Early History of the Huns
This chapter is for the most part a mere compilation from a previous compiler. Our chief guide is M. Deguignes, 'de l'Académie Royale des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Censeur Royal, Interprète du Roi pour les Langues Orientales, et Membre de la Société Royale de Londres,' who published at Paris (1756‑8) a 'Histoire Générale des Huns, des Turcs, des Mongols, et des autres Tartares Occidentaux, avant et depuis Jésus-Christ jusqu'à présent' (4 vols. small 4to; the first volume being divided into two parts). Only the second part of the first volume (and not the whole of that) is occupied with the history of the Huns properly so called. The fortunes of the different branches of the Turkish and Mongol races fill up the remainder of the work, which might in fact be called 'The History of the Northern Turanians,' though that term was not known to ethnology when Deguignes wrote.
During the period for which we follow his guidance he draws his materials entirely from Chinese historians, whose names are scrupulously quoted. The chief appear to be Kam‑mo, Lie‑tai-ki‑sou, Han‑chou, and Ssu‑ki. As he was one of the first Chinese scholars of his day, and as his work has stood its ground for more than a century as an authority on the history of Central Asia, it is reasonable to presume that no gross inaccuracies have been discovered in his manner of using his Chinese authorities.
p2 It was stated in the first edition of this work that 'it would be prudent to hold the theory as to the origin of the Huns as not much more than a possible hypothesis.' Perhaps we ought now to go further than this and to discard that theory altogether. Mr. Howorth, than whom no English scholar, perhaps no European scholar, ismor qualified to express an opinion on points of Turanian ethnology, pronounces decidedly against it in a paper contributed to the Journal of the Anthropological Institute (vol. V.396‑474). But upon the whole, remembering the length of time during which it was accepted with unquestioning faith, and considering that the Huns, who were undeniably an Asiatic people, may probably enough have passed through some of the experiences here recorded of the Hiong‑nu, even if they were not the people bearing that name, I have thought it best to let this chapter stand nearly as it was first written, referring the reader to the note at the end of the chapter for a brief summary of Mr. Howorth's arguments against theory of Deguignes.
The article above referred to is incorporated with a 'Translation of the Han Annals' by Mr. A. Wylie. This, as far as Chinese history is concerned, goes over very much the same ground which has been already traversed by Deguignes. I have compared the two accounts and have sometimes altered the spelling of a name on Mr. Wylie's authority.
'There is a race on Scythia's verge extreme
Eastward, beyond the Tanais' chilly stream.
The Northern Bear looks on no uglier crew:
Base is their garb, their bodies foul to view;
Their souls are ne'er subdued to sturdy toil
Or Ceres' arts: their sustenance is spoil.
With horrid wounds they gash their brutal brows,
And o'er their murdered parents bind their vows.
Not e'en the Centaur-offspring of the Cloud
Were horsed more firmly than this average crowd.
Brisk, lithe, in loose array they first come on,
Fly, turn, attack the foe who deems them gone.'
Claudian, In Rufinum, I.323‑331.
Such is the account which the courtier-poet of Rome gave of the Huns half a century before the name of p3Attila became a terror to the nations. In the fifth chapter of the first book1 we witnessed the effect which the appearance of these wild Tartar hordes produced upon the Gothic warriors. The swarthy faces, without either beard or whisker, the twinkling black eyes, the squat figures, the perfect understanding which seemed to exist between the riders and their little steeds, were there described in the words of the Gothic bishop, Jordanes, and we heard what he had to say concerning their 'execranda origo,' descended, as he believed them to be, from Gothic sorceresses and from evil spirits.
The German professor of to‑day emerges from his library to gaze at the descendants and representatives of the Huns, and liking them as little as his primeval kinsmen did, brands them with a term of deeper condemnation than Jordanes's epithets of 'witch-born' or 'fiend-begotten' — the terrible name, Turanian.2
For by thus defining their ethnological position he cuts them off from all connection with the great Aryan stem whose branches have overspread Europe, America, and Australia, Persia, and India; he equally destroys their claim to share in any of the glory of the Semitic races through whose instrumentality Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism were given to the world; and he shuts them up with a multitude of dull barbarians, p4 mighty in destruction, powerless in construction, who have done nothing for the cause of civilisation or human progress, and who, even where they have adopted some of the varnish of modern customs, have remained essentially and incurably barbarous to the present day.3
Now this Turanian (or, to speak popularly and with less accuracy, Tartar) race which burst upon the affrighted Goths in the reign of the Emperor Valens, being a people of unlettered nomads, neither cared to give, nor probably could give to the European nations whom they terrified, any information as to their history in the remote past. Some traditions of a mythical kind as to the origin of their race they probably possessed, and had they established themselves p5in Europe permanently, these might, like the Scandinavian sagas, have floated down into a literary age and been so preserved. But the Huns vanished out of Europe almost as suddenly as they came, leaving no trace behind of their history, their language, or their religion. But for one some disputed source of information, all is dark concerning them. That source is the History of China. If the Huns be the Hiong‑nu, whose ravages are recorded in that history, then we have a minute account of their doings for centuries before the Christian era, and we know, in fact, far more about them than about the inhabitants of Gaul or Britain before the time of Julius Caesar: if they not, our ignorance is complete.
A learned and laborious Frenchman, M. Deguignes, in the middle of last century, conceived the idea that the Huns might be thus identified, and with infinite pains he wrote out their history from Chinese sources, and exhibited it in its connection with that of the various Tartar conquerors who, since their day, have poured down upon the civilised kingdoms of Europe and Asia, and wasted them.
As before hinted, this identification has been questioned, and it must be admitted that mere similarity of name is dangerous ground to build upon in the history of barbarous races. But as the hypothesis though looked upon with much less favour than it received a century ago, does not seem to be yet absolutely disproved, we may be permitted to spend some pages on the history of the Hiong‑nu, in the possibility that we are thus contemplating the formation of that volcano which hurled forth Attila.
