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Bill Thayer

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Book II
Chapter 1

This webpage reproduces a section of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London, 1892

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book II
Chapter 2

Book 2 (continued)

Vol. II
Note A

On the Early Identification of the Hiong‑nu with the Huns

I quote from Mr. Howorth's 'Introduction to the Translation of the Annals of the Han Dynasty' (by Mr. Wylie), contributed to the Journal of the Anthropological Institute (III.398), the following criticism of the theory adopted in my first edition.

'De Guignes, than whom no one has done more for the elucidation of the ethnology of Asia in ancient times, propounded the doctrine that the European Huns were descended from the Hiong‑nu of the Chinese writers, and he consequently in his history of the Huns worked out in some detail the account of the Hiong‑nu, so far as it could be collected from the narratives of Matuanlin and the other epitomisers of the Chinese annals. Minute ethnology was then in its infancy. The distinctions between Mongols, Turks, Ugrians, &c., &c., were hardly recognised because hardly known. Since the days of De Guignes the subject has received immense illustration from various quarters, and now no European scholar of any repute — save perhaps Dr. Latham — connects the Huns with the Hiong‑nu. The Huns, as I have elsewhere argued, were a race of Ugrians, led by a caste of another race now represented by some of the Lesghian tribes of the Caucasus. The Hiong‑nu were not Ugrians. It was Klaproth who first proved that the Hiong‑nu were Turks, and his conclusions were endorsed by the very competent authority of Abel Rémusat, and since by other scholars.' The argument thus divides itself into two parts.

I. Proof that the Huns were Ugrians.

This rests on the existence of some 'Lesghian' tribes in the Eastern Caucasus who bear names which appear to be corrupted from 'Hun' and 'Avar.' Among these tribes, names closely corresponding with those of Attila and his family are still, it is said, in common use. The dialect of the 'Andi,' whom Howorth  p36 takes to be the representatives of the Huns, 'approximates very closely to the Ugrian or Finnic dialects proper, while the Avar has many idiosyncrasies related to the Samoyedic class of Siberian languages.'

II. Proof that the Hiong‑nu were a Turkic tribe.

This rests chiefly on the Turkic character of the vocabulary of the Thiu-Khiu, a fragment of the dispersed Hiong‑nu who, in the fifth century, settled in the Altai mountains. Fifteen or sixteen words in use among the Thiu-Khiu, including those for house, meat, horse, wolf, black, white, old, camp, and warrior, are shown to be identical with or closely analogous to words in the Turkish or Mongol languages. Hence it is argued, the Hiong‑nu must have been closely related to the Turks.

The question is one which must be decided by experts in ethnology. To me, knowing scarcely anything of that science, there seem one or two weak links in the chain of argument; but then, on the other hand, we must not forget that the equation

Hun = Hiong‑nu

rests on nothing more than one, perhaps accidental, similarity of names. It is difficult not to be attracted by the theory of De Guignes, because of the almost ludicrous similarity between the treatment of the Chinese Emperors by the Tanjous and that of the Roman Emperors by Attila and his progenitors. But of course there is nothing in this similarity which can weigh against any well-settled conclusion of ethnological science.

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