The Political History of the Hunas in India

The Political History of the Hunas in India

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Item Code: IDD961
Author: Atreyi Biswas
Publisher: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 1973
Pages: 260 (B & W Illus: 54)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8" X 5.8"
About the Book:

This book is a valuable and authentic contribution regarding the huna rulers of India. The author ventures to differ on many crucial points of the history of the Hunas from the time-old conceptions on the basis of authentic literary and archaeological sources of the early Huna rulers. It is generally believed that only two Huna kings ruled over India - Tormana and Mihirkula. It also deals here with on the latest research findings and new evidences and reveals a chronological sketch of the successors of Mihirkula till finally they were merged and absorbed in the Indian society and culture. The appendix at the end of the book gives a vivid account of the coins of the Huna Kings, which the author has personally examined in the various museums in India and United Kingdom.

About the Author:

Dr. Atreyi Biswas was brought up in a highly academic atmosphere at Agra in Uttar Pradesh. She did her M.A. and Ph.D. in history from the Universities of Agra and London respectively. During 1966-68, she worked on a doctoral assignment in the School of Oriental and Afghan Studies, London under Prof. C. H. Phillips, for collecting original sources of the Vedic period of Indian history. She has also contributed several articles in scholarly journals. She is at present head of the history department in Satyavati Co-educational College, Delhi University


FROM the very beginnings of civilization in Western Asia, India and China until recent times, a period of roughly four thousand years, the barbarian nomads of the steppes of Central Asia and South Russia have presented a threat to the security of the more civilized peoples to their south, east and west. With the advantage of rapid mobility, largely due to their superb horsemanship, they constantly raided the sedentary peoples on their borders. From time to time, probably impelled by climatic factors and over-population, they sent forth their hordes in larger numbers, to conquer and dominate the more fertile and well-watered regions of Asia and Europe. The constant threat of the nomad barbarians was recognized by the historians of China and classical Europe, and was reflected in the writings of ancient India, which contain many references to the barbarian mlecchas on the north—western frontiers. The first scholar to formulate a philosophy of history, Ibn Khaldun, saw the history of the world, as he knew it, as a story of constant tension and strife between the nomads and the civilised peoples.

India suffered several incursions from the nomads. The first of which we have record was that of the Aryans, who did much to form the civilization of India. Fifteen hundred years later came the Sakas and Kusanas, and, later still, in the fifth century an, the Hunas, the subject of this": monograph. Though after a century or two, their identity was virtually lost, they had a very traumatic impact on northern India, and stories of the ruthlessness of the Huna Mihirakula were told centuries after his defeat and death. The Hunas promoted the downfall of the Gupta Empire, and the older dominant tribes of Rajasthan and other parts of western India almost completely disappeared as a result of their attacks.

Dr Atreyi Biswas has produced a study of the Hunas in India more thorough and scholarly than any earlier survey of the subject. She has not neglected the difficult problems connected with the earlier history of the Hunas, and their relations with kindred peoples bearing similar names, the Hsiung-nu of the Chinese chroniclers and the Hunni of late Greek and Latin authors. In her work she has utilized material in many languages, ancient and modern, and has presented many original theories and suggestions. I warmly commend this book, as one of the finest historical studies to have been produced in India in recent years.


FOR THE VARIOUS reasons the subject of the Hunas is seldom well understood in the context of Indian history. It deserves to be treated in its full scope, as here conceived, and only so, can it he given its due. A few articles have been written on some parts of the subject, but these are insufficient to cover such a vast and complex topic. The latest work published on the subject is of Upendra Thakur. I was not able to consult his book ‘"The Hunas in India’, published in 1967, at the time of submitting my thesis in 1965. The work we admired, though in minor details we differ from his ideas and conclusions. His history of the Hunas mainly starts with Toramana, whereas our chronological list starts not with Toramana, but with his father Tunjina or Tigin. Besides this the way he dealt the later Hunas In completely different from our studies. He has not tried to give a chronological history of the family of Mihirakula and has confined himself with the references of the later Hunas, as occur in the inscriptions of the various kings of Rajput dynasties. No serious attempt has been made to identify the Hunas, referred to in these sources. We have given the history of the descendants of Mihirakula, as far as literary and epigram-phical documents have allowed us. In this we may claim some originality, although our conclusions, based as they are on rather ambiguous evidence, must be taken as tentative and provisional. By its very nature the history of the Hunas in India ramifies in every direction to the borders of the unknown. The original sources are of every kind and value and are open to be variously interpreted in many important matters. Owing to these difficulties, we have limited ourselves mainly to the political history of the tribe. But Appendix I is a purely numismatic study and Chapter VII is chiefly concerned with the problems of social history, since it discusses the assimilation of the Hunas into Indian Society.

It would be worth mentioning here that in our Introduction we refer Hunas as Hans simply because they were known outside India in that form. We hope that this attempt to write a history of the Hunas, from their earliest invasion to India until they were assimilated into Hindu society, will encourage others to till up the gaps, which may be found after reading this work, by a redoubled search for new evidence and further study of the sources already known., In the task of completing this work I am extremely indebted to Prof. AQL. Basham for his inspiring supervision and the valuable help he has given to me throughout. I also wish particularly to express my gratefulness to Dr. A.D.H. Bivar (School of Oriental and African Studies, London), for the suggestions he has given to me in discussing many points regarding the text. I am thankful to Dr. Gobl (University of Vienna), Miss H.W. Mitchel (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) and to the staff of the Department of the Coins and Medals of the British Museum for their help in providing me necessary coins and supplying me with photographs of them. I am grateful to Mr. D.C. Lau and Mr. H.L. Kahn for their assistance they have given by checking and translating the Chinese sources, without which I would have been in serious difficulty. I wish to express my warm appreciation and thanks to all my friends and colleagues at School of Oriental and African Studies and British Museum who contributed in their several ways to the conclusion of the study and in particular to those who read and commented on the text at draft stage. My sincere thanks to Shri Devendra Jain of Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, in taking pain to see it through the press and, above all, for his kind and patient dealings with me.


