The Geography of Orosius:
Notes on the Early History of the Eurasian Nations
In the first book of his Histories Against the Pagans, Paulus Orosius inserted a prose description of the inhabited world (I,2). This cosmography has long earned its place in the history of science. Riese included it in his Geographi minores (56-70). In his History of Ancient Geography, Bunbury wrote that it was *drawn up with clearness and intelligence, and has the merit of being original+ (2:691).
However Orosius wrote in AD 417 and his reputation has suffered from his position at the cusp of antiquity and the middle ages. Historians of ancient geography have mostly ignored him as being too late, while medievalists have studied not so much what Orosius’ cosmography meant in its own late antique context, but how it was used by his medieval successors. In order to redress this imbalance, Yves Janvier dedicated an entire book to the subject: La géographie d’Orose (1982), both a study and a partial edition.
Orosius included a cosmography with his Histories the way a modern historian might add a map for the convenience of his readers. In antiquity maps seem to have been crafted and displayed to enhance prestige; their practical value was perhaps nil (Arnaud 1989:18). Words were the preferred medium to create and disseminate a mental picture of the world, for instance the verse cosmography of Dionysius Periegetes, who wrote under Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138), and was translated into Latin by Avienus and later Priscian (ed: Bernhardy).
Orosius chose to enhance his Histories with a verbal description, as the most effective tool, which these were until standardized maps were invented: *the first great advance in comparative cartography was the introduction of printing in the 15th century. Before this, a map was subject to as many stages of possible corruption as there were hand-copies+ (Bagrow and Skelton 1985:89). Until then, chorographies provided a narrative picture of the world, based on itineraries. Diagrams could not compete with words. *La cartographie ancienne était donc un espace tragiquement borné, si on le comparait à l’expansion infinie du texte géographique+ (Arnaud 1989:14).
Since their authors lacked accurate information and measurements, verbal maps were not a perfect instrument. Historians rarely included chorographies in their narratives. Orosius was an exception. On the subject of Polybius, Horsfall notes that *maps had no place in the composition or publication of historical works+ (198). Notwithstanding their limitations, verbal maps were the best available instrument for historians who felt the need for orientation. Allowing for shortcomings, these chorographies are now available for research into the history of ancient peoples.
In his cosmography, Orosius mentions an Eastern nation bearing a name which could be that of the Huns: *a fontibus Ottorogorrae usque ad civitatem Ottorogorram inter Hunos Scythas et Gandaridas mons Caucasus+ (I,2,45). However, the information he provides on their location does not allow for a secure identification with those Huns who were raiding Palestine and Asia minor in his own days, and whom Attila later made famous. Moreover the surviving manuscripts of Orosius, some 300 of them, do not agree on the spelling of this ethnic name.
Consequently Janvier withheld judgement: *son texte situe assurément les Gandarides dans l’ancien Gandhara, actuellement le nord du Pakistan+ (107). *Les Chuni [...] seraient donc plus à l’ouest [...] On ne sait même pas si Orose avait bien écrit leur nom [...] les manuscrits offrant concurremment Chunos, Hunos, Funos [...] on ne peut pas s’arrêter à une assimilation des Chuni aux Huns, tentante mais douteuse+ (108).
On the basis of data supplied by Orosius, Janvier believed that these Chuni, Huni, Funi dwelled around modern Peshawar, in Pakistan (107). We do have evidence from Eastern sources and from archaeology for the presence in that region at that time of a nation bearing such a name. They were neighbours of the Persian empire and are called Xyon in Sassanian sources. In Chinese, they are called Hsiung-nu; in Sogdian Xwn; in Sanskrit Hûna. Ammianus Marcellinus, who completed his History in AD 391, mentions them under the name Chionitae. The anonymous Descriptio orbis terrae, dated to the mid fourth century (edited by Sinko in 1904; see also Rougé 1966), places a nation known as Chioni, Ioni, on the confines of India, i.e. in the same vicinity.
Under the name Hûna this nation dwelling around Peshawar later played an important role in the history of India, and it has attracted the attention of Indian scholars. On the basis of evidence from Fa-hien (a Chinese pilgrim who was an older contemporary of Orosius), corroborated by the historical works of the Armenian Faustus of Byzantium, and of Ammianus, the Indian scholar Sahi would date the arrival of the Hûna in Peshawar to AD 359-363.
I agree with Sahi’s general argument but I would date their arrival some twenty years earlier, on the basis of a source which Sahi does not discuss: the Descriptio orbis terrae, dated ca 348, mentioned above. This anonymous work of commercial geography describes the Roman Empire up to the Parthian borders, including Bosra and Arabia. It surveys the East in a sketchy fashion, and lacks the geographical competence of Orosius but it does record a nation bearing such a name situated on the edge of the Indian world: *gens sic appellanda Ioneum+; Sinko records the variant *Choneum+ found in some manuscripts (’14). Not surprisingly in the case of a forgotten nation, the text is corrupt; but the context supports a reading to match Khyon, Hûna, Chyonitai, Hsiung-nu.
Writing in AD 417 Orosius mentions the Chuni of Peshawar; these people were recent comers to the Hindu Kush, having settled there less than a century earlier, as demonstrated by Sahi. Therefore Orosius could not have learned about their existence in early authors such as Pliny’s Natural History or, as suggested by Klotz in a very influential paper, in the lost map of Agrippa, created in the days of Augustus (1930). Scholars who have accepted Klotz’s argument (for instance Uhden 1933) have overlooked the case of the Chuni / Chyonitai whose migrations in the early fourth century invalidate this hypothesis.
The Map of Agrippa was a landmark in the history of science; for general studies, see Detlefsen, Klotz 1931, Müllenhoff, Petersen, Reinhold, Roddaz, Schnabel, Schweder, Shipley, Tierney. *Die Weltkarte des Agrippa war die grossartigste Leistung der Römer auf dem Gebiete der Geographie. Auch dieses Werk trägt ganz den Stempel ihres Geistes; während den Griechen die Sterne die Führer bei der Bestimmung der Erdoberfläche waren, gingen die Römer von den Meilensteinen aus+ (Hosius 1935:331). However for all its technical expertise, it could not have provided testimony for the Chyonitai in Peshawar at a time when they dwelled North West of China.
Like any other historical investigation, the etymology of an ethnic name requires signposts, such as dated documents. One of the links in the chain of evidence concerning the Hsiung-nu / Khyôn is provided by the Ancient Sogdian Letters; Henning dates these documents to AD 313, based on a mention of the destruction of the city of Lo-yang by the Hsiung-nu, which took place in AD 311 (1947/48:603f). Because we have sources in both languages, Chinese and Sogdian, which refer to the same datable event, we can be confident that the Hsiung-nu of the Chinese histories are the same people as the Xwn of the Ancient Sogdian letters.
At the beginning of the Christian era, in the days of Pliny the Elder and Agrippa, the Khyôn held sway on China’s North West border, and are only known to us at present by way of the Chinese sources who call them Hsiung-nu, and the Ancient Sogdian Letters who call them Xwn. The Descriptio orbis terrae provides evidence that they migrated sometime before AD 348, almost a century before Orosius put pen to paper, and two centuries after Agrippa crafted his world map. Whatever source Orosius used, it was later than the migration of the Khyôn from China’s northern border to the Hindu Kush which took place sometime between AD 315 and 345.
Before they were driven out by the Chinese, the Hsiung-nu ruled for centuries over a rich and powerful state; they could have been known by name and reputation to Augustan Rome. In fact, they may be the mysterious people called Choamani by authors of the Principate (Mela 1,2,11; Pliny 6,47). In his edition of Mela, Silberman comments on the Choamani: *Peuple de Bactriane (cf Pline VI,47): Commani, Comani, Choamani), entre les Chomarae et les Propanisadae; il n’est pas autrement connu+ (1988:107n7). Surviving manuscripts of Pliny have mostly commani in this passage; the Codex Leidensis Vossianus has comani. In his edition of Pliny (1892-1909), Mayhoff restored Choamani on the basis of Mela’s text. This emendation has a long history; the probability that Pliny’s commani were Mela’s Coammani was suggested in the fifteenth century by the noted humanist Ermolao Barbaro (ed: Pozzi, vol 2, page 477). It has now been accepted by the Budé editors of Pliny who, like Silberman, describe the Choamani as otherwise unknown (André and Filliozat, 1980:62n4).
Because Mela lists the Choamani amongst the nations of Bactria, Silberman assumes that they were one of the Bactrian nations. This is a natural assumption but it founders upon an unresolved problem of ancient geography. True to classical teaching, Mela starts his description of the world with the Ocean. On the shore of this mythical world river, he places the Scyths to the North, the Seres next to them, to the East, and the Indians next in line, that is South of the Scyths: *Tribus hanc e partibus tangit oceanus, ita nominibus ut locis differens, Eous ab oriente, a meridie Indicus, a septentrione Scythicus+ (I,1/8). *In ea primos hominum ab oriente accipimus Indos et Seres et Scythes. Seres media ferme Eoae partis incolunt, Indi et Scythae ultima … + (I,2/11).
The Seres are normally equated with the Chinese, although there are reasons to doubt this attribution. The Greeks and the Romans knew correctly that North and East from India there was a world class empire, bordering on the Ocean but they knew almost nothing about it, the people, the culture, the history. As summarized pithily by McHugh: *Mention of the Seres is not rare … but the most that can be affirmed of them with any certainty is that they are remote easterners+ (1986:341). Even the name is uncertain.
Janvier has shown in a major article on the Far East (1984) that the name Seres applied to the great power in the Far East was not that of the Chinese themselves but possibly an Iranian name of Western neighbours of the Chinese. It was not until the fourth century AD that the name Sina or Tsinista, or some variant of this name became known to the Greco-Roman world (Marcian of Heracleia, Cosmas Indicopleustes). This is not an uncommon problem in the study of geographic names: the Romans used the name of the neighbouring Graeci for the Hellens and this misnomer has endured to the present. Fortunately, even under the misnomer Seres, we can recognize China, however imperfectly known.
The Greeks and the Romans were no less ignorant of the vastness of Eurasia. In Mela’s scheme, there is nothing between European Russia and Northern China; Mela imagines that they are contiguous, and that China runs all the way from the Urals to the Himalaya. In reality of course, the Urals and China are separated by Siberia, Mongolia… immense territories, filled with a multitude of nations, including the Hsiung-nu, frequently mentioned by the Chinese in the same period as Pliny and Mela, as well as other Altaic speaking peoples. The vastness of Mongolia simply disappeared in the *thick fog of pernicious schematization+ which, according to Horsfall, characterized ancient geography (198).
Siberia’s invisibility affected all of ancient geography. It can be read clearly in Ammianus: *Beyond these regions of the two Scythias, toward the east, a circling and continuous barrier of lofty mountains fences round the Seres, who dwell thus secure in their rich and spacious plains+ (23,6). This follows earlier authors like Ptolemy who writes: *Serica is terminated on the West by Scythia beyond the Imaeus mountains … on the north is unknown land+ (6,16,1). Imaeus corresponds roughly with the Himalaya, considered by by the ancients to be one of the mountains of the great Asian chain which they called Taurus. Ammianus’ *lofty mountains+ are the Urals; they are indeed immediately beyond Scythia… but thousands of miles away from China, separated by the vast lands occupied by Mongols, Mandchou, and many Altaic speaking nations.
