Xionites, Chionites, or Chionitae (Middle Persian: Xiyōn or Hiyōn;
Avestan: Xiiaona; Sogdian: xwn; Pahlavi: Huna), or Hunni, Yun or Xūn
(獯), were a nomadic people who were prominent in
Xionites (Chionitae) are first mentioned with
Kushans (Cuseni) by
Ammianus Marcellinus who spent the winter of 356-57 CE in their Balkh
territory. They arrived with the wave of immigration from Central
Iran in late antiquity. They were influenced by the Kushan
and Bactrian cultures, while patronizing the Eastern Iranian
languages, and became a threat on the northeastern frontier of the
There seem to have been two subgroups of Xionites, which were known in
Iranian languages as the Karmir Xyon and Spet Xyon. The prefixes
karmir ("red") and speta ("white") likely refer to Central Asian
traditions in which particular colours are associated with cardinal
points: red usually symbolises "south" and white "west". The Karmir
Xyon were known in European sources as the Kermichiones or "Red Huns",
and some scholars have identified them with the
Alchon. The Spet Xyon or "White Huns" appear to have been the known in
India by the cognate name Sveta-huna, and are often identified,
controversially, with the Hephtalites.
2.1 Conquest of Bactria
Huns and White Huns
3 See also
5 External links
Hephthalite horseman on
British Museum bowl, 460-479 CE.
It is difficult to determine the ethnic composition of the
Xionites. Simocatta, Menander, and
Priscus provided evidence that
Xionites were somewhat different from the Hephthalites, whereas
Richard Nelson Frye
Richard Nelson Frye suggested that the Hepthalites may have been a
prominent tribe or clan of the Xionites. Carlile Aylmer Macartney
(1944) wrote: "The name Chyon, originally that of some other race, was
"transferred later to the
Huns owing to the similarity of sound". The
nation can hardly be other than that which appears in the 4th century,
under the name of Chionits, in the steppes on the north-west frontier
of Persia. These Chionites were probably a branch of the Huns, the
other branch appeared afterwards in Europe. The Chionites appear to
have attacked and conquered the Alans, then living between the Urals
and the Volga about AD 360, while the first mention of the Chionites
is dated AD 356".
Harold Walter Bailey (1932) wrote that the "Xyon" were mentioned
in "Pahlavi and
Avestan [Iranian] texts". They "would appear to be a
name of an enemy of the
Iranian people in
Avestan times, transferred
later to the
Huns owing to similarity of sound, as Tur was adapted to
Turk in Pahlavi". Bailey added that "three divisions" of the "Xyon ...
seem to be recognized": "the Turks, the Karmir (Red) Xyon, and the
White Xyon." Macartney also considered the question of the identity
of the Karmir Xyon or Kermichiones.
Who were these people? They cannot have been the Turks-Toue-Kioue,
since their embassy reached Constantinople while the Avars were still
negotiating with Rome for settlement inside the frontier-probably,
therefore, as early as AD 558, whereas the true Turks appeared there
first in 568; further, their ruler's name was `Aσκήλτ or Scultor,
Khagan of the Turks at that time was Silzabul, Dizabul, or
Istämi. Neither can they have been the Juan Juan, as Marquart
suggests; nor the Epthalites, who were well known to the Byzantines
and would not have been described in this way. Moreover, the
Epthalites were known as White Huns, and Mr. Bailey has pointed out
that the word Karmir xyon, meaning Red Chyon, occurs in a Pahlavi text
in juxtaposition with SpEt xyon, White Chyon.
(Macartney considered that the name of the Chionites was "replaced by
that of the ...
Kidarite Huns". He also claimed, erroneously, that
Kidarites were ... identical with the Kushan", when the Central
Asian empire of the
Kushans had been destroyed by the
Hunas in the mid-4th Century.)