From the description which physical geographers p6give of Central Asia, it would surely be one of the most striking features of our globe, in the sight of any visitor who might be approaching us for another sphere. Eastwards from longitude 73° it rises, we are told, to the almost incredible average height of •8000 feet, bearing the character of a vast insulated upload, and, its extent and average elevation being taken into account, it may be said to form on the whole the most considerable projection on the surface of our planet.4
From this mighty upraised altar great rivers flow down in all directions, the Obi, Yenisei, and Lena through Siberia into the Arctic Sea, the Amour and the two great rivers of Cina, the Hoang‑ho and Yang‑tsi-kiang, into the Pacific; the Irawaddy, Brahmapootra, Ganges, Indus, into the Indian Ocean; the Oxus and Jaxartes into the sea of Aral. Rivers of its own it has none (or only one, the Yar‑kiang), having apparently no deep valleys: the small streams which it does possess find their way to some insignificant inland lake, and are lost there.
Four great mountain chains, limiting or traversing it, run from west to east. The mountains of Altai mark it off from Siberia on the north. The Thian Shan, or Mountains of Heaven, pass across the middle of it at about the 42nd parallel of latitude. The Kuen‑Lun fence off what is now Chinese Tartary from Thibet. The Himalayas bound the great plateau to the south.
No mountain chain of any importance appears to intersect the country from north to south till we reach p7 the Bolor Mountains (longitude 73°), which are its western boundary, and which form a kind of step down into the lower, but still lofty plateau •(4000 feet high) of Eastern Turkestan.
The dominions of the Hiong‑nu at the time of their greatest supremacy reached over the whole of the northern and central sections of this plateau — from Mount Altai, that is, to the Kuen‑Lun. And westwards, their rule extended beyond the Bolor Mountains down into Turkestan, down lower still to the old sea‑bed between Lake Aral and the Caspian, nay, even across the Ural Mountains to the Volga. In its more contracted state, their empire still touched the Irtish (long. 80°) on the west; but it seems to have receded to the Thian-Shan Mountains on the south; and the proper home of the race — if nomads can be said to have a home — was that district between China and Siberia bounded on the east by the Inshan Mountains (long. 115°), which is marked in modern maps Mongolia. Very roughly estimated, it is probably about as large as Germany and Austria put together. Across the centre of it stretches the great sandy desert of Gobi or Shamo.
Here, then, if we may trust our French guide, the nation of the Huns was roaming before the date usually assigned to the Call of Abraham. In winter they crowded down upon the Northern frontier of China, which lies in the latitude of Madrid; in summer they drove their cattle northwards, across the great desert of Gobi, and took refuge from the heat in the cool valleys under the mountains which lie to the south of Lake Baikal, and which are in the same latitude as London.
p8 Under the first two historic dynasties of China (the Hia, B.C. 2207‑1767, and the Shang, 1767‑1122), the Huns — if it be indeed the same race — are spoken of under the name of Chan-yong (barbarians of the mountains) and Tchong‑yo. Their country was called Kuei-fang, 'the country of spirits,' so denominated by the same unchanging nation which at this day calls us Europeans 'foreign devils.'
About one hundred years before the building of Solomon's Temple, the Chow dynasty ascended the Chinese throne, and slumbered there for nearly nine centuries, till the year 258 B.C. These were the Carolingians of China, monarchs nominally supreme, but really overshadowed and overawed by their great feudatories; in their personal character debauched and cruel — in short, conspicuous offenders against the golden-mean maxims of morality so dear to the Chinese heart. This cycle of anarchy (it would probably have lasted but a century in Europe) was the harvest-time of the northern barbarians, who are now spoken of as Hien‑yun. The three northern provinces of the Chinese Empire, Shen‑se, Shan‑se, and Pe‑tche‑li (which comprise an arae about equivalent to the whole of Great Britain) seem to have been in a state of perpetual border-warfare with these savage enemies, who after each inroad retired laden with booty to the northern portion of their own territory. Their fleet ponies and trackless wildernesses rendered hopeless any attempt on the part of regular troops to pursue or to avenge.
At length, about the middle of the third century B.C., the long-smouldering light of the Chow dynasty went out, and the Tsin dynasty succeeded. Ching-wang, p9other Che‑Hwange‑te,5 the greatest monarch of this new house, the Napoleon of China, united her warring provinces into one compact empire, took the title of Hwang‑te (universal Emperor) instead of Wang (King), which had been borne by all previous monarchs, drove back the Hiong‑nu (for such is now the name of the barbarians) to their deserts, and finally, about this time of the Second Punic War, completed the Great Wall of China (portions of which had been already built by two provincial sovereigns) in order to protect the northern frontier from their incursions. Thus then (if only the theory of Deguignes be true) this great work, •1500 miles long, the name of which has been familiar to all of us from our childhood, was really built to guard the civilisation of Eastern Asia from the inroads of the ancestors of Attila, and might as fairly be called the Huns' Wal as Hadrian's barrier across the Northumbrian isthmus is called by many the Picts' Wall.
Che‑Hwange‑te in the course of his great career found shaft frequently thwarted by the traditions, the etiquette, the state-maxims of the literati, who seem to have been even then a powerful class in China. To recur to a former simile, the Napoleonic idea could not be made to accord with the Bourbon tradition. Violently breaking with the Past of his country, he ordered, it is said, that all the books of history which could be found should be destroyed, sparing however those on medicine, agriculture, astrology, and other branches of science.6
p10 This strange story may be the invention of national vanity, unable to trace up the written history of China beyond the third century B.C. In this case, all that has been hitherto said as to the early history of China and the Hiong‑nu must be relegated to dreamland, for an oral transmission of the events of sixteen centuries may be set aside as an impossibility.
On the other hand, if the story be true, and if Che‑Hwang‑te was in the main successful in his onslaught on the works of the earlier historians, it does not follow that Chinese history must necessarily begin with him. For if the Chinese were by this time a literary nation, which the story seems to imply, no mere destruction of books would avail to wipe out from the fully-formed historical consciousness the general outlines of their past national life. Had every roll of manuscript perished out of the world at the time of the Peloponnesian war, the Greeks of that period would still have been able to reconstruct, with sufficient distinctness, by an act of memory, both the mythical and the historical record of previous age which they had read from their childhood. Considering the apparently early development of the literary character in this enigmatic nation with which we are dealing, one is inclined to conjecture that this is the true view of the subject, and that there is at least some historic value in the Chinese annals previous to the third century B.C.