If one were to take a paper map made by modern cartographers, and fold it so that the Great Wall of China coincided with the Urals, one would have a good approximation of how the ancients perceived Eurasia. This brings up another problem of Greco-Roman geography, clearly described by Strabo who divides Asia into a northern and a southern half with the help of a chain of mountains, called Taurus. According to him and apparently all ancient geographers, this mountain chain runs like a belt across Asia east and west (Strabo 11,1,2). At the western end of this mountainous spine are found regions like Armenia and Cappadocia; at the eastern end lie China and India. North are the Scyths, and south are the Persians. This neat scheme made the Indians and the Chinese neighbours of the Scyths of the Pontic steppe. In reality they were thousands of miles apart.
The ancients imagined that the Hindu Kush and the Himalaya were the continuation of the Caucasus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. This is not surprising: they based their descriptions of the world upon the reports of travellers (ambassadors, military and intelligence personnel, and above all traders) who had ventured forth as far as the Caucasus and the Caspian sea, when travelling north-east by land; from the other direction, the lands as far as Afghanistan were known to them from the adventures of Alexander of Macedon, who reached the Pamir. They assumed that these reports covered the whole world and they thought that the mountains reported by all these travellers were one and the same as the Caucasus. In fact, of course, they included as well the Pamir, the Hindu Kush, the Himalaya, etc. Above all, there were vast, fertile and prosperous spaces between these mountain chains, filled with nations which could not be fitted into their rigid scheme.
One final difficulty in ancient geography impacts the early history of the Eurasian nations: the Caspian Sea. Many ancient authors, including Strabo, thought that the Caspian was not a closed sea, as some travellers reported but a gulf of the Northern Ocean. This posed a major difficulty in plotting the dwelling places of ancient nations. Just south of the Caspian Sea is the modern province of Mazanderan, an immensely fertile and prosperous region, known as the kingdom of Tabaristan in the middle ages, and as Hyrcania to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The association between Hyrcania and the Caspian sea/gulf was so well known that this body of water was sometimes called the Hyrcanian sea (Strabo 11,1,7).
West of the Caspian lived nations well known to the Roman empire: Armenians, Albanians, Iberians. North of this sea dwelled the Massagetae, later known as the Alans; to the west, the Alans had the Huns as their neighbours, just across from the river Tanais; to the east, they reached as far as Samarkand. The identification of the ancient Massagetae with the later Alans rests upon a long series of ancient authors, amongst them Ammianus: *the Halani, once known as the Massagetae+ (31,2,12). Synesius is more allusive in his De regno where he mentions *the Getae and the Massagetae [... who] spread terror amongst you, crossing over in their turn, assuming other names+ (’11, translated by FitzGerald). The Getae and the Massagetae who have changed their names are the Goths and the Alans; the literary equation between Getae and Goths is well known from Jordanes, the Getica.
The change from Massagetae to Alans was familiar from earlier writers, and could be alluded to. Cassius Dio writes in his Roman History: *A second war was begun by the Alani (they are Massagetae) at the instigation of Pharasmanes. It caused dire injury to the Albanian territory and Media, and then involved Armenia and Cappadocia+ (69,15,1). In the fourth century, Jerome still uses the name Massagetae, expecting his readers to understand whom he means: *For news came that the hordes of the Huns had poured forth all the way from Maeotis (they had their haunts between the icy Tanais and the rude Massagetae where the gates of Alexander keep back the wild peoples behind the Caucasus)+ (Letter # 77,8 to Oceanus, on the death of Fabiola, dated 400).
Otherwise, we have almost no information on the Alans: they played a marginal but persistent role in Greco-Roman affairs, and later in Byzantium. Their geographic location however is impaired because ancient geographers believed that the Caspian was a gulf of the Arctic ocean, instead of a closed sea. *Milesian traders knew the Caspian sea was a closed one, but geographers needed symmetry in their maps+ (Myres 1896:609). The Massagetae later known as Alans lived in the lands where Strabo assigned immense water, deep, cold Arctic sea water at that. This intrusive Caspian gulf makes Strabo’s description difficult to work out in the real world.
Strabo divides Asia into regions. The first, which he called Tanais after the Don River, lies north of the Caucasus; it is bounded by the Don River, the Ocean and the Caspian gulf (11,1,5). He describes the second region, just east of it, as inhabited by *the Scyths who are neighbours of the Indians+ (11,1,7), with the Caspian gulf separating these two northern regions. In fact both regions are contiguous, and run seamlessly north of the Caspian sea. As for Strabo’s Indians, they are the Iranian speaking people of Inner Asia, dwelling in the regions of Samarkand, Bukhara, etc., those plains which interfered with the solid rampart of the Taurus postulated for Inner Asia.
Just how *compacted+ a view of the East was held by the ancient writers can be seen in the Meteorologica of Aristotle: he believed that when a traveller had crossed the Paropamisus, i.e. the Hindu Kush, *the outer ocean, whose farther limit is unknown to the inhabitants of our part of the world, is already in sight+ (I,13,3). By the outer ocean, he means at this point what we call the Arctic and the Pacific oceans; for him, this was one body of water. A quick look at any map of Asia will show what vast regions were not even known to exist. To compound this *minimising+ of Asia, let us note also that Aristotle believed that both the Don River of Southern Russia and the Indus of India flowed out of the Hindu Kush.
This deficient knowledge suggested to the ancients that the Scyths were neighbours to the Indians; they had no factual information on this proximity. Their belief did not rest on the reports of travellers who had journeyed from the land of the Scyths to India, by crossing the Hindu Kush; their belief was the result of combining the itineraries of Northern travellers to the lands of the Scyths with totally unrelated itineraries of travellers to Afghanistan. Nowadays we have sufficient data to plot what was known and even more importantly what was unknown to the ancients, so that we can make accurate sense of what they did know.
This image of a *compacted+ Asia obtained until the end of the middle ages. After the fall of Constantinople cut off Mediterranean trade from the Black Sea, the quest for the Northern Passage revealed the Siberian immensity. To this period of Eastern exploration belong Russia’s struggle against the Golden Horde, Marco Polo’s journey to the court of the Mongol emperor, etc. The conquest and subsequent serious mapping of Siberia starts under Tsar Ivan IV (styled the Terrible, 1530-1584); crowned first Tsar of Russia in 1547, he spent most of his life recovering territories from the Livonians in the West, from the Tartars in the South and from the Mongols in the East. The first trans-Uralian expeditions begin in 1579. However this chapter of Siberian history belongs to a totally different research project.
Renaissance geographers working within the ancient tradition should have taken classical sources like Mela, and inserted into the old scheme the newly discovered territories, and their nations. They should have done the reverse of what I proposed above: they should have cut open the ancient maps and inserted the vast arc of land which stretches from the Urals to the Great Wall of China. They needed to fit in Siberia, Mongolia, and the Altaic people in the space between the Urals and China. It is specifically this failure of historical geography which has made it possible for modern historians to believe the Hsiung-nu neighbours of the Chinese were also the Huns of Southern Russia — because ancient sources believed mistakenly that China started at the Urals, and that there was only one, albeit immense, mountain chain in Inner Asia, which comprised the Caucasus and the Himalaya, and everything else in between.
In his influential article *Hunni+ in the Realencyklopädie, Kiessling writes: *Iordanes (c. 5) liest dieselbe Karte ab und ist besonders klar und anschaulich in seiner Angabe: Skythien hat an seiner Ostseite die Seres, in ipso sui (sc. Scythiae) principio ad litus Caspii maris commanentes, d. h. die Seren reichen im Norden bis an den Eingang und schmalen Hals des Kaspischen Golfes heran, der, ab Oceano euroboreo abzweigt+ (1913, vol 8, col 2596). Well, yes. Not only Jordanes but all ancient authors believed that China and Scythia were contiguous. Unfortunately they were all wrong, a point which Kiessling somehow overlooked.
This problem was never resolved by historians of geographical science. Instead of recognizing the flaw, modern geographers inserted the recently discovered lands into the space between Scythia and China on their maps, but they filled this space with imaginary Asian Scyths, from ancient catalogues of nations, instead of the real Altaic people, mostly unrecorded in Greek and Roman sources. They stretched the word Scythia to include the newly discovered territories and applied the name Scythian to the newly discovered Altaic peoples… even though the nations of Siberia were not Scyths. If the ancient Greeks and Romans ever heard any report of nations from the Altaic group, they categorized them as either Seres or members of the Iranian or Indian groups because their schematic maps provided no other space to fit them in.
Not only were the immense territories between the Urals and the Great Wall of China lost to ancient geographers, Scythia was split erroneously into two regions, European Scythia and Asiatic Scythia… even though Scythia was known to them, indeed poorly known, but not terra incognita like Siberia. The geographers of the post-Renaissance were misled by the ancient concept of two Scythias which is, like the other difficulties we face, the result of pernicious schematization.
The Scyths occupied the lands between the Vistula and the Urals, ranging from the Baltic to the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Greek geographers established the Don (the Tanais) as a dividing line through this territory creating a European Scythia and an Asiatic Scythia separated by this river. This division rests upon a political concept, and has nothing to do with physical or human geography: the Don was the boundary between the Greek and Iranian zones of influence. The ancient authors compounded their misrepresentation of the Great North by utterly overlooking the vastness of Siberia, while they incorrectly placed China right on the other side of the Urals. Faithful to this erroneous tradition, post-Renaissance scholars have imagined that the Asiatic Scyths were these overlooked nations to the North and North West of China, East of the Urals, even though in the ancient scheme the Asiatic Scyths dwelled between the Don and the Urals, not east of the Urals, and they were called Asiatic by the Greek because they happen to fall into the Iranian zone of political and mercantile influence.
When describing Scythia, Strabo suffers from inadequate orientation. He describes the nations and rivers which run from the mouth of the Danube to the mouth of the Don as though they were further and further north… rather than further and further east (7,3,17). In his scheme, the Rhoxolani who dwell by the Don are the northernmost of the nations of Scythia. In his note on this passage Baladié asks: *Comment expliquer que des peuples aussi septentrionaux aient pu intervenir … dans un conflit qui eut pour théâtre la Chersonèse Taurique?» (page 197, note 1 for page 101). Simple : Strabo made a mistake, north instead of east. Mela, writing a few decades after Strabo, places the Rhipaean Mountains, which he did not consider mythical, beyond the Tanais. This is correct from Rome’s perspective but he also places north instead of east, and so far north that they overlook the Arctic Ocean (1,19/117). We must allow for this error in orientation when dealing with the Northern nations in antiquity.
