Who are White Huns

During the 5th century, the Gupta dynasty in India reigned in the Ganges basin with the Kushan empire occupied the area along the Indus. Huns invaded India. This is the saying that goes on in History, let us analyse the facts.

White Huns
The paucity of record in Hephthalites or Ephthalites provides us fragmentary picture of their civilization and empire. Their background is uncertain. They probably stemmed from a combination of the Tarim basin peoples and the Yueh-chih. There is a striking resemblance in the deformed heads of the early Yueh-chih and Hephthalite kings on their coinage. According to Procopius's History of the Wars, written in the mid 6th century - the Hephthalites "are of the stock of the Huns in fact as well as in name: however they do not mingle with any of the Huns known to us. They are the only ones among the Huns who have white bodies...."
Ephthalites was the name given by Byzantine historians and Hayathelaites by the Persian historian Mirkhond, and sometimes Ye-tai or Hua by Chinese historians. They are also known as the White Huns, different from the Hun who led by Attila invading the Roman Empire. They are described as a kindred steppe people originally occupied the pasture-lands in the Altai mountain of southwestern Mongolia.

Toward the middle of the 5th century, they expanded westward probably because of the pressure from the Juan-juan, a powerful nomadic tribe in Mongolia. Within decades, they became a great power in the Oxus basin and the most serious enemy of the Persian empire.

The Westward Expansion and War with Sassanian Empire
At the time when the Hephthalites gained power, Kushan and Gandhara were ruled by the Kidarites, a local dynisty of Hun or Chionites tribe. The Hephthalites entered Kabul and overthrew Kushan. The last Kidarites fled to Gandhara and settled at Peshawar. Around 440 the Hephthalites further took Sogdian (Samarkand) and then Balkh and Bactria.
The Hephthalites moved closer and closer toward Persian territory. In 484 the Hephthalite chief Akhshunwar led his army attacked the Sassanian King Peroz (459-484) and the king was defeated and killed in Khurasan. After the victory, the Hephthalite empire extended to Merv and Herat, which had been the regions of the Sassanid Empire.

The Hephthalites, at the time, became the superpower of the Middle Asia. They not only destroyed part of Sassanian Empire in Iran but also intervened in their dynastic struggles when the Sassanid royal, Kavad (488-496), was fighting for the throne with Balash, brother of Peroz. Kavad married the niece of the Hephthalites chief and the Hephthalites aided him to regain his crown in 498AD.

The Eastward Expansion to the Tarim Basin
With the stabilization at the western border, the Hephthalites extended their influence to the northwest into the Tarim Basin. From 493 to 556 A.D., they invaded Khotan, Kashgar, Kocho, and Karashahr. The relationship with Juan-juan and China were tightened. The Chinese record indicated that between 507 and 531, the Hephthalites sent thirteen embassies to Northern Wei (439-534) by the king named Ye-dai-yi-li-tuo.

Invasion to India
During the 5th century, the Gupta dynasty in India reigned in the Ganges basin with the Kushan empire occupied the area along the Indus.

Huna in Sanskrit
India knew the Hephthalite as Huna by the Sanskrit name. The Hephthaltes or Hunas waited till 470 rigth after the death of Gupta ruler, Skandagupta (455-470), and entered the Inda from the Kabul valley after the conquest of Kushan. They kept on invading India until skandagupta repulsed them. After their defeat they assimilated into indian population without any trace, which show they are not very different from the local population.
Pahua, Hua , Hun?
Japanese researcher Kazuo Enoki takes on the theories of both the ancient and the modern writers, including the redoubtable Stein, knocking the legs out from one after another. Theories which are based on coincidence of name, e.g. Pahua and Hua, are unlikely in this part of the world which exhibits so many languages and so much linguistic adaptation and orthographic variation, he points out, and should not be upheld if other sorts of evidence do not support the reasoning. Stein's contention that the Ephthalites were of the Hunnish tribe and therefore of Turkish origin is dismissed largely on this basis. On the other hand, J. Marquart finds similarities between the terms for the Ephthalites in India and words in the Mongolian language, but this theory requires so many leaps between tongues that it remains quite unconvincing. Finally, there is a whole school of researchers attempting to prove this tribe a Turkish, albeit non-Hun, one. These too must rely only on flimsy name evidence. Instead, Enoki makes a convincing case that the Ephthalites are actually an Iranian group. His theory, it must be admitted, does not explain all, but there seems little against it. More importantly, it relies first on data which is generally agreed upon, namely, ancient observations of Ephthalite geographical movements and culture.
For Enoki, Ephthalite origins may be determined by considering where they were not, as well as by where their conquests drove their enemies. They were not previously north of the Tien Shan, thus they did not stem from that region. They drove the Kidarites out of Balkh to the west, thus they came originally from the east. By such reasoning, the Ephthalites are thought to have originated at Hsi-mo-ta-lo (southwest of Badakhshan and near the Hindu Kush), which tantalizingly, stands for Himtala, "snow plain", which may be the Sanskritized form of Hephthal.

