The Huns are widely thought of as savage barbarians who appeared briefly in history, wreaked death and destruction, then disappeared again. Recent archaeological and historical discoveries are raising questions about this view.
Of the European countries, Hungary has the most legends about the Huns and in these legends they are the heroes, not the villains. Hungarian academic and researcher, Dr. Borbála Obrusánszky, has followed their trail all the way to China and Mongolia, where she did postgraduate work. She was also part of a Hungarian team that visited China and was interviewed by the National Geographic’s Hungarian edition. In an interview with Digital Journal, she explained that while the Huns, as a people, no longer exist, much of their culture remains:
When I was studying in Mongolia, I discovered very many similarities between traditional Hungarian and Mongolian folk cultures. I started to seek the roots of this and based on the guidance of my teachers, I found (the answers) in the Huns.
Responding to a question about the Hun’s reported barbarism and savagery, Obrusánszky said:
Only the Western Roman chroniclers thought that. The other sources, for example the Chinese, always painted a realistic picture of the Huns. They were not wild or barbarians, but only had different customs, which the town-dwellers did not know. But those who spent a long time among the Huns soon sang their praises, because they considered them a very hospitable people.Chinese Sources Detailed Hun Culture
On the origins of the Huns, Obrusánszky said:
The most detailed information comes from the Eastern Huns, since the Chinese wrote down practically all the most significant facts about them. In many of their chronicles, they tell of the Huns’ lifestyle, laws, in fact, they even compare them with their own. Not only that, but even Hun words can be found in them. The Chinese researchers have already analyzed them. From these we learn that their (main) centre was in the great bend of the Yellow River, which they call Ordos today, which was also an important metallurgical centre. The Hun state was linked by contemporary sources to the Xia (Dynasty 2,200-1,700 B.C.) and they believe that Huns still lived in the sea of Chinese and Turkic peoples until the 7th Century A.D., when they were gradually absorbed into the different steppe tribes. The Attila of the Eastern Huns was Maotun …He was the one who increased the size of the Hun Empire and made the Chinese his tributaries for a long time.
English-language sources refer to the Asiatic Huns by a Chinese term, ”Xiongnu.” Digital Journal asked whether the Xiongnu were in fact related to Attila’s Huns:
Naturally. This is no longer an issue in scholarship. At international conferences, the division of the Huns is not a question (anymore.) There are still some researchers, who do not want to acknowledge the facts. The Chinese chronicles follow Attila’s ancestors all the way to Central Asia, where Armenian, Iranian and Indian sources report on the new enemy. Not only that, but coin finds date which state(s) they founded. According to the new opinion(s), however, the Huns survived on the Eurasian Steppe until the 6th Century A.D. What is more, certain researchers consider it possible that they stayed in contact with each other, or knew about each other.' Barbarians' Built Cities
Obrusánszky added something that seemed the most surprising thing about these ”barbarians.” They built cities and she had visited the ruins of one of them:
The Huns also had settlements where they only stayed temporarily, but they had permanent trade centres and manufacturing towns, since they needed places where they could construct items both for weapons and military use as well as for their everyday lives. In Mongolia they link 10 towns to them, and in Russian territories they have also excavated many towns. What’s more in China there is the luxurious town of the Southern Xiongnu Huns. (This is) Tongwancheng, which can still be seen today. Not long ago, they found an unusual community not far from Shanghai, where Hun deserters settled after being separated during a military campaign, and the houses there have preserved these masterpieces of the Huns’ decorative art.
Dr Borbála Obrusánszky
The Ruins of the South Hun City of Tongwancheng
Obrusánszky turned next to the subject of Attila, King of the Huns:
Attila is the greatest figure in European history, many still tremble at his name. He created a great federal state from the foothills of the Caucasus to the Rhine. He was victorious in practically all his campaigns, he went wherever he wanted to, because his military knowledge and his army stood above that of the Romans. Despite this, at the Pope’s request, he spared Rome. By contrast, the Vandals sacked it. Attila was the ancestor of both the Hungarian and Bulgarian dynasties, and among us he was counted as a Hungarian king in the Middle Ages. (The Hungarian) leader, Árpád, considered him his ancestor and conquered the land (of Hungary) by this right.
Dr. Obrusánszky explained that these recent discoveries and ongoing studies in China, Mongolia and Hungary, as well as other countries, are likely to change perceptions of the Huns and their historical achievements.