The History of the Huns in its entirety is one of the most complicated and elaborate subjects to be dealt with by one historian. Yet it is necessary, as an introductory chapter of our work, to give a thumbnail sketch of this vast history, which is related to the histories of China, Persia, Europe and India.

In the last two centuries many works have been produced in an attempt to solve the problem of the Huns. But no scholar would dare to say that he had finally accomplished the task. Deguignes has remarked in the preface of his voluminous book on the Huns that their history "is the history of a nation nearly ignored." This judgement, though made more than two centuries ago, is still largely true and much work remains to be done on the subject.

The Hsiung-nus in relation with China

On the Northern frontier of China, there were a few nomadic tribes, whom the Chinese regarded as barbarians. The earliest Chinese records seem to call them Ti. Later on another word Pei was added to the word Ti. As Pei means northern, the two words together denoted the Northern Ti. Whether Pei-ti signified any single ethnic group, is very doubtful. Klaproth thinks that under the denomination of Pei-ti various northern barbarian tribes were included, though originally of different ethnic groups. Another word used t0 designate the untamed people of the northern borders of China was Shan-jung or Jung (i.e. the barbarians) of the mountains.

All these various nomadic tribes were probably originally, different from each other. During the time of the first Chinese dynasty (the Hsia) the northern barbarians were called by the name Hsun-yu. Then, about 1000 BC, the designation of Hsien-yun was given to them. And finally the Chinese annalists under the Ch’in and Han dynasties named these northern nomads Hsiung-nu. As a sound similar to Hsun occurs in all three words, it is thought that the Hsun-yu), Hsien—yun and Hsiung-nu, were all of the same ethnic stock. Moreover, we see that the Chinese emperors sometimes changed the spelling of the word to suit their changing attitudes towards these people. For example, in about AD 10 emperor Wang-mang substituted the word Hsiang-nu for Hsiung-nu which implied the submissive state of these savages. Later on he again changed the spelling to Kung-nu, because now he was in friendly relations, with the Hsiung-nus and the word Kung-nu denoted their position of respect Thus it would not be far- fetched to regard the words Hsun-yu, Hsien-yun and Hsiung-nu as designations of the same group. But this does not imply that the Hsiung-nu was a thoroughly homogeneous race. They may well have comprised Turkish, Mongolian and other racial elements, For as the Hsiung—nu power grew stronger and their empire extended from the Japanese sea to the Volga region, various nomadic tribes submitted to them, and gradually they were all called by the single name of Hsiung-nu, though originally they differed from each other. It is interesting to note that the great Hunnish ruler Mo—tun, who created a vast empire, prided himself in being "the leader of all those who shoot arrows from horseback." This statement simply shows that the word Hsiung-nu was a term applied to nomads in general.

When and from where the Hsiung-nus came to the north of China, is not known to us. But the Chinese traditions has a story, which connects at least the royal family of the Hsiung-nus with the Hsia dynasty of China, founded by the great Yu, son of the minister Kun, according to the legend, in c. 2205 Bc. After the fall of this Chinese dynasty a prince of the family named Ch’un-wei migrated with 500 followers to the northern parts of China, and there he was not only cordially welcomed by the barbarian Hsiung—nus, but was selected as their ruler and became the founder of a dynasty.

After this tradition of the origin of the Hsiung—nu royal family there is a long gap in their history. In the, 4th century no B.C. the northern barbarians were mentioned as divided into three groups: Tung-hu, Yueh—chih and Hsiung—nu. All these nomadic tribes were then too weak and insignificant to play any important role in the history of Central Asia or China. (Gradually the Hsiung—nu tribe took the leading part in unifying the barbarians and in extending their power and influence over the Chinese feudal lords. In 321 BC, the Hsiung—nus accompanied by some Chinese feudal lords, started to attack the (Ch’in kingdom of North China. But gradually the allies were overpowered by the Ch’in, and after completely defeating them Slih-huang-ti, of the Ch’in dynasty proclaimed himself the universal emperor in about 246 Bc. He drove the Hsiung-nus out of the neighbourhood of China and forced them to settle down in Mongolia. To protect the Chinese empire from the nomadic raids, he built the Great Wall of China, extending from the sea to the farthest western frontier of Kansu province. This consolidation of China by Shih-huang—ti weakened the position of the Hsiung-nus and prevented them from extending their empire into China for the time being. This event diverted their attention and interest towards the other nomadic tribes.

After the originator of the Hsiung-nu royal family, Chun-wei,' we hear the name of T’ou-man as the first Shan-yu: (or supreme chief) of the Hsiung-nus. In 209 BC T’ou-man was murdered and succeeded by his valiant son Mo-tun as Shan—yu (209-174 BC)


The History of the Hunas before their Invasion of India


Chapter I
Origin and Ethnology of the Hunas of India


Chapter II
The Early Hunas of India


Chapter III


Chapter IV
Mihirakula and his Adversaries.


Chapter V


Chapter VI
The Later Hunas.


Chapter VII
The Assimilation of the Hunas into Indian Society


Appendix I
Huna Coins in India.





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