Chinese Account
To the Chinese, they were the Ye-ti-i-li-do or Yeda, even though the Chinese chroniclers seem to realize that the people called themselves the people of Hua (the similarity to Hun may help explain the origin of "White Hun") and that the Chinese terms came actually from the name of the Hua leader. Like Procopius, contemporary Chinese chroniclers had their own theories about Ephthalite origins. One thought that were related in some way to the Visha (Indo-Europeans known to the Chinese as the "Yueh Chih" (Yuezhi)), another, a branch of the Kao-ch`ê, a third, descendants of the general Pahua, a fourth descendants of Kang Chu and a fifth admits that he cannot make clear their origins at all.
Iranian Decent
Turning to the elements of Ephthalite culture, Enoki notes that Procopius' comments on their appearance while not decisive, are in favor of an Iranian theory. Similarly, the seventh century travels of Hsuan Chwang show that he found no physical difference between the descendants of the Ephthalites and their known Iranian neighbors. As for their language, commentators made clear that it was neither Turkish nor Mongol, which also seems to support an Iranian origin.
Iranian customs also are common in the Ephthalite world. For example, the practice of several husbands to one wife, or polyandry, was always the rule, which is agreed on by all commentators. That this was plain was evidenced by the custom among the women of wearing a hat containing a number of horns, one for each of the subsequent husbands, all of whom were also brothers to the husband. Indeed, if a husband had no natural brothers, he would adopt another man to be his brother so that he would be allowed to marry. Conjugal rights were traded off and children were assigned in turn with the oldest husband receiving the first and so on. Tellingly, polyandry has never been associated with any Hun tribe, but is known of several Central Asian ones.
In their religious beliefs, the Ephthalites are said to have worshipped fire and sun gods. While either one is not unusual in any early culture around the world, both together is likely to indicate a Persian origin. In Persia, such beliefs were later to culminate in Zoroastrianism.
As part of their religious observance, the Ephthalites did not cremate, but as is reported by all commentators including Procopius, always buried their dead, either by constructing a tomb or under the ground. This is not consistent with the Zoroastrian practice of leaving the body in the open, but is clearly at odds with Turkish nomadic groups. The practice of inhumation then may simply indicate an Iranian group which had been sundered from the main branch at an early date and had adopted local Central Asian burial customs.

Arabic persian Accounts
Arabic/Persian name for the Hephtalites/Ephtalites was Haytal or Hayatila, and they are so mentioned by Firdausi in his Shahnameh. In his commentary on the Hudud al Alam, the late Russian Professor Minorsky quotes two early passages from Arab chroniclers that link the Khalaj with the Hayatilas aka Ephtalites.
  • From the Mafatih al Ulum of Al-Khwarezmi written in 975 AD (H. 365): The Hayatila are a tribe of men who had enjoyed grandeur and possessed the country of Tukharistan; the Turks called Khalukh, or Khalaj, are their descendants.
  • From the Kitab al Masalik of Istakhri, written in 933 AD (H. 321): The Khalaj are a kind of Turks who in the days of old came to the country between Hind and the districts of Sijistan (Sakastan/Sistan) behind Ghor. They are catle-breeders of Turkish apperance, dress, language.
Takharistan is what is now north-eastern Afghansitan, around Baghlan. Takharistan was actually one of the major strongholds of the Hephtalites during their dominant period in history, so it correlates well to the 2 passages above. Both passages take the Khalaj back some five centuries before the Ghuzz migrations, making their ancestors the White Huns.
As their empire shows, the central focal spot of their empire is the Hindu Kush. Regardless of their origins, by the end of the 6th century AD, there emerges a group of tribes with an Iranian background and language, but not fire worshippers, rather sun worshippers, made up of successive hordes overlaid at the last by a Hunnish conquest, and with a centre of historical attraction towards the Gandhara Valley.