From this time onwards, at any rate, the chronicle seems to be complete, and full, to the reader's exhaustion, of the doings of the robber-nation, the Hiong‑nu. p11 These latter had now 'taken to themselves a king after the manner of nations.' He was called the Tanjou, which we are told is a contraction of the formidable title Tcemlikotontanjou (mighty son of Heaven).7 The Tanjou's queen was always called Yen‑chi. All the great commands of the state were filled up in duplicate, one officer for the Right and one for the Left. Characteristically enough, as showing how their faces were ever set towards the fertile and opulent South, the Left with them meant the east and the Right the west. The Left was, as we are informed that it is still with their Tartar nephews at Constantinople, the post of honour; and thus Hien-wang (which signifies 'wise-king') being the highest grade of office under royalty, the 'Hien-wang of the Left,' of Viceroy of the East, was the next greatest person to the Tanjou, and the office was generally held by the heir-apparent of the monarch.
In their prosperous days the sovereigns of the Hiong‑nu trampled upon the civilised and literary pride of the Chinese Emperors with the greater pride of the uncouth barbarian. On tablets, the exact size of which had been prescribed by generations of Masters of the Ceremonies, the Chinese monarch thus wrote with the vermilion pencil, 'The Emperor respectfully begs the Great Tanjou of the Hiong‑nu, &c.' To which, on much larger tablets, the Tanjou replied, 'The Great Tanjou of the Hiong‑nu, born of the Heavens and the Earth, established by the Sun and Moon, respectfully begs the Emperor of Chinese, &c.
Frequently an invading Tanjou would ask for the p12hand of a Chinese princess as the price of his return to his own land, and the Court, not willing to plant by the side of the robber-king a representative of its own interests, would comply with the request. National vanity however will not allow the Chinese historians to confess that one of the princesses of the blood-royal was really given in marriage to a barbarian, and they accordingly relate that a custom prevailed of adopting for the occasion a female slave into the family of the Emperor, giving her the title of Kum‑tcheou, or Princess of the Blood, and then sending her off to be the bride of the Tanjou. An improbable story doubtless; but what is certain is that the transition from the highly civilised luxurious life of a Chinese palace to the squalor of the Tanjou's home would be keenly felt by the sufferer, whatever her station in life might be, and perhaps even more by the domestic than by the mistress. Here it melancholy outpouring in verse of one of these victims of policy, sent indeed not to a king of the Hiong‑nu but to a prince of the neighbouring nation, the Ou‑sioun, whose mode of life was indistinguishable from theirs:—
'Me to a husband have my kindred tied,
And in a far‑off land have bid me bide;
A wretched tent is now my palace-hall,
And a rough paling is its only wall.
Raw flesh must now my hunger satisfy,
And curdled milk, my thirst: nought else have I.
Oh native land! I still must think of thee,
And my heart's wound bleeds ever inwardly.
Why am I not a happy bird of air
To thee, dear home, that I might repair?
The Hiong‑nu were ignorant of the art of writing, but the Chinese historians, with a candour which we p13should scarcely have expected, admit that when they had verbally pledged themselves to a treaty they generally showed strict good faith in the observance of it. The children were early trained in the use of missile weapons. It is said that they were first taught to ride on the wild scampering moorland sheep, and to shoot with their little bows at birds and mice. As boys they hunted hares and foxes, as young men they assumed the weapons of war. They were not deemed full-grown men till they had slain a foe. When they reached old age they fell into poverty and contempt, at the good things being reserved for the active warriors of the nation. daylight was, as hinted in the verses of Claudian, a great part of their strategy. Like the Parthians, they would discharge a cloud of arrows at the pursuing foe, and even if their rapid return failed to throw his ranks into confusion, they easily vanished into the terrible solitudes of those trackless deserts whither for many generations their harassed neighbours feared to pursue them.
Of the two chief residences of the Tanjous, one appears to have been situated in the north of their dominions, under the continuation of the Altai mountain-range, and near the place which, as the capital of later Tartar chieftains, was known as Karakorum; the other near the Inshan mountains on the eastern frontier, where a large manufactory of bows and arrows was established.
At the first moon of each year there was a general assembly of all the officers of the kingdom and army at the Tanjou's court, and a solemn sacrifice was then offered up. They met again in the fifth month, and sacrificed to the Heavens, the Earth, and the Spirits of p14their ancestors. At another assembly held in the autumn they numbered the people and their flocks, thus taking stock, and striking a balance of the profit or loss of the summer's operations in the way of plunder.
Every morning the Tanjou issued from his tent on the left hand of the camp to pay his devotions to the Sun, and in the evening he offered similar adoption to the Moon, presumably during that part of the month only when she was visible. Such was the simple and primitive nature-worship of this tribe. We are informed that one of the other tribes of Central Asia stuck a naked sabre hilt-downwards into the earth, and then gathered round to adore it.
The great aim of the Hiong‑nu in war was to take as many prisoners as possible. They reduced them, of course, to a state of slavery, and employed them to tend their flocks and herds, that they themselves might be left more free to practice the one art of the barbarian — war. If one of their number fell in battle, the comrade who succeeded in carrying off his dead body (as in the Homeric combats) to a place of safety, might claim his inheritance. In the later days of the Hiong‑nu empire, when we might have expected that their contact with the Chinese would have exerted some civilising influence upon them, we find the Tanjou Hou‑han‑sie confirming an oath by drinking blood from the skull of a hostile chief who had been slain by one of his ancestors 130 years before.
Such was the general character of the relations between the Hiong‑nu and their southern neighbours. A few striking features of the history of the two nations, selected from a mass of monotonous details, p15will sufficiently explain the movement which eventually launched the Hunnish nation, not upon Pekin, but upon Rome.
