Episode 11: Rome and the Huns
Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)
Dr Kenneth Harl
This lecture concerns the vital role of the steppes nomads (especially the Huns, who played a pivotal role in the collapse of the Roman Empire) in Europe’s transition from “antiquity” to the Middle Ages.
According to Harl, the Huns were first prominent on the Pontic-Caspian Steppes, the heartland of their empire, around 370 – 375 AD.
In 376 AD the Huns overwhelmingly defeated the Goths (who, along with the Sarmatians,[2} enjoyed a 150-year alliance with Rome ). With Rome’s permission approximately 100,000 Goths crossed the Danube to resettle in the Roman province of Gaul.
In 410 AD, the Goths, under increasing pressure in Gaul from the Huns, sacked Rome for the first time. As part of the peace settlement, the Romans allowed the Goths to form an independent kingdom in southern Gaul.
Under Attila (434-453 AD), the Huns formed a Hun-ruled confederation of Hun, Germanic, Iranian, Alan (an offshoot of the Sarmatians) and proto-Turkish tribes. As well as crossing the Caucasus to launch raids in Mesopotamia and the Sassanid Persian Empire, the Huns gradually migrated west to the Danube and the Hungarian plains. Assimilating the Alan nomads who lived there, they launched a series of raids against the Eastern Roman Empire. In response to these raids, Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II built a massive wall between 408 – 450 AD along the four mile land border of Constantinople.
Although the Hun continued to ravage the eastern provinces of the Eastern Empire, Constantinople (and eastern Asia) remained safe from a future nomad invasions.
 According to Harl, the Huns may have been an offshoot of the Xiongu nomads north of China. The Hans adopted the Chinese “Five Baits” system of diplomacy (see How Steppes Nomads Influenced Eartly Chinese Civilization). The Huns, who spoke a Proto-Turkic language, were the first Turkish speakers in Europe.
 After the emperor Constantine (306-337 AD) decisively defeated the Goths, they were required to send duty to Rome as well as supplying conscripts to support the Roman military in their war with Persia.
 In 330 AD, Constantine split Rome into an Eastern and Western Empire. The eastern Roman court fell under the control of eastern warlords. In the western empire, Roman troops consisted mainly of nomad mercenaries. Prior to its collapse in 476 AD, the Western Roman Empire relied mainly on the Huns to keep its Germanic allies in line.
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