Frye wrote (1991): "Just as later nomadic empires were confederations
of many peoples, we may tentatively propose that the ruling groups of
these invaders were, or at least included, Turkic-speaking tribesmen
from the east and north, although most probably the bulk of the people
in the confederation of Chionites and then
Hephtalites spoke an
Iranian language (...) This was the last time in the history of
Central Asia that Iranian-speaking nomads played any role; hereafter
all nomads would speak Turkic languages."
In 1992 Wolfgang Felix considered the
Xionites a tribe of probable
Iranian origin that was prominent in
Transoxania in late
According to A.S. Shahbazi (2005), the
Xionites were a "Hunnic"
people who by the early 4th century had mixed with north Iranian
elements in Transoxiana, adopted the Kushan-Bactrian language, and
Xionites followed animist religious beliefs,
which mixed later with varieties of Buddhism and
The Armenian Catholicos John III Odzunetsi (c. 728) mentions an
ancient town of Hunor's foundation (Hunoracerta) in the
established in 215BC. The Armenian Agathangelus mentions also that
North Caucasian Huns living among the peoples of the
Caucasus in 227AD.
Conquest of Bactria
See also: Kidarites
Kidarites king Kidara, circa 350-386 AD.
Xionite campaigns are better documented in connection with the history
of Central Asia, particularly during the second half of the 4th
century AD until the mid-5th century AD.
They organised themselves into Northern "Black" (beyond the Jaxartes),
Kidarites or Southern "Red" (in Hindu Kush south of the Oxus), Eastern
"Blue" (in Tianshan), and Western
Hephthalites or "White" (around
Khiva) hordes. Artefacts found from the area they inhabited dating
from their period indicate their totem animal seems to have been the
(rein)deer. An inscription on the walls of the royal palace in
Persepolis about Darius's empire calls them Hunae. It appears that a
combination of both the
Battle of Ikh Bayan
Battle of Ikh Bayan and Ban Chao's efforts are
responsible for their first appearance in the West. The Armenian
Moses of Khorene
Moses of Khorene (5th century), in his "History of Armenia,"
introduces the Hunni near the
Sarmatians and goes on to describe how
they captured the city of
Balkh (Armenian "Kush") sometime between 194
and 214 which is why the
Greeks called that city Hunuk.
According to the Armenian sources their capital was at Balkh
(Armenian: Kush). Their most famous rulers were called the Kidarites.
At the end of the 4th century AD, a new wave of Hunnic tribes (Alchon)
invaded Bactria, pushing the
Kidarites into Gandhara.
Artificial cranial deformation
Artificial cranial deformation of
Alchon Huns, as seen on a portrait
Khingila c. 430 - 490 AD.
Alchon or Alχon (Uarkhon)[dubious – discuss] became the new name of
Xionites in 460, when
Khingila I united the Uar
Xionites under his
Hephthalite ruling élite.[citation
At the end of the 5th century the
Alchon invaded northern India where
they became known as the Huna. In India the Alchon
were not distinguished from their immediate Hephthalite
predecessors, and both are known as Sveta-Hunas
there. Perhaps complimenting this term, Procopius
(527-565) wrote that they were white skinned, had an
organized kingship, and that their life was not wild/nomadic but that
they lived in cities.
Although the power of the
Bactria was shattered in the 560's
by a combination of
Sassanid and proto-Turkic forces, the last
Hephthal king Narana/Narendra managed to maintain some kind of rule
between 570 and 600 AD over the 'nspk' or 'napki' or 'nezak' tribes
that remained after most of the
Alchon had fled to the west, where
they became known as the Avars.
Alchon were called Varkhon or Varkunites[dubious – discuss]
Menander Protector (538-582),
literally referring to the
Uar and Hunnoi. Around 630, Theophylact
Simocatta wrote that the European "Avars" were initially composed of
two nations, the
Uar and the Hunnoi[which?] tribes. He wrote that:
"the Barsilt, the Unogurs and the Sabirs were struck with horror ...
and honoured the newcomers with brilliant gifts...", when the
Avars first arrived in their lands in 555AD.