In China the Tsin dynasty, founded by the book-destroying Che‑Hwang‑te, was of short duration, like that of the Buonapartes, to which it has been already compared.
In the year 207 B.C. another period of anarchy was ended by Kaoute, who, gathering up again all China under his rule, founded the celebrated Han dynasty, which flourished till 220 A.D., or, roughly speaking, from the days of Hannibal to those of Caracalla.
Contemporaneously with kaoute in China, the terrible Mé‑té‑Tanjou8 reigned over the Hiong‑nu. His father, his step-mother, his half-brother, all atoned to him with their lives for an abortive attempt to exclude him from the succession. Yet, fierce as he had shown himself against his own flesh and blood, he appeared to submit with patience to the accumulated insults of the Sien‑pi, a nation perhaps of Tungusic origin on the east of his dominions. Me‑té had in his stable a horse of fabulous speed and endurance, which could travel, it was said, •150 miles in one day. The Sien‑pi9 sent to ask for this horse; he gave it up to them. Emboldened by this act of submission, they demanded one of his wives; she was sent to their king's tent. Then came a requisition for some waste lands, on a disputed frontier between the two nations, and at last the pent‑up rage of Me‑té burst forth, 'Whatever touched my own honour or profit I have given up for the sake peace, but of the land of my people I will not surrender p16 to you a foot's-breadth.' And he smote the people of the Sien‑pi with a great destruction, and pursued them till they took refuge in the mountains of Mantchooria, where they remained a crippled and enfeebled remnant, but ever brooding on their wrongs, till, after the lapse of nearly three centuries, style sallied forth to enjoy their long-delayed vengeance.
Towards China, Me‑té assumed an attitude of permanent hostility. He fixed his court at Tatumfou, or Taitong, just south of the Great Wall, and pushed forward his Hien-wang of the Left as far as Changkow, and him of the Right to Yen‑gan, both apparently from 100 to 200 miles within the Chinese frontier.
The Emperor kaoute levied an army of 320,000 men and marched against him, but was out‑manoeuvred, and shut up in a fortress near Tatumfou, where for seven days his army was left without provisions. By the favour of the Tanjou's wife he escaped from this perilous position; but those seven days of semi-starvation were long remembered by the sleek Chinese troops. Peace of some sort was patched up between the two powers, but after the death of kaoute an audacious Hien-wang of the Right pushed his inroads so far that his barbarian hordes came almost within sight of Singanfou (in the province of Shensi), which was then the capital of the empire. The Chinese Court complained, and the Tanjou sent his too zealous Viceroy of the West on a tour of conquest through Central Asia. Thibet, all that we now call Eastern and Western Turkestan, and part of Siberia, were made subject to Me‑té's domination, and it is even said that the conquering Hiong‑nu reached on this occasion as far as the Volga itself. With a great show of courtesy, the p17Tanjou sent an embassy to inform the Chinese Emperor of these conquests, by which he had become the greatest potentate in Asia; and hereupon, after a copious exchange of compliments, the Emperor, we are informed, concluded to accord to him a renewal of the treaty of peace. As it is clear that at this time China was almost helpless in the hands of her barbarian foe, the Tanjou's humble supplications for peace, and the gracious concession of it by the Emperor, were probably recorded by the literati of that day, the contemporaries of Hannibal, with about as much accuracy as may be evinced by some Chinese historian, upon whom in our own day may have devolved the duty of chronicling the destruction of the Summer Palace, and the treaty graciously conceded to El‑gin and Mon‑to‑ban.
From the death of Me‑té‑Tanjou, which occurred B.C. 174, we have, for the space of 260 years, a history of the wars of China and the Huns, almost as detailed and circumstantial as the records of Roman conquest during the same period. Happily for the reader there is no necessity to reproduce these details here. The same kind of events repeat themselves with monotonous regularity. 'The Tanjou sought for peace from the Chinese Emperor. A wife was sent to him, and presents were exchanged. The Hiong‑nu at once recommenced their inroads and ravaged a great belt of country in the three provinces of Shense, Shanse, and Petcheli. The Emperor sent three armies, amounting to 200,000 men, into the country of the Hiong‑nu. Two of the generals obtained great successes, the third lost all his men in a march through the desert. He ought to have returned to China, and there submitted to degradation from all his posts of honour, and afterwards committed suicide. p18But he preferred to take refuge at the Court of the Tanjou, where the information which he gave as to the movements of the points and the strength of the frontier-cities proved extremely injurious to the interests of China. The Tanjou now supplicated for peace; rich presents were exchanged, and various complimentary speeches were made, but both parties understood that there was no reality in the peace thus arranged. A Chinese princess was sent as a wife for the heir-apparent, the Hien-wang of the Left. The Hiong‑nu recommenced their invasions of the three provinces of Shense, Shanse, and Petche‑li,' and so on as before.
There was however during all this period a pretty steady decline of the power of the barbarians, and an equally steady increase in that of their civilised neighbours. Especially noteworthy in this respect was the long reign of the great Emperor woote, which lasted from B.C. 140‑86, or, shall we say, from the time of Cato the Censor to that of Cicero. This monarch woote, whose victorious arms extended to Pegu, Siam, and Bengal, and who was a salute patron of the morality of Confucius, was contemporary with seven successive tanjous, and, but that his prosperity did not desert him at the end of his reign, he might, not inaptly, be called the Louis XIV of China.
The lives of three of his servants may be briefly noticed here for the sake of the light which they throw on the history of the Hiong‑nu.
Chang-kiao10 was instructed by his master to establish communications with the Yue‑ché, a Tartar people whom the Hiong‑nu had driven from the east to the west of Central Asia, and who had now established p19themselves in great force between the Oxus and Jaxartes, and even within the confines of the present Persian kingdom. Chang‑kiao was made prisoner by the Hiong‑nu while seeking to pass through their country in disguise. After ten years of captivity he escaped, reached the country of the Yue‑ché (the modern Khorasan), remained there some time, storing up a large amount of valuable political information, and returned by way of Thibet, but even so was unable to escape from the Hiong‑nu. His second captivity however was of short duration. Under cover of the troubles of a disputed succession, he again made his escape, and after an absence of twelve years, returned to his master's court.