The Age of Exploration revealed that the Urals, not the Don, formed the dividing line between Europe and Asia. It also confirmed unheeded reports by ancient travellers that the Caspian was a closed sea, not a gulf of the Arctic Ocean. With this discovery, Renaissance and later geographers redistributed the Scyths: European Scyths to the West of the Urals (no longer the Don), and Asiatic Scyths to the East of the Urals. In fact, these two groups of Scyths never existed sui generis: they were so labelled to reflect international politics in ancient times. Later geographic space was incorrectly labelled to preserve the erroneous categories and assign some meaning to them. For the Scyths themselves, there was only one Scythia, and the Don is only one of innumerable rivers which crisscross it.
One finds frequently that modern maps of ancient nations cover the lands of Siberia and Mongolia with Scyths; however, this area should be left blank to represent the fact that to the Greeks and the Romans it was quite literally terra incognita: they did not even know it existed, and they knew nothing about the nations which dwelt there. Scythia ended at the Urals; ancient authors did not locate any Scyths between the Urals and China because they did not even realize that this territory existed. They did not place any Scyths East of the Urals because they thought the Seres dwelled there: Ptolemy and Ammianus, cited above, make that quite clear.
One further detail: Ammianus knew that the dividing line between Scythia and what he thought were the Seres was the Ural range; earlier sources realized that the end of Scythia was marked by some sort of boundary; but they thought this boundary was the Caspian Sea, or as they imagined, the Caspian gulf of the Arctic Ocean. Ammianus and Justin had more accurate knowledge of the region than did Strabo. The most ancient sources knew that there were some important mountains in Scythia, which they called the Rhipaeans, but they had no idea that it formed Scythia’s eastern border. They looked for it in the northernmost regions, and of course did not find them there.
Eastern trade and expansion from the middle ages onward revealed that the lands from the Elbe to the Straits of Bering formed an immense plain, interrupted north of the Caspian sea by a major mountain range, running north-south: the Urals. This vast open space was totally unknown to the ancients, who could even speculate that the Caspian Sea was a gulf of the Arctic Ocean, as Strabo makes clear: *but these parts of the country beyond the Elbe that are near the Ocean are wholly unknown to us. For of the men of earlier times I know of no one who has made this voyage along the coast to the Eastern parts that extend as far as the north of the Caspian Sea+ (7,2,4). While Renaissance geographers expanded the smallish ancient Scythia to fit into this enormous territory, they failed to identify the Urals as the only mountain range which could have been meant when poorly informed travellers told stories about the Rhipaean Mountains, rejected as *mythical+ by Strabo, who considered it a phantom of men’s ignorance (7,3,1).
Having abolished the Rhipaean mountains, ancient geographers had difficulties plotting the course of the Don (Tanais) river: *Now the Tanais flows from the northern region [...] This has caused some to assume that the Tanais has its sources in the Caucasian Mountain [...] and others to assume that it flows from the upper region of the Ister+ (Strabo 11,2,2). In other words, these unnamed geographers proposed that the Don River flowed northwards out of the Caucasus, unseen and unrecorded, and turned around to flow south into the Black Sea; the alternate hypothesis was that the Tanais flowed east out of the Alps (where the Ister/Danube has its sources) and that it eventually turned south, likewise unseen and unrecorded.
The prize for the sources of the Tanais should be awarded to Aristotle, who in his Meteorologica places its origin in an Eastern mountain range which appears in manuscripts as Parnassus, but must evidently be the Paropamisus, namely the Hindu Kush (I,13,3). Aristotle plots the course of the Tanais from the Araxes (by which he probably means the Syr Darya) to Lake Maeotis, i.e. the Sea of Azov. Nevertheless, the Rhipaean mountains, which he branded as fanciful in the same passage, remained a more sensible alternative to this fluvial absurdity, as we find in the Late Latin poet Avitus: *Non aliter Tanais, nivibus cum pascitur albus, // Riphaeo de monte ruens inliditur amni+ (De diluvio mundi 441-442). In Hecquet-Noti’s translation: *De la même manière, lorsqu’il se repaît de neige, le blanc Tanaïs dévalant le mont Riphée est emporté dans ses remous+ (2:87). Avitus echos Mela who also believed that the Tanais had its sources in the Rhipaean Mountains (1,19/115). In fact the great rivers of the steppe have their sources not in mountains, but in plains.
Scientific writers reported what they knew… and did not know: *Sarmatia … is bounded by the Tanais river and by the line which extends from the sources of the Tanais river toward the unknown land as far as the indicated terminus+ (Ptolemy 3,5,10, page 79 of Stevenson’s translation). Ptolemy must have believed that the Rhipaean mountains existed in the real world since he provides latitude and longitude for them: 63o and 57o 30′ (page 79 of Stevenson). This is not to suppose that the figures were accurate: another thousand years needed to pass before longitude could be measured (see Aujac, Jones, Mahoney, Quill for further references).
However we must not denigrate the ancients’ hopeless theories since they enable us to establish their actual knowledge on the subject of Eastern lands. *Was man aber in Wirklichkeit vom Don wusste, beschränkt sich einzig und allein auf das Mündungsgebiet des Tanais; sein Mittel- und Oberlauf waren gänzlich unbekannt+ (Beckers 1914:539).
There is only one significant chain of mountains in this Northern region: the Urals. Therefore, the Urals must be the Rhipaean mountains. True, ancient informants provided geographers with confused information on its location, which explains Strabo’s disbelief. However, even though they were ignorant of their location, ancient travellers knew correctly that some very important mountains existed in that general area.
Ancient geographers seemed to have imagined the world as a series of concentric circles, with the Ocean Stream on the outside. Since Scythia was as far north as one could go, and since the Rhipaean mountains were some distance away from the Pontic belt, they must have been very far north; within this framework, an Eastern location for the Rhipaean mountains would have made no sense to them. To Claudian, the North Pole was the Rhipaean Pole: *at si Phoebus adest et frenis grypa iugalem // Riphaeo tripodes repetens detorsit ab axe+ (Panegyricus de sexto consulatu Honorii augusti, edited by Dewar, verses 930-931).
Ancient geography was not in any way an exact science: consider that Herodotus imagined the Danube ran north-south, instead of west-east. And yet the Danube was exceedingly well known to Greek traders, judging from archaeological remains. But Herodotus did get some of the data right: he located the source of the Danube in the lands of the Celts, and its mouth in the Black Sea; he also understood the great significance of this river. In his description of the Scyths, he mentions the Danube as their western border; since however he imagined that the Danube ran North-South (like the Nile) and not West-East, his description still confuses his readers today. While discussing the Nile, Herodotus provides incidentally some information on the source of the Danube [the Ister] which has been misread since the days of Aristotle:
The Ister *flows from the land of the Celtae and the city of Pyrene through the very midst of Europe; now the Celtae dwell beyond the pillars of Heracles, being neighbours of the Cynesii, who are the westernmost of all nations inhabiting Europe. The Ister, then, flows clean across Europe and ends its course in the Euxine sea, at Istria, which is inhabited by Milesian colonists+ (2.33).
He repeats part of this information once more later in his Histories:
*for the Ister traverses the whole of Europe, rising among the Celts who, save only the Cynetes, are the most westerly dwellers in Europe, and flowing thus clean across Europe it issues forth along the borders of Scythia+ (4.49)
In his Meteorologica, a century later, Aristotle corrected what he thought was a mistake in Herodotus:
*From Pyrenê (this is a mountain range towards the equinoctial sunset in Celtice) there flow the Istrus and the Tartessus. The latter flows into the sea outside the Pillars of Heracles, the Istrus flows right across Europe into the Euxine+ (1,13).
Aristotle’s mistake was picked up over a hundred years ago by historians of the Celts: *Toutefois, il faut observer qu’Hérodote parle d’une ville de Pyrène, et non d’une montagne de ce nom; il est donc possible qu’il n’ait pas commis l’erreur où l’auteur des Météorologiques est certainement tombé+ (Bertrand and Reinach 1894:8).
Pyrene, according to Herodotus, was a city close to the source of the Danube; therefore it must be sought in the Alps, possibly the archaeological site known today as Die Heuneburg. Excavated from 1950 to 1979 (Kimmig 1985), this ancient city was located on the west bank of the Danube between Sigmaringen and Ulm. Its location and its importance for trade make it a prime candidate for Herodotus’ Pyrene. By the days of Aristotle, the First Celtic Empire (known to archaeologists as the Hallstatt Culture) had come to an end; the Second Empire flourished (the La Tène Culture); Pyrene was now abandoned, and Aristotle did not know it had ever existed. He confused the name of a forgotten city with the name of a mountain range still current today.
The Cynesii or Cynetes who lived west of the Celts are difficult to locate if one assumes that Herodotus uses the locator west as we would today. But if we look at Europe in this period, the only large ethnic group beyond the Celts were the Northern Germans: Frisians, Angles, Saxons, Scandinavians. In our terms they were North-West of the Celts; since they were the only substantial ethnic group outside of Keltike, they must be the people Herodotus know as Cynesii/Cynetes. It is difficult to link them with nations known during the day of Roman domination over Western Europe because *their name disappears early from geography+ (How and Wells 1:178)
What was the land of the Celts in the days of Herodotus? Archaeology provides the answer: *the wholly or partially Celtic world from Iberia to the Carpathians+ (Piggott 220). That its flowering was contemporary with Herodotus is clear from the same author: *The last phase of Celtic culture in Europe, a mature stage of which constituted the Celts as known to the Greek, and soon the Roman world, begins in archaeological terms around 500 B.C. The date is determined by the Etruscan and Greek objects found in graves+ (215). It is also possible to determine its focus: *But with the chieftains’ chariot-burials and other graves with rich offerings including Etruscan and Greek imports (notably bronze wine-flagons) the archaeological phase of La Tène begins in the Rhineland and almost concurrently in the Marne+ (215f).
The Celts were the Scyths’ Western neighbours. In the days of Herodotus, the lower Danube and the Vistula formed the border of Scythia in the West. The Danube was known to him, but not the Vistula. These boundaries were later blurred by upheavals in the Celtic world, altered by Roman advances beyond the Danube, and later when the Goths gained power over the Pontic steppe. In the days of Orosius, Gothic power had fallen, and Attila had not yet established his rule over the region. To situate these chapters of Pontic history within the context of Mediterranean affairs, let us note that Roman advances in Dacia took place under Trajan (for his reign, see De la Berge); the loss of Dacia to the Goths happened under Aurelian (see Homo for this emperor).
On the subject of Scythian geography, most ancient sources are so deficient on the Rhipaean mountains that they merely report on their existence, and their association with the Scyths. Orosius’ near contemporary, the ecclesiastical historian Philostorgius testifies that these mountains were associated with the Huns of Scythia: *eien d’an hoi Ounnoi hous hoi palaioi Neurous erônomazon, kai para ta Rhipaia katôkêmenoi orê, ex hôn ho Tanaïs eis tên Maiôtida limnên kata suromenos to rheithron ekdidôsin+ (9,17). The geographical markers which Philostorgius provides for the Huns, known to the ancients as Neuroi, are the Sea of Azov (Palus Maiotis), the Don river and the Rhipaean Mountains. Later authors, including the poet Avitus, cited above, were not as scientific as Strabo, but they had better information on the geography of the Pontic steppe.
