(Latin Hunni), a nation of Asiatic origin, and in all likelihood of Mongolian or Tartar stock, therefore akin to. and perhaps to be identified with, the Scythians and the Turks, were, according to De Guignes (Hist. des Huns), whose theory was accepted by Gibbon, and is now entertained by all competent critics, lineal descendants from the Hiong-now nation, "whose ancient seat was an extensive but barren tract of country immediately to the north of the great wall of China. About the year B.C. 200 these people overran the Chinese empire, defeated the Chinese armies in numerous engagements, and even drove the emperor Kao-ti himself to an ignominious capitulation and treaty. During the reign of Vou-ti (B.C. 141- 87) their power was very much broken. Eventually they separated into two distinct camps, one of which, amounting to about 50,000 families, went southwards, while the other endeavored to maintain itself in its original seat. This, however, it was very difficult for them to do; and eventually the most warlike and enterprising went west and north-west in search of new homes. Of those that went northwest, a large number established themselves for a while on the banks of the Volga." About the earlier part of the 4th century they crossed this river, and advanced into the territories of the Alani, a pastoral people dwelling between the Volga and the Don. The incursion was resisted with much bravery and some effect, until at length a bloody and decisive battle was fought on the banks of the Don, in which the Alan king was slain, and his army utterly routed, and the vast majority of the survivors agreed to join the invaders. They next encountered successfully the aged leader of the Goths, who claimed as his dominions the land situated between the Baltic and the Euxine, and then his successor Withimir, whom they slew in battle. The Goths still remaining placed themselves under the protection of the emperor Valens, who in 376 gave permission to a great number of them to cross the Danube, and settle in the countries on the other side as auxiliaries to the Roman arms against further invasion. The Huns thus became the occupants of all the old territories of the Goths; and when these, not long afterwards, revolted against Valens, the Huns also crossed the Danube, and joined their arms to those of the Goths in hostilities against the Roman empire.
In the wars that followed, the Huns were less conspicuous than the Goths, their former enemies. In the 5th century they were strengthened by fresh hordes of their brethren, and they determined to gain further conquests. In the reign of Theodosius, under their king Attila (q.v.), they were even strong enough to receive an annual tribute from the Romans to secure their empire against external injury. With Attila's death, however, in 454, their power was totally broken. A few feeble sovereigns succeeded him, but there was now strife everywhere among the several nations that had owned the firm sway of Attila, and the Huns never regained their power. Many of them took service in the armies of the Romans, and others again joined fresh hordes of invaders from the north and east; which were undoubtedly tribes related to them, especially the Avares, whom they joined in great numbers and hence perhaps the reason why, at this period of their history, they are frequently called Hunnavares They now made themselves masters of the country known by us as Lower Austria. But the Slaves (Slavonians?) in Bohemia and Moravia regained their territory in the 8th century, and many of the Hunnavares were made slaves, and were thus brought to a knowledge of Christianity.
Their inclinations, however, led them to oppose most fiercely all the inroads of Christianity, and they transformed Christian churches into heathen temples wherever they were successful in gaining territory. About 791 Charlemagne waged war against the Avares, as the Huns were then called, in which many of them were slain, and but few weak tribes remained. About the year 799 they were finally conquered, and their power broken. Charles himself regarded this war as a sort of crusade or holy war, and sent to the pope and the Church all the tribute paid him by the vanquished foe. The first great convert to Christianity was one of their princes, called Tudem, who sent a legation to Charlemagne in 795, with the declaration that he would become tributary to him and accept the Christian religion. He was baptized at Aix-la-Chapelle in 796, but shortly after his return to his tribe he abjured the newly-accepted faith. King Pepin paid particular attention to the conversion of the Huns, in whose behalf Alcuin (q.v.) also was greatly interested. By peopling the territory assigned to them with ‘ Germans, especially Bavarians, and by founding several monasteries and cathedrals, the subsequent Christian princes furthered Christianity among them, until they became amalgamated with the Germans.
The Huns are said to have been of a dark complexion, almost black; deformed in their appearance, of uncouth gesture, and shrill voice. The ancient descriptions unmistakably ally them to the Tartars. "They were distinguished from the rest of the human species by their broad shoulders, flat noses, and small black eyes deeply buried in the head; and, as they were almost destitute of beards, they never enjoyed either the manly graces of youth or the venerable aspect of age. A fabulous origin was assigned worthy of their form and manners-that the witches of Scythia, who for their foul and deadly practices, had been driven from society, had copulated in the desert with infernal spirits, and that the Huns were the offspring of this execrable conjunction" (Gibbon). See Wetzer und Welte, Kirchen-Lex. 5, 397 sq.; Chambers, Cyclop. 5, 462; Appleton, Am. Cyclop. 9, 318; Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Milman's ed.), vol. 6 (see Index). (J. H.W.)