Li‑kwang‑li, one of the bravest of Chinese officers, was for sixty years perpetually giving and receiving hard blows in the wars with the northern barbarians. They themselves so highly esteemed the skill and rapidity of his movements that they called him 'the Winged General.' Once, it is said, at the head of 100 horsemen, he put a large body of their cavalry to flight. Yet even he, after a defeat, had to endure the systematic ingratitude of his countrymen, and after counterfeiting death on the field of battle, was on the point of receiving it at the hands of the executioner. He was permitted, however, to redeem his life by the payment of a large sum of money, but was degraded from all his dignities. But in the very next year the Emperor found himself compelled to restore him to the chief military command, so pressing was the danger from the northern invaders.
In the decline of life, this veteran soldier had the misfortune to see the honour of his family tarnished by p20the treason of his grandson Li‑ling, one of the many Chinese generals who after defeat fled to the Court of the Tanjou, and sold their knowledge of the strategic combinations of their countrymen for honours and offices in the barbarian court.
About nine years later, the brave old general, who must now have been fully eighty years of age, again headed a grand attack upon the Hiong‑nu. He met at first with complete success, and pushed the foe before him to the mountain-barrier at the extreme north of their dominions. The forced marches, however, across the terrible desert of Gobi had too much weakened his troops. The Tanjou brought 50,000 fresh men into the field, dug in the night a deep ditch in the rear of the Chinese forces, and thus added to the disorder and panic of their flight after the defeat of the morrow.11
Li‑kwang‑li was compelled to surrender at discretion, and taken prisoner to the Court of the Tanjou, who treated him with such marked favour (partly, perhaps, on account of his relationship to the already exiled p21Li‑ling) that all the barbarian officers became jealous of his predominating influence.12 Superstition was enlisted on the side of envy; in a dangerous illness of the Queen-mother, the soothsayers declared that the gods of the Hiong‑nu were offended because they received no more human sacrifices as of yore, but prisoners of war were now preserved alive, and even received into favour. Li‑kwang‑li was seized and sacrificed; a terrible succession of snow-storms followed, which destroyed a vast number of cattle, and prevented the seeds from germinating in the earth. Then they changed their minds and said that they had mistaken the will of the gods; but the fine old warrior, after his sixty years of battle, was beyond the reach of their repentance.
Woo‑soo13 was sent by the Emperor woote upon one of those endless embassies for the arrangement of 'a lasting and honourable peace,' which vary with their monotony of fraud the monotony of bloodshed. In the course of the discussions on this subject, he addressed himself to one of the Chinese fugitives, who had been promoted to a subordinate kingship in Western Siberia, and reproached him so bitterly for his treason and want of patriotism, that the Tanjou, disregarding the sanctity of an ambassador's person, seized him and cast him into a ditch. There he lived for several days, exposed to all the rigour of the climate, and founding only upon snow and the offal of the camp. The barbarians conceived that there must be something divine in the p22nature of a man who could endure such hardships, but they chose a singular means of testifying their admiration. They carried him off to the inhospitable shores of Lake Baikal, in the east of Siberia, where he dragged out life for nineteen years, his food being mice and the bitter fruits of the desert. Some of his countrymen, deserters, tried to reconcile him to his lot, and to persuade him to accept, as they had done, the bounty of the barbarian. 'No,' said he, 'I will remain true to my country, whatever tortures her enemies may inflict upon me. A minister owes to his king the same affectionate duty which a child does to his parent.' And when he heard of the death of his master, the great woote, he turned his face to the beloved South, looked towards China, and burst into tears. The remorse which continue Tanjou felt for the death of Li‑kwang‑li turned out beneficially for woosoo, who, after his weary captivity, was at length restored to his country.
In the early days of the conquering Tanjous, Thibet appears to have felt their influence, and the whole of Eastern Turkestan (or what Deguignes calls 'Little Bukharia') seems to have been in complete dependence upon them. Even then, however, for some reason which is not explained, but which is probably connected with the physical geography of the country, their invasions of China were always made on the north, never on the west frontier. If they thus missed an opportunity of taking their enemy in flank, he, when his turn of superiority came, showed more skilful strategy; and the great triumph of the reign of woote was the series of conquests and alliances by which he turned the south-west flank of the Hiong‑nu position.
p23 Any one who now looks at the map of Asia will see a long thin slice of territory stretching forth at the north-western angle of China (from the Hoang‑ho to Su‑chow, long. 98°). This is ground won from the barbarians, and made strong by the Chinese monarchs for the defence of the Empire. It is, in fact, an arm stretched forth into the desert, by which China seems to say, 'Not this way, barbarians of the North! fight, if you will fight, fairly, face to face; but you shall not come round to my left side, and there deal me stealthily an assassin's blow.'
After the conquest of this territory came the secret mission of Chang‑kiao through Thibet, to the country between the Oxus and the Jaxartes, and this produced immense results. Where the stealthy emissary had gone, victorious armies followed. Khotan, Yarkand, Kashgar accepted the alliance, or became the subjects of the Chinese Emperor. The Ou‑sioun, a powerful people, kindred with but hostile to the Hiong‑nu, and dwelling to the south of Lake Balkhash, were encouraged to lean on China for protection against the common intervening foe: and a Chinese governor was permanently established at Aksou, under the steeps of the Thian Shan (about 78° long. and 42° lat.).
In the year 71 B.C. a great army amounting, it is said, to 200,000 men, was sent against the Hiong‑nu under the command of seven generals. Notwithstanding the mismanagement and cowardice of some of the generals, this expedition seems, more than anything else, to have broken the power of the Hiong‑nu.
