How the Rise of the Huns Transformed Europe

Episode 11: Rome and the Huns

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

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.[1]

In 376 AD the Huns overwhelmingly defeated the Goths (who, along with the Sarmatians,[2} enjoyed a 150-year alliance with Rome [3]). 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.[4] 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.

[1] 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.

[2] See The Role of Sarmatian Nomads in Rome’s Military Success

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

Film can be viewed free with library card on Kanopy.

Militarized Nomads: Who were the Scythians, Huns and Mongols?

Ancient World History: Huns

Episode 16: The Importance of the Nomads

The Big History of Civilizations (2016)

Dr Craig G Benjamin

Film Review

One of my favorite lectures, this presentation covers the militarized pastoral nomads who dominated Central Asia from 5000 BC onward. According to Benjamin, the “life ways” of pastoral nomad conquerors only became feasible after when he calls the 5th millenium “secondary products revolution,” ie the discovery of secondary uses (ie blood, milk, hair, leather, and traction power) for domesticated animals. Domestication of the horse in the 5th millenium BC made it possible for pastoral nomads to establish vast military empires.

Benjamin covers three main networks of militarized nomads known for terrorizing sedentary civilizations: the Scythians, the Huns and the Mongols. Obtaining their weapons (bows and arrows, axes, swords and maces) from sedentary civilizations, all three played an invaluable role developing the Silk Road trade networks between China and they Mediterranean.

The Scythians terrorized the Greek city states. Although the Roman Army successfully kept them at bay,  they eventually caused the collapse of the Assyrian Empire. Eventually networks of Scythian tribes extended as far east as Uzbekistan and China. Weakened by battles with the Celts and Sarmatians,* they were assimilated by the Goths in the third millenium BC.

The Huns, who appeared between the fourth and sixth century AD, devastated Europe’s Germanic tribes and the late Roman Empire.

The Mongols who appeared in the 13th century AD created the larges contiguous empire in world history.

*The Samatians were are large Iranian confederation around 500 BC

This film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a library card.