So white Huns are of Decendents of Iranian and Central Asian tribe ,and they are noway connected with Huns of Attila fame. Probably they are just Indian tribe on the periphery in Afghanisthan

Let us see other Huns
European Huns
In 370, nomads arrived nroth of the Black Sea. These nomads were given the name "Huns" by Greco-Roman historians. One theory for the origin of these people is that in 160, Fragments of the Xiong Nu settle around the Ural sea for 200 years, before moving west. However, association of the Xiong Nu and the Huns is now more of a "classic speculation" without enough evidence. Most realistically, the Huns in Europe could've contained some fragments of the Xiong Nu, but also fragments of other steppe groups, along with more local european barbarians. In any case, the Huns moved and destroyed the cultures north of the Pontus including the Sarmatians and the Goths. The Goths then migrated into the Eastern Roman empire, who after rebelling against the Empire, defeated the Romans at Adrianople. The Hun gradually expanded their realms incorporating many local barbarian groups. The height of the empire marked the Reign of Attila, who made repeated invasion against the Romans. Although the Huns did not penetrate very deeply compared to other barbarians, they were instrumental in causing migrations of other barbarians against Rome. After Attila died, the empire rapidly fell apart. Germanic tribes rebelled and defeated Attila's sons, forcing whatever was of the Huns to move back into the steppes, where they faced away.

Red Huns (Chionites)
In 350, the Chionites came to power in Sogdia and invaded the Sassanid Empire of Persia. Latin sources relate them to "Huns" but ethnical relations is far beyond what names can say. Most probable, they were driven out of the Mongolian Steppes by the Juan Juan. (this pattern of groups migrating away from strong nomadic empires is a constant theme in history) The Chionites declined with the Invasion of the White Huns. The last record of Chionites was in 558 AD, when their last remnant was destroyed by the Western Turks.

Related Posts
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Origin of Indo-Europeans
Who are Kambojas
Who are Yavanas
Rajput Origin
Hungarian Origin



  1. you should have a bibliography, that why readers know this is legitimate facts and maybe even use them as sources for their paper and stuff like that. but other than that its good site- original!

  2. I'm reviewing the information you provided, and it looks better than many of the other sources of info about the White Huns.

    I've got a map I made of the Hephthalites & Hunas in 500 AD, which is available at www.worldhistorymaps.info/images/Hephthalites_500ad.jpg.


    Thomas Lessman
    Web: www.WorldHistoryMaps.info
    Blog: www.talessman.blogspot.com

    1. Perhaps the Kangly people, in the middle of the map, near by the Khazar Sea, were most likely the Angle (Anglo) People.

  3. SO the racial identity of the "White Huns" has never been established?

  4. The details are sketchy , Information about white huns is not facts but theories , which may change when additional information come to light.

  5. The Hephthaltes or Hunas waited till 470 rigth after the death of Gupta ruler, Skandagupta (455-470), and entered the Inda from the Kabul valley after the conquest of Kushan. They kept on invading India until skandagupta repulsed them. "

    Wait a minute..isnt that contradictory. How can be defeated by Skandagupta if he died before they invaded?

  6. you are right Rao. He can't defeat them after he died. The Sentence "They kept on invading India till Skandagupta repulsed them" should have been earlier than skandagupta death sentence. Thankyou for pointing out that.

    The Huns invaded again after Skandagupta death and raided North India. Until Yashodarman finished them off.

    But my view is Guptas did not have to deal with huns. Because Guptas belong to different era in pre-christian times. Skandagupta defeated Sakas. There is no point in history where Sakas and Hunas are invading around the same time. Infact Huns replaced Sakas in their lands. So Skandagupta cannot defeat Huns. Skandagupta repulsing huns is theory. Fighting between Huns and Guptas is lot of Guesswork. Huns during gupta regime lived north of kashmir and were not dislogdged from there yet.


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