It was not without some protest from the timid conservatism of the Chinese ministers that this energetic policy was pursued. When Siven‑ti, the great-grandson p24of woote, was meditating an expedition, half-hostile, half-friendly, to the country of the Ouigours, (near Turfan, long. 89°) he was met by the outspoken remonstrances of a wise old counsellor named Goei-siang. This sage appears not to have been perplexed by any of those difficulties as to the triumph of injustice and the downfall of the good which have troubled the sages and seers of other nations.
'There are five sorts of wars,' said he. 'The first, for the suppression of civil tumult. This is a war of Justice, and it is sure to be successful. The second, in which you oppose a foreign invader, is a war of Necessity, and is generally crowned with victory. In the third kind of war, one of Rage and Fury, in which men take up arms about mere trifles, one is often beaten. To invade the lands of others for the sake of spoil is the fourth species of war, that of Avarice, and in this success is not to be expected. But when a monarch fights only to acquire glory, to render his family illustrious and become a terror to his neighbours, that is a war of Ambition and Pride, the results of which are uniformly disastrous. These five points are so many maxims founded on the dealings of Heaven. At present the Hiong‑nu desire peace, while our own internal condition is far from satisfactory. It is no rare occurrence to see a son murder his father, a younger brother the elder, a wife her husband. Twenty‑two crimes of this kind have occurred in the course of the past year. We ought to apply a remedy to these social disorders instead of carrying war into the country of our neighbours.'
Notwithstanding these excellent remarks, the policy of war and annexation prevailed. The Ouigours p25became tributary, and the Hiong‑nu felt the predominant influence of China all round their southern and western frontiers. The barbarians saw that their Empire was departing from them, and fell into confusion and anarchy. In the year 58 B.C. five Tanjous were warring against one another. Hou‑han‑sie, apparently the rightful heir, at length emerged from the contest, sole Tanjou; but, almost immediately after, had to enter upon a new and fiercer contest with two fresh competitors, one of them his own brother. The upshot of the whole business was, that he humbly presented himself at the court of the Chinese Emperor, promised subjection and tribute, and received from this hereditary enemy assistance which at length enabled him to reign without a rival.14
In a feeble and crippled state, the Hiong‑nu Empire p26lasted on for a century and a half from this time, but never again as the equal foe, generally as the vassal, occasionally as the revolted subject of the Court of China.
About the middle of the first century after Christ, the nation became finally divided into two hostile sections — a northern and a southern. Doubtless the dwellers in the immediate neighbourhood of China became more dependent on the good things which accompany civilisation than the wild nomads of the north-west; and then the physical barrier of the great desert of Gobi would probably intensify and perpetuate the moral division. From this time forwards the Tanjou of the south becomes one of most eager enemies of the northern kingdom, ever besieging the ear of the Chinese Emperor with cries for its demolition.
At the same time a new enemy pressed upon them from the east. The neighbouring tribe of the Sien‑pi whom the great Tanjou Meté had cooped up in the mountains of what is now called Mantchuria, after brooding for three centuries over their wrongs, now found the longed‑for opportunity of vengeance. After forty years of more or less constant warfare with this triple league of foes, symptoms of dissolution became to show themselves in the northern kingdom. Vast hordes of the Hiong‑nu, in one case amounting to a quarter of a million of fighting men, went over bodily to the Chinese. A terrible famine, the work of some locust-like insect, then wasted the country. A combined invasion of the Chinese and the southern Hiong‑nu on a large scale took place in the year 89. The Chinese general, Teou‑hien, put the Tanjou to flight, and having p27advanced •1000 miles into his kingdom, left upon one of the mountain ranges an inscription composed by the historiographer who accompanied the expedition, recording the success of his arms. In two years however even this effort was surpassed: the Chinese troops reached the Irtish, the western frontier of the dominions of the Hiong‑nu, the Tanjou had again to take shelter in some Siberian desert, and his mother was taken prisoner.
Teou‑hien, though victorious, recommended his imperial master to spare his fallen foes. But on his death sterner counsels prevailed. A new Tanjou who had been raised to the throne was driven into revolt, a revolt hopeless from the first. He himself fell into the hands of the Chinese forces, and was beheaded. The Sien‑pi poured into the defenceless country like a torrent. Great multitudes of the Hiong‑nu consented to pass under their yoke and bear their name, the rest fled westwards across the Irtish, settling by the Ural River and near the modern Russian Government of Orenbourg. Thus did the great barbarian empire, which for 2000 years had been measuring its forces against the civilisation of China, fall, with apparently irretrievable ruin.
All this occurred in the reign of Domitian. It was not till nearly three centuries later that the Huns, during the reign of Valens, crossed the Sea of Azof or the stream of the Volga, and fell upon the affrighted and disgusted Gothic subjects of King Hermanric. This long interval of quiescence and of obscurity is the weak place in the identification of the Hiong‑nu and the Huns. It is impossible not to feel that many changes might have occurred during that time, and that mere p28similarity of name is a slight clue by which to traverse so vast a distance.
The Chinese historians necessarily give during this interval far scantier information than previously as to the affairs of Central Asia. The expulsion of the northern Hiong‑nu appears to have been a 'victory of Pyrrhus' for the Chinese Empire. The southern Hiong‑nu and the Sien‑pi, under various barbarous names, formed settlements within its limits and erected dynasties which disputed the throne of China itself with its native princes. In such a state of things the historians of that country had battle little inducement or opportunity to record et revolutions of Western Asia. We are enabled however, dimly and at long intervals, to trace the continued existence Ostia Hiong‑nu people along the line of the Volga and the northern shores of the Caspian.
To the west of them, but separated by one fierce Tartar people, the Chinese historians placed the great Kingdom of Ta‑tsin. Their description of this kingdom is so curious that a few of its leading features may be here inserted. 'It is a country of large extent with many dependent kingdoms. The walls are built of stone; inns are placed along the lines of road. All sorts of trees and plants are found there. The inhabitants are given to agriculture, and even understand how to keep silkworms. They cut their hair and wear very fine clothes. They have all sorts of chariots with white coverings: in war they have drums, flags, and tents. The capital is •thirty-four miles in circumference; it contains five palaces by the waterside, supported on pillars. Every day the king goes to one or other of these palaces to administer justice. Before his p29chariot walks an officer holding an open bag in which are placed the petitions of all who present themselves, which are examined by the king when he enters the palace. Thirty‑six generals of the army form a Council of State to deliberate on the affairs of the Empire. The king does not always hold his office for life; they generally endeavour to choose a wise man, but should any extraordinary calamity occur, for instance any great whirlwind or inundation, they change their ruler, and he who is thus deposed appears to descend into private life without a sigh.