Other sources agree with them, such as Justin, Histories: *Scythia autem in orientem porrecta includitur ab uno latere Ponto, ab altero montibus Riphaeis, a tergo Asia et Phasi flumine. Multum in longitudinem et latitudinem patet. Hominibus inter se nulli fines+ (11,2,1-3). Justin (or his source Trogus Pompeius) makes correctly the Rhipaean mountains the limit of Scythia, even if he is a little off in his orientation.
The court poet Claudian mentions the Hun raids of AD 395 in his two savage invectives against Eutropius, Praetorian Prefect at Constantinople, of whom he left *un portrait aussi sombre que célèbre+ (Demougeot 185). The noted late imperial scholar Alan Cameron has described the content of this malicious propaganda as *nil+ but it does offer some geographical data, albeit couched in poetic terms. *The new geographical knowledge, at least so far as a name of tribe or river, was not scorned by the Roman poets as it had largely been by their Alexandrian models, Empire was too glamorous to resist [...] Lucan’s excesses are well known+ (Mayer 1986:54).
First however a quick survey of the political situation which informs Claudian’s invectives. The Hunnish raids of 395 had a profound impact upon the Empire’s internal affairs; yet we do not know how they happened. The Eastern prefect Rufinus, holding office in Constantinople, is alleged by some of his contemporaries to have masterminded this devastation of his own provinces though this claim has not gone unchallenged: *The rumor that Rufinus had invited the barbarians to attack the Empire out of sheer malice is, of course, absurd, but that it gained credence is a proof of Rufinus’ unpopularity+ (Levy 1935:23/1971:241).
Rufinus’ accusers were the rival court of the Western Emperor Honorius, his Prefect Stilico and their official poet Claudian. Stilico may have engineered the raids himself for the purpose of discrediting Rufinus and gaining control of Constantinople. Stilico’s rule is marked by deleterious involvement in the affairs of the East; there would be nothing surprising in such an action. .As pointed out by Greatrex and Greatrex *Stilicho at this time still held control of both the eastern and western field armies+ (71). He had plenty of contacts with the nations beyond the borders who were a reservoir of mercenaries.
Rufinus’ failure to protect his provinces from the Huns cost him his job and his life. His successor was the eunuch Eutropius whose appointment triggered another spate of invectives from the Western court, again in relation with the Huns. Claudian, Stilico’s propagandist, presents the eunuch Eutropius as biologically unfit to deal with the Hun menace, yet Eutropius did just that: he scored a lasting victory over them. One scholar has commented: *Stilicho may well have envied Eutropius’s freedom to take the reward of a consulate for his success against the Huns in Armenia+ (Long 237). What else but envy could have motivated such a vicious attack — regardless of literary merit — upon a man who had just delivered the empire from a serious danger?
While all scholars who have worked on these invectives agree that they are politically biased and nearly worthless as historical sources, they do contain geographical allusions which are congruent with Claudian’s contemporaries. This is not surprising: political fabrications need to contain some truth if they will be believed. After their raid of AD 395, the Huns brought back many captives from Rome’s Eastern provinces, and Claudian tells us exactly where they took them: north of the Sea of Azov. *Beyond the Cimmerian marshes, defence of the Tauric tribes, the youth of Syria are slaves+ (In Eutropium I:242-250). However, he does not blame the Huns themselves for the raids, but the Prefect Eutropius, as he indicates with poetic allusions: *Seek not now thy foe on Riphaeus’ heights: what boots it to rouse the storm of war amid Caucasia’s ravines?+ (In Eutropium II:151f, cited from the Loeb translation by Platnauer). Here again we meet the same cluster of names: Huns, Scyths, Rhipaean Mountains, Palus Maiotis, etc.
A rough contemporary of Claudian, Marcian, author of a Periplus dated to possibly AD 400 by Schoff, adds one detail to the geography of the Huns. *The region about the Borysthenes beyond the Alani is inhabited by the so-called European Chuni+ (II:39 transl: Schoff). It is not clear why Marcian uses the qualifyer European for the Chuni; he could be using the name of the Huns as synonymous with Scythian, in which case European means *west of the Tanais+; he could indicate that he does not mean the Chuni / Khyoni of Peshawar. However, the mention of the Borysthenes and the Alans makes the identification secure.
Ancient geographers knew little about Scythia and even less about the lands beyond the Urals. Their ignorance, however, was neither absolute, nor impenetrable and we can now return to the Choamani mentioned by Pliny and Mela. Assuming that the Choamani were the Hsiung-nu (indeed a rival of the Chinese in the days of Pliny and Mela), and that echoes of their wealth and power had reached the Romans of the Principate… how could Mediterranean geographers fit this Altaic nation into the inherited scheme of Greek geography which assigned to China the space from the Urals to the Himalaya? The answer is easy: they could not. They could only squeeze these Mongolian peoples inland amongst the nations of Inner Asia, the Bactrians and Paropanisadae so well known since the days of Alexander of Macedon.
Having blocked out the edges of Eurasia with the Scyths and the Seres, Mela then places inland the various nations he knows inhabit the gorgeous East: Gandarans, Sogdians, etc… including the Hsiung-nu (assuming that these are the people whom he calls Choamani). The Hsiung-nu were actually north west of the Chinese, and should have been listed between the Scyths and the Seres, as bordering on the Northern Ocean — still keeping to the Procrustean bed of a World Ocean and nations settled along its shore. Not only Pliny or Mela: Strabo may also be a witness for the Hsiung-nu.
When describing the nations north of the schematic Taurus, the oriental Cordillera which according to ancient geographers divided Asia into north and south regions, Strabo mentions a people whose name is uncertain. Editors have tentatively restored Thoanes and Soanes; they have however overlooked a manuscript reading, Choanes, which was brought to my notice by the noted Strabo expert, Sarah Pothecary. Strabo mentions these Soanes/ Thoanes/ Choanes twice in his text, and once more in the lost Proem of his Book Eleven. Here is the most significant entry:
*Near them are the Soanes [Thoanes, Choanes], who are no less filthy, but superior to them in power, ‑‑ indeed, one might almost say that they are foremost in courage and power. At any rate, they are masters of the peoples around them, and hold possession of the heights of the Caucasus above Dioscurias. They have a king and a council of three hundred men, and they assemble, according to report, an army of two hundred thousand; for the whole of the people are a fighting force, though unorganized. It is said that in their country gold is carried down by the mountain torrents…+ (11,2,19).
First we need to address the phonological issue: was the correct reading Soanes, Thoanes, Choanes? Some sort of fricative is indicated but the variants do not appear to be meaningful: alternate spellings are found for various ethnic names in various authors. Priscian’s paraphrase of Dionysios shows this (v 705: Thynoi vs Ounoi for the Hounnoi, ed: Woestijne 1953). Marcian of Heracleia has both Sinae and Thinae for what is presumably China: *the people of the Sinae [beyond the Ganges], whose metropolis, which is called Thinae+ (‘I;16, ed: Schoff). Even if we could recover the exact sound, a hopeless quest, this would not help with the identification. Geographical profiling provides more secure grounds.
In 11,2,14 Strabo places the Soanes/ Thoanes/ Choanes in the same general region as the Armenians, the Iberians, the Hyrcanians (modern Mazanderan). Therefore scholars have sought a Caucasian nation to represent these unknown people. This, I think, was a mistake. The Soanes/ Thoanes/ Choanes were an empire ruling over various other people; they were rich in fighting men and gold. Had they been immediate neighbours of the Romans and the Parthians, the pages of Roman history would be filled with conflicts involving the Soanes/ Thoanes/ Choanes. They are not: no single mention of them occur in the history of Rome’s expansionist wars.
The Soanes/ Thoanes/ Choanes then did not dwell in the Caucasian region AS WE SEE IT. Therefore we need to interpret Strabo’s point of vantage. Strabo divides the area north of his abstract Taurus into three: the nomad Scyths of Tanais; the Massagetae north of the Caspian; and the third region which includes the Armenians, the Iberians, and east of them, the Hyrcanians. Into this third region, he places the otherwise unknown Soanes/ Thoanes/ Choanes. Since his unrealistic physical geography involves an open gulf for the Caspian body of water, and a solid chain of mountains south of it, his human geography is totally dislocated.
I propose a dwelling place for the Choanes roughly north of the Pamir, east of both the Hyrcanians and the Massagetae. Since Strabo mistakenly believed that the Massagetae were neighbours of the Chinese, he could not locate the Soanes/ Thoanes/ Choanes in that region. But we know, having access to oriental sources, that the Chinese were not immediate neighbours of the Massagetae; we know that the unruly semi-nomadic but rich and powerful state of the Hsiung-nu lay between them; it is mentioned frequently by Chinese historians, amongst them Ssi-ma Tsien.
With our knowledge of Chinese sources, it is impossible for us, as it was for Strabo, to place China on the border of the Massagetae; the historical records likewise demand that we remove the mysterious Soanes/ Thoanes/ Choanes from the immediate vicinity of the Roman empire. Strabo’s scheme for Asia requires a northern location for these people. Any argument concerning the Soanes/ Thoanes/ Choanes must respect these fixed points.
Furthermore, we can compare the Soanes/ Thoanes/ Choanes with the Hsiung-nu of the Chinese sources for points of contact and similarity. They are numerous: a powerful empire, indeed an empire of the first rank, rich in gold and fighting men, in a northern location. The rivers which bear gold nuggets could be those from the Altai mountains. Another detail: the Hsiung-nu lived in well padded tents in a very inhospitable climate; they had neither city baths nor warm streams or lakes for the daily ablutions so dear to the fastidious Greeks, Persians and Chinese. This probably accounts for the strictures on the personal hygiene of the Hsiung-nu by the Chinese, and on the Soanes/ Thoanes/ Choanes by Strabo.
Pliny, Mela, Strabo… another author from the Principate may also be reporting on the Khyôn / Hsiung-nu: Dionysius Periegetes. Writing under Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138), he lists the following Northern nations: *Primi sunt enim Scythae, quiqui cronium prope mare maritimam oram incolunt ad ostium Caspii maris; deinceps Hunni; post hos Caspiorum natio, ac deinde feroces Albani, quique super asperam terram habitant Cadusi; prope Mardi, Hyrcanii, Tapyri…+ (Bernhardy’s translation, verses 727-734).
Bunbury comments on Dionysius: *A still more celebrated name is found for the first time in this little poem — that of the Huns — if indeed an obscure tribe mentioned by our author on the east side of the Caspian, under the name of Unni, be correctly identified with that far-famed people+ (2:486). We cannot agree entirely with Bunbury: if the Unni mentioned here had been totally obscure and insignificant, Dionysius would not have mentioned them in a school text.