Huns refers to a tribe which minted coins in
Bactria in the 5th
and 6th centuries. The name Khigi, inscribed in Bactrian script on one
of the coins, and Narendra on another, have led some scholars[who?] to
believe that the
Khingila and Narana were of the
AlChoNo tribe.[vague] They imitated the earlier style
Hephthalite predecessors, the
Kidarite Hun successors to the
Kushans. In particular the
Alchon style imitates the coins of Kidarite
Varhran I (syn.
Kushan Varhran IV).
The earliest coins of
Huns have several distinctive features:
1) the king’s head is presented in an elongated form to reflect the
Alchon practice of head binding; 2) The characteristic bull/lunar
tamgha of the
Alchon is represented on the obverse of the coins.
Huns and White Huns
Portrait of Nezak
Huns ruler, circa 460-560 CE.
The name Xyon is found in
Avestan and Pahlavi texts.
Avestan tradition (Yts. 9.30-31, 19.87) the Xiiaona were
characterized as enemies of Vishtaspa, the patron of Zoroaster. In
the later Pahlavi tradition, the Red
Huns (Karmir Xyon) and White Huns
(Spet Xyon) are mentioned. The Red
Huns of the Pahlavi tradition
(7th century) have been identified by
Harold Walter Bailey as the
Kermichiones or Ermechiones. According to Bailey the Hara Huna
of Indian sources are to be identified with the Karmir Xyon of the
Avesta. Similarly he identifies the Sveta Huna of Indian sources with
the Spet Xyon of the Avesta. Bailey argues that the name Xyon was
transferred to the Huna owing to similarity of sound, as Tur was
adapted to Turk in Pahlavi tradition. It is necessary therefore to
differentiate between "Kermichiones/Ermechiones", "Red Huns" or "Hara
Huna", identified with the
Kidarite dynasty, and "Xionites" "White
Huns" or "Sveta Huna", identified with the
^ a b c d e f g Felix, Wolfgang. "CHIONITES". Encyclopædia Iranica
Online Edition. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
^ Original reports on the "Chionitae" by Ammianus Marcellinus:
Mention with the Euseni/ Cuseni : 16.9.4.
Mention with the Gelani: 17.5.1.
Mention with Shapur II: 18.7.21
Mention at the siege of Amida: 19.2.3 and 19.1.7-19.2.1
^ a b Shapur Shahbazi, A. "SASANIAN DYNASTY". Encyclopædia Iranica
Online Edition. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
British Museum notice
^ Richard Nelson Frye; "Emperor Ardeshir and the cycle of history"
^ Macartney, C. A. (1944). "On the Greek Sources for the History of
the Turks in the Sixth Century". Bulletin of the School of Oriental
and African Studies, University of London. School of Oriental and
African Studies. 11 (2): 266–75. ISSN 1474-0699.
JSTOR 609313 – via JSTOR. (Registration required (help)).
^ a b Harold Walter Bailey, Iranian Studies, Bulletin of the School of
Oriental Studies, University of London. BSOAS, vol. 6, No. 4 (1932)
^ Richard Nelson Frye, "Pre-Islamic and early Islamic cultures in
Central Asia" in "Turko-Persia in historical perspective", edited by
Robert L. Canfield, Cambridge University Press, 1991. pg 49.
^ CNG Coins
^ Nomads of the Steppe Archived October 13, 2007, at the Wayback
^ The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila, Michael Maas p.286
^ Theophilactus Simocatta, Historiae, -Ed. C. deBoor. Lipsiae, 1887,
^ Notes on the Evolution of
Alchon Coins, Pankaj Tandon,
^ "BAHMAN YAŠT" in Encyclopædia Iranica by W. Sundermann
^ (Bailey, 1954, pp.12-16; 1932, p. 945),