'Gold, silver, precious stones, rich and beautifully embroidered vestments abound in this country. They have both gold and silver money: ten places of the latter are equivalent to one of the former. They trade both with the Parthians and Indians. They have often endeavoured to enter into direct commercial relations with China, but have always been prevented by the Parthians. Recently' [in the year corresponding to A.D. 166] 'the king of the Ta‑Tsin named Gan‑tun succeeded in sending ambassadors, who were followed by merchants, to China by way of India. The inhabitants of Ta‑tsin are tall and well-made like the Chinese, whence their name' [Ta = Great: Tsin = China or the Chinese]. This last sentence will probably have disclosed to the reader the real name of the country in question. Only the Romans of that day could be considered worthy of being called by a Chinese historian 'Great as the Chinese.' He has been reading a description of Imperium Romanum by a Chinese pen, and the king, Gan‑tun, is the Emperor Marcus (Aurelius) Antoninus.
The question will naturally be asked, 'Why, if these p30Hiong‑nu, marauders as they were by nature, had wandered so near to the confines of this alluring kingdom of Ta‑tsin, did they allow three centuries to elapse before they commenced their invasions of that empire?' Dimly and vaguely, through the faint talent of their history, we may conjecture the following reasons for their quiescence: there may have been a hundred others which are to us undiscoverable.
First, their eyes were still turned eastwards; their expeditions still sometimes reached as far as Khamil (long. 95° E.), and for generations they seem to have cherished the hope of once more ravaging the valley of the Hoang‑ho. At length their old enemies, the Sien‑pi, under the dynasty of the Topas, built up, in the old country of the Hiong‑nu, a sufficiently solid empire to check all eastward incursions on their part. But,
Secondly, between their new home and western civilization a strong barrier was presented by the fierce nation of the Alani, Turanian nomads like themselves, who, under the name of Alanna, are spoken of by the Chinese historians as occupying the country of Yen‑n, the extensive district which is bounded by the Volga on the north, the Caucasus on the south, the Sea of Azof and the Don on the west, and the Caspian and the Volga on the east. These are the people who for so many generations adored a naked sabre stuck into the earth as their only divinity. They were at length, after contests the duration and severity of which are hidden from us, overcome by those neighbours of theirs whom we may now without fear of contradiction venture to call the Huns. Some, the Alani of the Don, became amalgamated with the armies of the p31conqueror, of his fled westwards and bore a part, recognised in history, in the subversion of the Roman Empire, though it did not fall to their lot to found any enduring kingdom within its borders.
Hopes of Chinese spoil on the east, the reality of Alan resistance on the west, were doubtless two reasons for the long sojourn of the Hiong‑nu eastwards of the Volga. A third, which it is sufficient merely to indicate, is the prestige, slowly and with difficulty impaired, of the Roman Empire, of that 'Ta‑tsin' which 'Gantun' and his immediate predecessors had ruled so wisely and made so strong.
A fourth is the utterly broken and dispirited state of the Hiong‑nu themselves. After their flight from their old home in Central Asia, they seem to have ceased to elect Tanjous; the unity of the nation was gone, the degree of organisation, the semblance of a polity which they had before possessed, probably vanished. Removed from the civilizing influences of contact with China they doubtless sank lower and lower into mere squalid savagery, becoming a loosely united bundle of roving hordes, until at length increase of numbers brought with it confidence, the remembrance of past supremacy stirred up shame at their present abject condition, the success of their conflict with the Alans assured them of victory, and turning their backs definitively on the East, they crossed the Cimmerian Bosporus — whether guided by a demon-stag or not we need not inquire — to work, both directly and indirectly, more ruin and greater changes in the fair kingdoms of Ta‑tsin than their mightiest Tanjous had ever done in the Foligno-wasted provinces of the real China.
This chapter was commenced by Claudian's poetical p32description of the Huns; at its close let us listen to the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, a soldier, and more strictly a contemporary, describing in what guise they showed themselves when first 1500 years ago, they burst upon Europe.
'The nation of the Huns, little known to ancient records, but spreading from the marshes of Azof tot Icy Sea, surpasses all other barbarians in wildness of life. In the first days of infancy, deep incisions are made intention cheeks of their boys, in order that, when the time comes for whiskers to grow there, the sprouting hairs may be kept back by the furrowed scars: and hence they grow to maturity and to old ages beardless as eunuchs. They all, however, have strong and well-knit limbs and fine necks. Yet they are of portentous ugliness and so crook-backed that you would take them for some sort of two‑footed beasts, or for the roughly-chipped stakes which one sees used for the railings of a bridge. And though they do just bear the likeness of men (of a very ugly pattern), they are so little advanced in civilization that they make no use of fire, nor of any kind of relish, in the preparation of their food, but feed upon the roots which they find in the fields, and the half‑raw flesh of any sort of animal. I say half‑raw, because they give it a kind of cooking by placing it between their own thighs and the backs of their horses. They never seek the shelter of houses, which they look upon as little better than tombs, and will only enter upon the direst necessity: nor would one be able to find among them even a cottage of wattled rushes: but wandering at large over mountain and through forest, they are trained to bear from infancy all the extremes of cold, of hunger, and of thirst.
p33 'They are clad in linen raiment, or in the skins of field-mice sewn together, and the same suit serves them for use in‑doors and out. However dingy the colour of it may become, the tunic which has once been hung round their necks is never laid aside nor changed till through decay the rags of it will no longer hold together. Their heads are covered with bent caps, their hairy legs with the skins of goats; their shoes, never having been fashioned on a last, are so clumsy that they cannot walk comfortably.