The chief difficulty in dealing with Dionysius is that he places his Unni east of the Caspian Sea. In the notes to his edition of Dionysius, Bernhardy deemed this confusion to be a problem of text transmission (514f). However, perhaps this is correct, and Dionysius’ Unni were not the Huns of the Maeotic region but the Hsiung-nu neighbours of the Chinese. Whoever his Unni were exactly, he includes them in the same Caucasian list as Strabo’s third region, where the Choanes/ Soanes/ Thoanes dwell.
Ptolemy, dated AD 172, mentions a nation bearing a similar name, the Khounoi (Geographia 3,5,25); they lived between the Bastarnae and the Rhoxolani, north of the Crimea; the Rhoxolani are presumably the Alans of the Volga, Rha being an older name for that river: *between the Basternae and the Rhoxolani are the Chuni, and below the mountains named from these are the Amadoci and the Navari+ (page 80 in Stevenson). These Khounoi must be Attila’s ancestors: the location just north of the Sea of Azov is attested by many writers of the fourth century, Ammianus, Jerome, Claudian, etc.
It should be noted that Dionysius and Ptolemy wrote after the conquest of Dacia by the Romans; this brought the Empire closer to the nations of the Pontic steppe, one of which was that of the Huns. Conquests benefited geographical science as Strabo testifies (I,2,1). Pliny the Younger counted this expertise as one of Trajan’s merits: *Dix ans sous les drapeaux t’ont permis d’apprendre les moeurs des peuples, la géographie des régions, les opportunités des lieux et les différences de température des eaux et des climats+ (Panegyric of Trajan 15,3, in Durry’s elegant translation).
The readings I propose are possible if one accepts that the Choamani or Choani may have been the Hsiung-nu. I do not wish to persuade my audience that this hypothesis is proven, only that it exists. Pelliot writes concerning the well-known Türki medieval nation of the Comans: *au milieu du XIe siècle … les Petchénègues unis aux Ouz sont pour la première fois désignés par les écrivains byzantins sous le nom inexpliqué de Komanoi… au XIIe siècle, Edrisi parle des Qoman … aussi Michel le Syrien+ (1920:133). Pelliot evaluated and rejected the identification of the Hsiung-nu with the Comans for reasons which are not fully articulated. Since both nations demonstrably spoke Türki languages, this hypothesis deserves consideration.
On the face of it, it seems unlikely that a name might be recorded by Strabo, Pliny and Mela, and then disappear from the historical record for a thousand years, which is what may have happened to the Choamani / Comani / Hsiung nu. However, we do have the example of Paktyïkê, recorded in Herodotus for the region around the Kabul river (3,202; 4,44), a very ancient name which has left only a faint trace throughout the centuries and survives today for the Pashtun. This identification was made a century ago and is recorded in How and Wells’ commentary on Herodotus: Pactyice *perhaps survives in Pushtoo, the Afghans’ name for themselves+ (1928:1:289; 1:319).
These issues require much more research. For the purpose of this particular piece on Orosius, however, I simply want to establish that the political evolution of the nations listed in his Geography have a bearing on the date of his sources. If the Choamani known to Pliny and Mela, and the Choanes possibly described by Strabo can be proven to be the Hsiung nu known to the Chinese, then they are the same nation known as Chyonitae, Khyon, etc in the days of Orosius, except that they (or at least an important contingent of them) have now migrated from Siberia or the Chinese Turkistan to Peshawar.
Were the Chyonitai of Peshawar the Huns whom Attila made famous? Janvier considered this unlikely. The Chyonitai who established themselves at Peshawar during the mid fourth century soon became a rich, powerful and famous people who eventually conquered vast regions of India and traded with their Chinese and Iranian neighbours. Ammianus mentions them and their king Grumbates as allies of the Persians at the siege of Amida in 369 (19,1,7) But the Chyonitai cannot be the people who raided Palestine in the days of Jerome, and incidentally cost Prefect Rufinus his job and his life. As one of the most educated people of his days, Jerome is quite specific about the raiders who disturbed his scholarly solitude at Bethlehem, and their movements.
Jerome describes the raids in two letters. His Huns did not come from Peshawar, traversing the whole of Iran; they came from north of the Crimea, over the Caucasus. *The East, it is true, seemed to be safe from all such evils: and if men were panic-stricken here, it was only because of bad news from other parts. But lo! in the year just gone by [AD 395], the wolves (no longer of Arabia but of the whole North) were let loose upon us from the remotest fastnesses of Caucasus and in a short-time overran these great provinces+ (Letter 60,16).
Recollecting these traumatic events a few years later, Jerome adds: *For news came that the hordes of the Huns had poured forth all the way from Maeotis (they had their haunts between the icy Tanais and the rude Massagetae where the gates of Alexander [i.e. the Caspian Gates], keep back the wild peoples behind the Caucasus); and that, speeding hither and thither on their nimble-footed horses, they were filling all the world with panic and bloodshed+ (Letter 77, dated AD 400).
There is considerable agreement amongst authors contemporary with the events, not only on the geography but on the ethnography of the Huns. In his commentary on the Prophet Isaiah, Jerome points out that the Assyrians and the Chaldeans are no longer the instruments of God’s wrath but *feras gentes et quondam nobis incognitas, quarum et vultus et sermo terribilis est, et femineus incisasque facies praeferentes virorum+ (In Isaiam 7,21). It has long been recognized that this passage refers to the Huns: ritual scarification and the newness of the exposure seal the identification.
The barbarian threat was a powerful commonalty. In his De Regno, Synesius of Cyrene mocks the once powerful Empire now trembling from the menace of barbarians crossing the rivers which form its borders. In the commentary on his translation of Synesius, Lacombrade realizes the Huns are included amongst the dangerous nations, but he fails to factor in all the information. He translates Synesius: *ces derniers … ont … parfois même altéré leurs traits par artifice afin de simuler je ne sais quelle horrible race nouvellement sortie de terre+ (1951:54f). Lacombrade notes: *Au mépris de la vérité ethnographique, l’orateur ici attribue à l’artifice ce que la physionomie des Huns a de repoussant+ (55n92). Here Synesius is referring to the same feature which was noted by Jerome: ritual scarification. Lacombrade missed it, and charged Synesius with ethnographic incompetence.
Jerome agrees with his contemporaries. I have already mentioned Claudian’s notorious invectives and their allusions to the Huns: the pagan poet is in agreement with St Jerome the great Christian scholar. The recent raids in Cappadocia, the Cimmerian marshes (i.e. the Sea of Azov), the reference to the Riphaean mountains, the invasion over the Caucasus, all these point unambiguously to the Huns though they are not named. There is nothing in Claudian which would place the Huns on the confines of India.
The raids of 395 took the Romans by surprise but the Huns were not unfamiliar with the Near East. Writing shortly before these raids, Ammianus notes on the Pontic people: *In their plundering and hunting expeditions [the Halani] roam here and there as far as the Maeotic Sea and the Cimmerian Bosporus, and also to Armenia and Media+ (31,2,21). In the sources, the Alani and the Huns are often cited in the same breath; the mountain trails of the Caucasus seemed to have been well known to the nomads of the steppe who coveted the riches of the Orient.
Moreover, the Huns had considerable familiarity with the Roman empire since they frequently served as mercenaries. Bishop Synesius of Cyrene describes some military action against nomads from the Sahara in which the Roman commander used some Marcoman troups, and much valued cavalry, the Unnigardae. Synesius discusses this military campaign in his two Catastases and in his Letter 78 to Duke Anysios. The origin of these documents composed by Synesius is unclear: they may be extracts from an official speech in praise of the military governor since katastasis is the rhetorical term for *narrative+ but the letter to the military governor provides the historical context. *Synésius ne cesse de demander à Constantinople … des renforts Unnigardes, cavaliers hors de pair .. à identifier … avec les Hunigari de Jordanès+ (Lacombrade 1951a:106). This may be the earliest written record of the name Hungarian, unless the Ourgoi/Oungroi (spelling uncertain) whom Strabo places at the mouth of the Danube be the same as the Unnigardae (7,3,17).
We have additional confirmation from sources which are neither Greek nor Roman: had the Huns who raided Syria-Palestine come from Peshawar, their activities would have been mentioned in Oriental sources. What we do find however are references to invasions of Roman lands, but not further East. The following is from the Chronicle of Edessa, ’40, edited by Guidi with a Latin translation: *Eodem anno [= AD 397] mense tammûz (iulio), Hunni in Romanorum ditionem transgressi sunt.+ Had they come from Peshawar, the Huns would have cut a trail of devastation across Persia before reaching the Romans and the Syrians.
The Syriac Chronicle of AD 724 reports also that at least parts of Armenia were ravaged in the course of the same raids. In the year of Theodosius’ death [i.e. AD 395], the chronicler writes: *Et hoc ipso anno, venit populus maledictus Hunnorum in regiones Romanorum et peragrarunt Sophenen, Armeniam, Mesopotamiam, Syriam, Cappadociam ad Gallatiam usque; captivos plurimos abduxerunt, et regressi sunt ut reverterent in regionem suam+ (edited and translated by Brooks and Chabot, 106). Here again one finds no mention of Persian provinces being overrun by Oriental invaders.
Though he leaves them out of his cosmography, the Huns who raided the Eastern Provinces were known also to Orosius: he reports on them and their conflicts in his narrative (7,33,10; 7:34,5; 7,37,3; 7,37,12; 7:41,8). Of the fifty-four nations which fill Rome’s Northern European border, from the Don to the Arctic Ocean, he only mentions the Alans, who were the easternmost, settled north of the Caucasus, the Goths of Dacia, and the Suebi of the Upper Rhine (I:2,52-53). The conflicts which Orosius reports pitted the Huns against the Goths, and later against the Alans (VII:33,10; VII:37,3). This would situate the Huns between the Alans and the Goths, i.e. in the Crimea, and in the lands north of the Sea of Azov, where Jerome also places them. Ammianus mentions these same conflits between the Huns and their neighbours; according to him, they attacked the Goths in AD 376 (31,12).
Since the ancient name of the Massagetae was sometimes used for the more recent Alans, we have another point of reference with Jerome’s Epistle 77,8: he makes the Huns neighbours of the Massagetae of the Don. So does Ammianus describing the nations of Scythia, including the Huns and the Alans: *the Halani, once known as the Massagetae+ (31,2,12).
Janvier’s purpose in studying the cosmography of Orosius was to understand the author himself, and his grasp of geography. He deliberately avoided issues of Quellenforschung which occupied previous generations (1982:140). However there is a gap here in the history of the scholarship. Earlier studies overlooked Orosius’ passage on the Chuni of Peshawar because they assumed that it referred to the well-known Huns, the ancestors of Attila. This is plainly impossible, since Attila and his Huns did not come from Peshawar, but from the steppe north of the Crimea. This leaves one question of Quellenforschung wide open: where did Orosius obtain this information on the Chuni of Peshawar?
