations of Bosporan cities discovered valuable artefacts made in bright, original style. Among them are gold ornaments, parts of cloths, horse tack, and weapons. Their surface was decorated with numerous cells that held red insets of almandites, carnelians, or pieces of polished glass. The fashion for ornaments in such a style was brought by the Huns. Many ancient historians mentioned their love for precious metal. They probably melted down gold coins received as a tribute from Roman provinces to make precious ornaments. Soon after, this style became popular among other barbarian tribes as well, particularly the Goths and Alans. 

In spite of the danger from the Huns, the Bosporan kingdom continued to live. Its rulers possibly became the tributaries of the Huns. One of the kings of Bosporos called himself "Tiberios loulios Douptounos, friend of Caesar and friend of Rome," His name indicates his relation with previous dynasty or at least his pretension to such a relation, and his title shows his desire for friendship with Rome. However, soon there would be important changes in Bosporos and in the Crimea.

Many modern peoples try to make their own history longer and call them- selves the descendants of the tribes that, according to scholarly data, have nothing to do with them. This type of ideas are developed in the society by irresponsible politicians, journalists, and various kinds of dilettantes. Of course, it is pleasant to have a long genealogy and feel yourself related to the ancients' great deeds, especially because alleged kinship ties could be an argument, for example, to claim the right for the territory. This way, some Frenchmen would like to be the descendants of the Germanic Francs, Poles of the Sarmatians, and Russians and Ukrainians of the Scythians. As a famous Russian poet Aleksandr Blok wrote, 

Yes, we are Scythians! 
Yes, we are Asians 
With slanted and greedy eyes! 

As a rule, there often are several those who want to be the descendant of the same people that was famous in ancient times. Only the Huns still have so an unpleasant image that perhaps only one people, the Hungarians, pretends to be their "relatives."

After Nikita Khrapunov and Dmitriy Prokhorov

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Category: General history articles | Added by: Sergo (17.11.2018)
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