'On this account they are not well adapted to pedestrian encounters; but then on the other hand they are almost welded to their horses, which are hardy, though of ugly shape, and on which they sometimes ride women's fashion. On horseback every man of that nation lives night and day; on horseback he buys and sells; on horseback he takes his meat and drink, and when night comes he leans forward upon the narrow neck of his horse and there falls into a deep sleep, or wanders into the varied phantasies of dreams.
'When a discussion arises upon any matter of importance they come on horseback to the place of meeting. No kingly sternness overawes their deliberations, but being upon the whole well-contented with the disorderly guidance of their chiefs, they do not scruple to interrupt the debates with anything that comes into their heads.
'When attacked, they will sometimes engage in regular battle. Then, going into the fight in order of columns, they fill the air with varied and discordant cries. More often, however, they fight in no regular order of battle, but being extremely swift and sudden in their movements, they disperse, and then rapidly come together again in loose array, spread havoc over vast plains, and p34flying over the rampart, they pillage the camp of their enemy almost before he has become aware of their approach. It must be owned that they are the nimblest of warriors; the missile weapons which they use at a distance being pointed with sharpened bones admirably fastened to the shaft: when in close combat, they fight without regard to their own safety, and while their enemy is intent upon parrying the thrusts of their swords, they throw a net over him and so entangle his limbs that he loses all power of walking or riding.
'Not one among them cultivates the ground, or ever touches a plough-handle. All wander abroad without fixed abodes, without home, or law, or settled customs, like perpetual fugitives, with their waggons for their only habitations, in which their wives weave their foul garments, and bring forth children, and rear them up to the age of puberty.15 If you ask them, not one can tell you what is his place of origin; he was conceived in one place, born in another, educated perhaps in some yet more distant one. They are great truce-breakers, fickle, always ready to be swayed by the first breath of a new desire, abandoning themselves without restraint to the most ungovernable rage.
'Finally, like animals devoid of reason, they are utterly ignorant of what is seemly and what is not; they are tricksters with words, and full of dark sayings; they are never moved by either religious or superstitious awe; they burn with unquenchable thirst for gold, and they are so changeable and so easily moved to wrath, that many times in the day they will quarrel with their comrades on no provocation, and be reconciled having received no satisfaction.'
1 Vol. I p244.
2 It is true that this term, Turanian, seems to be going somewhat out of fashion in ethnological circles, and that it is confessedly a merely conventional designation. But either it or some other similar name will apparently be always required to denote those races in Europe and Asia which are neither Aryan nor Semitic, and which speak what are called 'agglutinative languages.'
3 This statement will be admitted to be generally true of all the Turanian tribes. There are however two honourable exceptions, the Finn n the Magyar. The Tartar sovereigns of India and China conformed to the civilized tastes of their subjects, but cannot claim the merit of having originated them. The following is a sketch of the chief historic races bearing the Turanian characteristics:— IMAGE
The Southern Division, comprising races in Thibet and the two Indian peninsulas, we may omit as too distant kinsmen of the Huns, our present subject.
4 Prichard, Researches into the Physical History of Mankind, IV.288 (quoting Ritter).
5 Deguignes calls him Chihoamti; but I have endeavoured, though at the risk of some inconsistency, to keep the English spelling of these Chinese names. The names of the Hiong‑nu princes I have not dared to alter from Deguignes.
6 The very name of Che‑Hwang-te (The Beginning Emperor) was meant to set forth this claim of his to be the beginning of Chinese greatness.
7 Tan‑jou = mighty; koto = son; Toem‑li = Heaven. Wylie calls the shorter name Shen‑yu, and the longer Chang‑le-kwa‑too Shen‑yu.
8 Wylie calls him Maou‑tun Shen‑yu.
9 Or the Tung‑hoo (Wylie).
10 Or Chang-keen (Wylie).
11 The historians, consulted by Mr. Wylie, put a somewhat different colour on this campaign of Li-kwang‑li. According to them, Li-kwang‑li, in the midst of a victorious expedition against the Hiong‑nu, received a message, brought him by his servant Hoo‑A‑foo, to the effect that his wife and family had all been sentenced to death Ostia Li‑ling's defection. (This defection had happened nine years before, but was perhaps only now bearing fruit manifestly in Li‑ling's command of the Hiong‑nu troops.) Hereupon Li-kwang‑li, determined to do a desperate deed and either conquer Fate or die, planned his march across the great desert. The Chief Historian of the Chinese army warned his comrades that the General was fighting wildly and staking his all on a single throw. He therefore advised them to seize Li-kwang‑li, who however was beforehand with his critic, and cut off the Chief Historian's head. According to these writers the trench was cut by Hiong‑nu in front of the Chinese troops and the attack was made in their rear.
12 One of the chief calumniators of Li-kwang‑li, and he who eventually succeeded in getting him offered up as a sacrifice, was Wei‑i, who had himself many years before deserted from the Chinese service, and who was bitterly jealous of the favour shown to the new‑w (Wylie).
13 Soo‑woo (Wylie).
14 On the death of Hou‑han‑sie, B.C. 31, a generous rivalry took place between his children, which should not succeed him. Besides other wives he had married two sisters, daughters of his Prime Minister. The elder sister, chief in rank, had the younger children, and this led to a discussion whether the dignity of the mother or the age of the children ought to be most regarded. Eventually all the four sons in question succeeded, first the two elder by the inferior wife, and then the two younger by the chief consort. Their regal names were as follows, and as they are a fair type of their class, the reader will perceive the reason for so often speaking of the Tanjou by his title and not quoting his name.
1. Feoutchouloui‑jo‑ti (Jo‑ti = the Greek Philopator).
In course of time two more sons of Hou‑han‑sie succeeded to the throne,
5. Ouloui‑jo‑ti and
It is perhaps an unworthy Aryan prejudice which finds a certain amount of uncouthness in these Turanian names.
15 The squalid prototype of the gorgeous Harem of the Ottomans.
Images with borders lead to more information.
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 4 Mar 12