On the subject of the Chuni in faraway Peshawar, Orosius was surprisingly up-to-date: they had migrated from China’s North Western border about a century earlier. Concerning the invasive Goths, however, Orosius’ cosmography was totally out of date: he recorded them as being in Dacia, which indeed they were… until they were driven out by the Huns in the mid 370’s, as surely he knew.
On the basis of these two elements of his cosmography, namely the Chyonitae of Peshawar and the Goths in Dacia, one would be tempted to date this half book of Orosius to the years between AD 350 and 374, i.e. after the settlement of the Chyonitai in the region of Peshawar, but before the exodus of the Goths from Dacia. But of course Orosius, a young priest in AD 417, was not even born then.
Could Orosius have borrowed his cosmography, without providing essential updates, from an author who did write during those years, an author well versed in Oriental affairs? Ammianus comes to mind; like Orosius, he may have included a cosmography in his first book, now lost (for the lost books of Ammianus, see Michael 1880). In about AD 415, Orosius spent more than a year in Palestine, visiting with the great Christian philologist, Saint Jerome, *sitting at his feet+ as he himself records in his Liber apologeticus (3,2). As literary studies have established, Jerome had access to Ammianus’ Res gestae, including presumably the lost books. Sir Ronald Syme shows, convincingly I think, that Jerome read and admired Ammianus, and was inspired by him (1968:17-24). Through Jerome, Orosius had access to the works of Ammianus. These issues of literary history take us far from the Huns, and I will return to them in a separate article.
We still need to account for a problem of geography in Orosius. We note a paradox between the Crimean Huns mentioned in the narrative but not in the cosmography, and the Peshawar Chyonitai who make an appearance in the cosmography but play no role in the narrative; these discrepancies are frequent in the Histories: *il y a un décalage important entre le chapitre I,2 et les autres chapitres et livres des Historiae. D’une part, la majorité des noms géographiques figurant en I,2 n’ont pas resservi dans le reste de l’ouvrage; [...] D’autre part et inversement les Historiae fourmillent de noms géographiques amenés par le récit des événements, mais qu’Orose n’a pas situé au préalable dans son bref tableau de l’oecoumène+ (Janvier 1982:138). If Orosius simply copied a cosmography drafted by Ammianus for his own very different Histories, the discrepancies need not surprise us.
If we attribute Orosius’ geographic excursus to Ammianus, we can also account for its up-to-date description of the lands and nations on the Eastern borders of the Persian empire; while Orosius had no particular reason to be interested in these people, Ammianus was demonstrably well informed about them; he mentioned them frequently in the surviving books of his narrative. He mentions the ruler of the Chyonitai by name (Grumbates, 19,1,7); he makes a reference to an eclipse of the sun in 360 which was not visible west of Kabul (20,3; see Büdinger 1896).
These geographic questions must be settled in order to read Orosius accurately. Arnaud-Lindet who edited him did not address them: *Les Alains, pour leur part, venaient de la région caspienne, où leur empire avait été détruit par les Huns en 375 en même temps que l’état gotique d’Ukraine+ (3:147, note 3 on VII:38). The note does not match the text: Orosius mentions separate conflicts; he does not indicate that the Huns destroyed the Alans and the Goths at the same time, nor does he make the Huns the aggressors. Since by all accounts, the Huns were sandwiched between the Goths and the Alans, the Huns could not possibly have destroyed both neighbours *en même temps+; one after the other perhaps, but not at the same time.
According to the *Mongolian+ hypothesis first propounded in the eighteenth century, the Huns of Southern Russia and the Chyonitai (Xwn, Hûna) of Peshawar were two branches of a single nation who emigrated from a single point. One of its leading advocates writes: *Les Huns n’apparaissent en réalité dans l’histoire [occidentale] que vers 375, au moment où, franchissant le Tanaïs (le Don) qui leur servait de limite, ils se jettent en Germanie et sur l’empire romain+ (Drouin 1887:406). There is a fatal flaw in this argument : Drouin never considered the geographical implications; he overlooked the fourth century sources testifying that the Huns lived not east but west of the Tanais.
Before invading the Near East over the Caucasus, the Huns needed to cross the Tanais eastwards, into the territory of the Alans, their usual allies. Of the Huns and their raids against Armenia, Syria, Cappadocia in 395, Claudian writes: *Est genus extremos Scythiae vergentis in ortus // Trans gelidum Tanain, quo non animosus ullum // Arctos alit+ (In Rufinum liber primus verses 323-324). As I have demonstrated earlier, Ammianus (an older contemporary of Claudian) believed that there were only two Northern nations: the Scyths and the Seres, separated by a vast mountain range. The Huns were Scyths, dwelling across the Tanais from the Alans; since they were Scyths living in Scythia, they did not come for anywhere else.
In order to accept Drouin’s claim, we must discard all evidence that the Huns were established in the Pontic steppe north of the Crimean much earlier than AD 374. I have cited St Jerome, the greatest scholar of his generation. In Letter 77, paragraph 8, he writes: *Herodotus informs me that this people [the Huns] had held the East in captivity for 20 years under Darius, King of the Medes+. Concerning this passage, a noted expert on Late Antiquity, Palanque, comments: *Jerome’s account is in need of certain qualifications. These Mongolian Huns [...] were certainly not the descendants of the Scythian tribes who had invaded western Asia in the seventh century B.C.+ (1952:181). So Palanque believes… without evidence to support it.
Philostorgius, an ecclesiastic historian belonging to a sect most inimical to Jerome, supports this statement: *eien d’an hoi Ounnoi hous hoi palaioi Neurous erônomazon+ (9,17). Philostorgius claims that the Huns were descended from the Neuroi *of old+, i.e. the Neuroi of Herodotus. Neither man needed to consult Herodotus directly; this information had lasting currency. Ptolemy (second century of the Christian era) also placed the Huns and the Neuroi (Navaroi) in the same region (3,5,25). Now I cannot prove that these authors were correct; but I can demonstrate that they are in agreement on the Huns, whether Pagans or Christians, and amongst Christians, Orthodox, schismatics, and heretics. Before we can reject their testimony, we need evidence, not some unsupported hypothesis. Palanque fails to provide any.
The Mongolian hypothesis is refractory to evidence. According to Kingsmill, one of its most passionate supporters, Dr Hirth, *sought to find additional evidence in favour of the long exploded error of Deguignes that the Hiung Nu of the old Chinese writers were to be identified with the Hunni of Ammianus Marcellinus. Deguignes confessed that his surmise arose only from the superficial and apparent resemblance of their names+ (1901/02:136). What Kingsmill did not add is this: the Hsiung-nu correspond not to the Hunni in Ammianus, but to the Chyonitai in the same author. Any hypothesis which would make the Huns and the Chionitae two branches of one nation, separated in the fourth century, must founder on the evidence of Ammianus who reports on both… without any indication that he thought them to be related.
In the above cited article *Hunni+, Kiessling presents the case made by Deguignes and Hirth in favour of the Mongolian hypothesis, but not the rebuttals by Klaproth, Kingsmill, etc (2584f). A fair survey of the scholarship requires presenting both sides by someone who has mastered both the Eastern nor the Western sources, or takes care to rely upon those who have done so. Kiessling does not present a fair survey. There are many problems connected with the *Mongolian+ hypothesis, one being the absence of the Siberian regions from ancient maps, which would make the Huns of Southern Russia neighbours of China, and the migration plausible. Other aspects require attention.
Historical linguistics provides tools to assist the recovery of the pre-history of the steppe nations. To illustrate: if we look at the British Isles today, we can see that Celtic is a marginal language group (at the risk of offending my Irish, Scottish, Cornish, and Welsh readers); but when we look at evidence from the past, for instance place names, we can see that, once, Celtic must have dominated the islands. London (Lugdunum) is only one of many thousands such survivals. The Celtic groups became marginalized when new comers, mostly Germanic (Angles, Saxons, Frisians, Danes, etc), invaded Britain, gained power and drove out or assimilated the older population. There is nothing unique about this: the phenomena are found all over the world.
The ancient dwellers of the Pontic steppe did not use writing, at least not in their own language; however, their linguistic remains point in one direction — Finno-Ugrian. Ancient toponyms such as Rha for the Volga, pre-Slavic names such as Kiev, Neva, Moskva, are Finno-Ugrian; many Hunnish names, like Uldin, the trans-Danubian native prince who delivered Gainas’ head to Emperor Arcadius, are Finno-Ugrian (Zosimus 5,22). The same ruler’s name turns up also in the Annotations of Ekkehart in a manuscript of Orosius under the passage 7,37,15: *atque in nostros] milites Honorii et Huldin et Saron+ (edited by Clark 1932:35).
Decisive evidence for the language of the Scyths is found in Hungarian whose bearers migrated to the West in the late ninth century from the Pontic steppe. The tenth century chronicler Regino of Prüm reports on this and he is supported by ninth century sources such as the Bavarian Geographer, the Anonymous Cosmographer of Ravenna, and the Old English translation of Orosius, made under King Alfred, who all place Onogoria in the Pontic belt (for sources and references, see Pétrin 1998:49ff).
In their article on the ancestry of Odoacer, the fifth century ruler, Reynolds and Lopez addressed the confusion over the Pontic nations. Was Odoacer a Torcilingus, or a Scirus, or a Hun, or were these ethnic names equivalent, and were these people Germanic or something else — those were some of the questions they posed.
They wrote: *As far as etymologies go, however, it is not difficult at all to suggest them, if the starting assumption is that the Torcilingi were some sort of Turks+ (39). If by Turks, one means an Altaic people, the linguistic brothers of the present day Turks, descendants of the Ottoman Turks, that possibility does not exist.
The name Türki for Altaic speakers is recent; it is not attested before AD 700 (see Chavannes on the Chinese sources). It occurs in the Ienissei valley, not amongst the Khyôn of Inner Asia, or their Avar offshoots along the Danube. While the language of the Avars contains some vocabulary, such as Khagan, which belongs to the family we moderns know as the Altaic Türki, these people did not call themselves Türki but Khyôn or Obri, or Abares, or Hephthalites. The name Türki apparently did not exist in the mid sixth century when they emigrated; when it does appear, it is not on record for Inner Asia, but for Siberia. Concerning these, Parker writes *the recently discovered Turkish inscriptions of over a thousand years ago, deciphered by Professor Dr. Vilhelm Thomsen, of Copenhagen, and the Russian academician Dr. Radloff, of St. Petersburg, give as the national name the four letters T Ü R K, repeated over and over again, and in such a way as in meaning to correspond indubitably with the mutilated Chinese form t’u-küe, tut-kut, or tolkol, as they sound in different provinces to the ear of today+ (1896:433).
The Hsiung-nu, a powerful neighbour of China in the days of the Han dynasty, were known centuries earlier than the Turks of the Orkhon valley; they too spoke a Türki language (as we can tell from their linguistic remains), but the Hsiung-nu were not called by the name Türki. Turkic is the name which we moderns give this branch of Altaic languages on the basis of a usage unrecorded before the seventh century of the Christian era, but very common in our own days.
Torcilingus, the ethnic name applied to Odoacer, is connected with the Tauric peninsula. The name Tauros for the Crimea is attested since time immemorial, along with such variants as Toretai, Torkoi, Torkhoi. The Torks, already known to Pliny, are still mentioned in Medieval Russian chronicles and in the Slavic life of Constantine the Philosopher, also known as St. Cyril, who created the Slavic literary language. The name Tourkoi given to the Magyars by Constantine Porphyrogenitus in the De Administrando Imperio refers to this ancient Crimean nation and has nothing to do with the Altaic people whom we now know as the Turks, for instance the Ottoman Turks (for all references see Pétrin 1998). Some twelve centuries separate the earliest appearances of these two names, the Altaic Türki and the Torki from the Crimea.
The nations of the Pontic hinterland who supplied the Greek and Iranian city states with raw materials had many names besides Torkoi/Toretai; these occur in ancient sources: Scythi, Sciri, Neuroi/Nervi/Navaroi, etc. Aytek Namitok has surveyed what slivers of evidence can be found concerning them (40ff with an extensive bibliography of ancient sources, 112f for Slavic sources).
However varied, the ancient linguistic remains from the Pontic steppe, such as Rha for the Volga, are Finno-Ugrian. Our word rhubarb (Rhos barbaricon) is derived from this source. Then there are the mysterious Rhipaean mountains, located somewhere in Scythia, which were only known by hearsay to the Greeks and the Romans. Philostorgius testifies that these mountains were associated with the Huns (9,17). Avitus, cited earlier, also connects them with the Don (*De diluvio mundi+ 441-442).
As for the Sciri, one of the suggestions made by Reynolds and Lopez is that they might have been Iranians. Impossible. Iranian languages are marked by palatalisation: Shiri might be possible, Shchiri, or something along these lines. But such names would be rendered Siri by both Latin and Greek writers; see for instance how Shapur and Ardashir turn up as Sapor and Ardasir in classical authors. Sciri like Scythi and Scrithifinni cannot be Iranian: the consonant /k/ in both points to a different linguistic system.
Location also favours the Pontic steppe for the Sciri, as Reynolds and Lopez as indicated in a source which they provide: *At some time after 300 BC … “Galatae and Sciri” tried unsuccessfully to capture Olbia [Odessa]. That is all the Protogenes Inscription has to say about the Sciri+ (40). Well, not quite: it indirectly offers also information on geography.
The *Galatai+ in this inscription were probably migrants from Central Europe looking for a new home after the collapse of Keltikê, the great Celtic empire which was eventually absorbed by the Romans. They need not have been ethnic Celts. As noted by Ellis Minns, *For most Greeks a Scythian, Skythês, was any northern barbarian from the east of Europe, just as a Galatês was any such from the West+ (1913:35). These particular Galatai could be the Goths who later established an empire in the steppe region. Using a very ancient and widespread tactic, they would recruit local vassal people in order to gain control of a commercially significant stronghold in their new territory.
As for the Galatai who conquered Olbia, we know from the archaeological remains that this city, like the whole region, became Gothic during the third century. The Goths gained control of these city states, their trade and their wealth. For the history of Olbia under Roman rule, see Slavin 1959. See also Belin de Ballu, 1972, page 167 to the end, who dates this Gothic destruction to second century (182). The westward shift of gravity, from the Crimea to Moldova, brought about the economic collapse of the Crimean Bosphorus and its Greek and Iranian city-states (Gaidukevic 1949, especially chapter 12). After the imperial revival under Emperor Diocletian and his colleagues, the Romans were now able to keep Gothic raiders out of the Balkans and out of Asia minor but they could not restore their lost power over the steppes and the city-states.
The Sciri must have lived in Olbia’s hinterland: the Pontic steppe. Otherwise the joint campaign with the Galatai makes no sense. Other information on the Sciri points in the same direction, as Reynolds and Lopez write: *About 381 and again in 408 AD [the Sciri] were combined with the Carpi, Sarmatians and Huns in affrays along the Lower Danube+ (40). The Pontic steppe is clearly indicated as their permanent base. For scholarship on Olbia (ancient Odessa), see Belin de Ballu, Gaidukevich, Slavin, Wasowicz.
Reynolds and Lopez commented: *But if there was any substance under Pliny’s text, his Sciri lived in lands now postulated to have been the ancestral homes of Baltic or Slavic tribes, or even by Finns. Perhaps etymologizing with those languages should be attempted+ (42). Yes indeed, as the name of Uldin, the slayer of Gainas, shows: he is sometimes described as a Hun chieftain, sometimes as the ruler of the Sciri, and a relative of Odoacer; this name is still found today amongst Estonians, a Finno-Ugrian people. The geography is also congruent. We are told that Gainas left the Empire, crossed the Danube, and was killed by Uldin, the leader of the Huns, who sent his head to Arcadius; the death of Gainas is dated December 23, 400 (Zosimus 5,22).
The Northern fringes of the once extensive Finno-Ugrian territories still hold speakers from that group: Finns, Estonians. Some groups were assimilated by the Russians fairly recently, such as the Permians who were converted to Christianity by St. Stephen starting in the 1370s. When Ammianus describes the Huns as occupying the territory from the Black Sea to the Arctic (31,2,1), he describes the area where Finno-Ugrian remains are still found; therefore, in this passage, he may be using the term Huns generically for the Finno-Ugrian speaking nations.
How long had the Finno-Ugrians lived in the Pontic steppe before the Huns became famous? They could have been indigenous to the area. Socrates the Scholastic who calls the Huns *neighbours+ of the Goths; this word points to an old settlement, not a recent invasion: *Not long after the barbarians [ie the Goths] had entered into a friendly alliance with one another, they were again vanquished by other barbarians, their neighbors, called the Huns+ (Socrates, 34). Orosius testifies to the same; he writes that Emperor Theodosius *attaqua sans hésiter ces très grands peuples scythes qui avaient été redoutés de tous les anciens … à savoir les Alains, les Huns et les Goths …+ (7,34,5, transl: Arnaud-Lindet, 3:94).
Synesius calls the Huns *earth-born+ (De regno 11). We have no evidence for toponyms before the Finno-Ugrians; we have no evidence that the Finno-Ugrians came from somewhere else. We have no archaeological evidence for widespread population replacement in the early Christian period; in fact, the archaeological evidence points to overall continuity for some thousands of years. The Cimmeri (Gomeri) of the Classical and Biblical world could have been Finno-Ugrians. The diversity of Finno-Ugrian survivals in our times points to an exceedingly ancient history.
The linguistic evidence provides an acid test to separate Attila’s Huns from the Hsiung-nu of Chinese sources, and the Khyon of the Iranian documents. Though most scholars ignore it, this has been known for some 150 years: *The Huns … were a race of Ugrians … The Hiong-Nu were not Ugrians. It was Klaproth … who … first proved that the Hiong-Nu were Turks+ (Howorth 1874:398). Klaproth wrote in 1836, with Rémusat.
We have no direct linguistic evidence for the Chyonitai though we do have a chain of evidence which connects them to the Hsiung-nu who spoke a Türki dialect from the great Altaic family of languages. Louis Bazin (1948) worked on the earliest Türki text in the historical record: an oracle by a Buddhist monk, Fo-tu-teng, delivered in AD 329 to a Hsiung-nu king in what is now Northwestern China (incidentally, not all the Hsiung-nu were driven out in the 310’s, but these problems are way beyond my modest article).
Bazin’s oracle is recognizably proto-Türki, even though it is only known from a Chinese transcription, and the exact value of the original has been debated for the better part of the last century (Bazin 1948; Gabain 1949). In an article dated 1944/45, Maenchen-Helfen claimed that *it is impossible to affiliate the Hsiung-nu language with one of the great linguistic families of Eurasia+ (224). This is no longer true. The evidence is unshakable: the Hsiung-nu spoke a Türki dialect. For the latest instalment on the linguistic history of the Hsiung-nu, see Horwath 2007.
Bazin’s oracle is a brief but continuous text. Loan-words of Türki origin turn up even earlier. Ssïma Tsi’én, the Herodotus of China, completed his work in BC 99 (Hirth 1917:91). In describing the events on the Western frontier, he writes that the Khan of the Hsiung-nu *made [a man named Chang Ki'en] governor of the Western ordu [city, or fortified camp]+ (Hirth’s translation 1917:100). The words khan and ordu are recognizably Türki; these words still exist today, as for instance the Golden Horde [Golden City, minus the epenthetic /h/], Kesarordu, for Constantinople, etc. The Hsiung-nu / Khyon have left no literature, only loan-words in foreign languages. These slivers however contain political vocabulary which is Türki: khan, qatun, orda… (Bazin 1948, 1953/54).
Türki loan-words into Ancient Sogdian, including the Ancient Sogdian Letters which equate the Hsiung-nu with the Xwn, provide further evidence: Chagan, Bagpur, Khatun, etc (Pelliot 1921 and 1931) . In his review of the edition of these Letters, Pelliot identifies some Uigur loan words: *Dans ce document sogdien très obscur, M. R. a déjà reconnu le nom ouigour Il[El?]bars …+ (1931:461). He also comments: *dans srgh, je suis bien tenté de reconnaître le nom de Srg = Sarag sous lequel les gens d’Asie Centrale, jusque sous les T’ang, ont toujours désigné Lo-yang+ (1931:458). Sarag means market place, as in Sarajevo in Bosnia). For early Türki, see also Constantine, Horvath, Shiratori.
The coins of the Ephthalites, a confederacy formed in the fifth century of the Christian era, and including a contingent of Chyonitai, show traces of Türki political vocabulary in their legends: see Specht 1901 for the coins of Shahi Tigin, whose name recalls the Tegin element in the royal onomastics of the Orkhon (504). *Le mot chad se rencontre dans les inscriptions turques trouvées en Sibérie … celui qui était à la tête des troupes+ (505). Specht also points out *le titre de khan qui se trouve placé après le nom du souverain+ (503), as well as *le mot uludj “seigneur”+ (497). Shad is a poor example as it seems to be an Iranian loan-word into Türki; but uludj does appear to be native Türki.
Coins contribute more data for research. Maenchen-Helfen wrote: *Ghirshman  has proved that Ammianus Marcellinus’ Chionitae, the hyôn (xyôn, xiyôn) of the Pahlavi books, the Hephthalites (OIONO on their coins), and the Hûna (hûna) of the Indian sources were the same people. He rightly separates them from the Attilanic Huns. But few will accept his thesis that these names have nothing to do with Ounnoi = Huni.+ (1959:227f).
The reading on the coins of the early Hephthalites, off-handedly mentioned by Maenchen-Helfen, appears to be as yet unresolved by palaeographers; it was once debated but set aside without clarification, and we still don’t know whether they are inscribed OIONO or XIONO or something else (Hansen 1951:45f). In the article by Maenchen-Helfen just cited, one would think the problem did not exist, but it does. Hansen made some useful suggestions. *Dieses neue O‑Zeichen … ist vielleicht eigentlich ein Φ+ (46). He adds as an illustration *der Name des Königs Vima Kadphises in griechischen Zeichen OOHMA geschrieben … OOHMA kann man daher *hvima lesen+ (46n1). Those perceptive comments by Hansen must be kept in mind.
We know that the name on these coins started with a fricative, not with the vowel /o/; therefore the unreadable letter on the coins must stand for a fricative, whether /X/ or /Φ/, or some sound or cluster which can only be rendered approximately in Greek and/or Aramaic (since both alphabets were used in these regions). I have mentioned earlier the confusion in literary sources on ethnic names from Inner Asia: Choanes, Soanes, Thoanes. For the problems of adapting scripts, whether Greek, or Estranghelo, or Brahmi, to Türki phonemes, in particular /ü/ and the fricative velar gutturals, both voiceless and voiced, see Maue 1997:4ff.
Western sources from the early middle ages, after the settlement of the Avars along the middle Danube, allow us to settle the issue. Like Paul the Deacon, the Chronicle of Fredegar provides information on *the Avars called Huns+ and their conflicts with the Slavs in the fortieth year of the Merovingian Clothar’s reign. *The Slavs had already started to rise against the Avars called Huns and against their ruler, the Khagan. The Wends had long been subjected to the Huns, who used them as Befulci. Whenever the Huns took the field against another people, they stayed encamped in battle array while the Wends did the fighting. If the Wends won, the Huns advanced to pillage, but if they lost the Huns backed them up and they resumed the fight. The Wends were called Befulci by the Huns because they advanced twice to the attack in their war bands, and so covered the Huns+ (Chapter 48, from Wallace-Hadrill’s translation).
The Chronicle of Fredegar is a very curious document with considerable literature on its credibility but the author could hardly have invented the Türki word Khagan; moreover, it is found in other Merovingian sources with reference to the ruler of *Huns who are the Avars+. Khagan is unmistakably Türki. Incidentally, Attila is not called a Khagan in fifth century sources.
Bazin’s work on the Oracle of the Hsiung-nu opened a window on the early history of the Türki languages; he also provided a synthesis (1953/54) on the subject of the ancient neighbours of China but he spoiled it with his uncritical adherence to the *Mongolian+ hypothesis: *quand les Hiong-nou occidentaux, ou Huns, séparés dès 44 avant Jésus Christ du gros de leur peuple, arriveront en Europe à partir du IVe siècle, on pourra constater, d’après les vestiges de leur onomastique transmis par les historiens européens, que leurs dirigeants ont en grande partie des noms typiquement turcs de consonnance…+ (134).
Bazin finds that Hunnish names *sound+ Turkish. Well, Türki languages have many features in common with the Finno-ugrian family; they may even have both derived from a common Palaeolithic ancestor spoken over 30,000 years ago: the so-called Nostratic theory. Both families do have some phonetic resemblance. They are both highly vocalic; that is, they have a high ratio of vowels to the consonants. Modern languages which are noted for their high vocalism include Italian, Serbian and… Finnish.
Like Turkic languages, the Finno-ugrian group is characterized by vocalic harmony. But these two remain, nonetheless, totally separate families. Myself, as a linguist, I have observed untrained people who hear speakers of Italian and Serbian side by side, both melodious and highly vocalic languages, and claim that they sound the same. Indeed the words may *sound+ the same, but they don’t mean the same thing. The case for the Huns being a branch of the Türki needs more than mellifluous sounds; it needs the presence of such early attested words as Khagan, ordu, etc in their linguistic remains.
Greek, Latin, Chinese, Iranian… so many languages are required to sort out the fragments of the remains on the Huns and the Chyonitai. That nothing be spared the hapless linguist, Sanskrit also makes a contribution to this tangled web.
In his article on the Ancient Sogdian letters, Henning comments that Sogdian xwn is *employed not of nomads of vague definition, but actually of the genuine Far-Eastern Hsiung-nu [...] well before the time when either the European Huns or the tribes that became known as Hûna to the Indians made their first appearance in history+ (615). Henning’s statement is correct on the subject of the Hûna in Sanskrit sources; for the rest, he was misled by the *Mongolian+ hypothesis: Hunni/Khuni are mentioned as early as Dionysius Periegetes and Ptolemy two centuries before the Ancient Sogdian Letters; this nation could have been the Pontic Huns, or they could have been the Hsiung-nu. Henning’s article also adds confusion on the subject of Sanskrit Hûna which seems so close to the name of the Attilanic Huns, a misleading impression.
Historians of the Huns see the Sanskrit word Hûna and jump to the conclusion that this means Attila’s Huns. However Hûna does not correspond to Hounnoi but to Chyon because the letter romanised as H in Sanskrit editions corresponds not to the soft /h/ but to the fricative /x, kh/ (Basham 506-508). While Sanskrit preserved the initial fricative /x/ of this name, it interpreted the vowel /ô/ as /û/; Sogdian had both an /u/ and an /o/ in its vocalic system (see Sims-Williams for a chart). There must be a reason why Sanskrit used /û/ for /ô/, and I will generously abandon the elucidation to scholars with a good grounding in ancient Iranian and Sanskrit.
I will however insist on this: Sanskrit Hûna is a later development, and has nothing to do with the Attilanic Huns. To the best of my knowledge, it first occurs in the early fifth century. The Hsiung-nu were driven out of China in the 310’s of the Christian era, and found a new address in the region of the Hindu Kush as allies, vassals or mercenaries of the Persian king Shapur II. However they soon ran into conflicts with their Sassanid sponsors and eventually gained control of Iran’s Eastern borders. By AD 455, greatly enriched with the colossal mineral wealth of the Hindu Kush, they had conquered a large part of India.
The earliest mention of the Hûna in Sanskrit is found in an undatable epic poem titled the Raghuvamça by a major Indian poet, Kalidasa. While engaged in this research, I ran into a group of Indian medical doctors in the university library; they were preparing themselves for qualifying examinations. I brought up the historical questions I was engaged in and they illustrated for me the massive importance of Kalidasa in their culture by mentioning that he is the author of their national anthem.
Therefore dating the Hûna on the basis of Kalidasa is like dating an ancient Mediterranean nation on the basis of Homer. In fact, the Raghuvamça itself is dated on the basis of this mention of the Hûna, to ca AD 400. Here is the relevant passage, in an English translation:
There he [Raghu] first demonstrated his power against the Huna kings; then, in their harems, Raghu’s attitude was by itself a command to the women’s cheeks to grow pale.+ (Tr: Antoine, Canto 4, 65-69, page 53).
Because of Kalidasa’s significance, there is a considerable literature on the question, and anyone interested may pursue it. Here are a few references: Bhat 1982:1-10; Narang, Kalidasa Bibliography, for the Hûna, see index. As stated pithily by one of these authorities: *The description of the Hunas in [the Raghuvamça] is too vague to be useful for exact chronological calculation+ (Mirashi 1960/61:315). The most solid linguistic argument shows *that Kalidasa composed the verses quoted above when the Hûnas were still in the Oxus valley and shortly before they invaded the Gupta empire in AD 455+ (Pathak 1912:267).
Unlike the poetic evidence, the Hûna conflicts of AD 455 and beyond are secured by datable royal inscriptions: Banerjee 1989, ’13-16. For the text of the inscriptions, with translations, see Fleet, ’13, 33, 34, 35. Those inscriptions are connected with the Hûna’s conquest of India’s North Western provinces. Note the date: AD 455. At that same time, Attila’s Huns were in Pannonia, terrorising the Roman Empire. They were not in Pakistan, conquering the Punjab.
The Hûna managed to conquer North Western India, but they failed to expand further. There is no possibility of establishing any congruence whatsoever between these Indian documents, and the sources on Attila who was a contemporary of the earliest invasions into India. It is however possible to establish a correspondence between the people known in Sanskrit as Hûna and the Hunnoi whom Cosma Indicopleustes describes as the rich lords of the lands between China and Persia (for a study, see Biswas). He writes *from Tzinitza to the borders of Persia, between which are included all Iounia [alternate spelling Hounnia, found in a Vatican manuscript]+ (Kordosis 1999:103).
The early linguistic evidence from the Pontic steppe is Finno-Ugrian. From the sixth century of the Christian era, that is at the time of the Avar migration from Central Asia, we begin to encounter traces of Altaic languages; in particular titles such as Khagan for the ruler of the Avars. It is not absolutely impossible that the Attilanic Huns were originally Altaic Turks; but before we can consider this hypothesis, we need evidence, such as Bazin adduced for the Hsiung-nu, with a suitable argument. Until then, the Finno-Ugrian evidence as we have it supports the thesis first propounded by Klaproth, that these two were quite separate people speaking unrelated languages (barring the Nostratic theory); this stands to this day as the most economical hypothesis, and the only one which respects all the evidence.
To round out these etymological issues, I will conclude with a philological note on the name Türki which is the source of the name Turk which we use nowadays for the members of this Altaic family of languages. Not only the words Hounnoi vs Khyôn present awkward similarities; Torks and Turks have confused scholars even more: specifically the Tauri/Torki after whom the Tauric Chersonese is named, and the Türki whom we call Turks today, as in the Ottoman Turks.
A closer analysis of the linguistics of Uralian and Altaic remains may help sort out the differences. The Tauri/Toretai/Torki show for the stem some variant of a back vowel or diphthong /au/ or /o/ or /u/; the Altaic people are normally recorded with a fronted vowel: Türki. In fact, for the purpose of clarity, I use Türki in my articles when referring to the Altaic people, and reserve Torki for the nations of the Tauric peninsula. The difference is important, especially from the Turkish angle because vocalic systems in that linguistic family are dominated by a front/back alternation, and problems of vocalic harmony. The homophony between these two ethnic names reflects our own linguistic systems, not the source languages.
How important is the fronting of this vowel? Even the Chinese sources, equipped with a writing system which is very poorly designed for transcription of foreign vocabulary, strive to show the fronting of Türki vowels: as a noted sinologist informs us *il n’y avait pas en chinois ancien de forme mouillée correspondant à *dwith non mouillé; mais la mouillure du second caractère de transcription fait foi pour l’ensemble. Les Chinois ont donc rendu de leur mieux ce qu’ils croyaient entendre *Dürküt, pour un original *Türküt+ (Pelliot 1915:687). For the problems of adapting foreign scripts to Türki phonemes, in particular /ü/, see Maue 1997 mentioned above.
To conclude my argument: the Huns of the Pontic steppe and the Hsiung-nu of Inner Asia were quite separate people; the first probably spoke a Finno-Ugrian language and the second spoke a demonstrably Altaic language. The fourth century AD historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, a staff officer in the Roman army with considerable expertise in Oriental affairs, reports on both these nations, and shows no sign of confusing one with the other. The *Mongolian hypothesis+ formulated in the eighteenth century is unsupported by any evidence, and indeed can be proven wrong on the basis of the existing evidence. Much more work needs to be done on the early history of these two nations but this research needs a solid foundation, including expertise in the awesome difficulties of ancient geography, as well as the usual philological competence.