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Hephthalite Empire
Central Asia
Nomadic empire
Late Antiquity+
Kunduz+ (''Walwalij'', ''Drapsaka'', or ''Badian'')
Balkh+ (''Pakhlo+'')

|common_languages =Turkic+
Gandhari+ (Gandhara)
Sogdian+ (Sogdiana)
Kushan Empire
Sassanid Empire

Gupta Empire
Kabul Shahi
Göktürk Empire

Principality of Chaghaniyan

The Hephthalites (green), c. 500.
430/440 – ≈490
490/500 – 515

The '''Hephthalites''', '''Ephthalites''', or '''''Ye-tai''''' were a confederation of nomad+ic and settled people in Central Asia+ who expanded their domain westward in the 5th century. It is not clear whether the Hephthalites or a related people, the Xionites+, were synonymous with the '''White Huns''' (Sanskrit+ ''Sveta Huna'').

At the height of its power in the first half of the 6th century, the Hephthalite Empire controlled territory in present-day Afghanistan+, Turkmenistan+, Uzbekistan+, Tajikistan+, Kyrgyzstan+, Kazakhstan+, Pakistan+, India+ and China+.

The stronghold of the Hephthalites was Tokharistan+ on the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush+, in what is present-day northeastern Afghanistan. By 479, the Hephthalites had conquered Sogdia+ and driven the Kidarites+ westwards, and by 493 they had captured parts of present-day Dzungaria+ and the Tarim Basin+ in what is now Northwest China+.

India was invaded during the 5th Century by a people known in South Asia as the ''Hunas+'' – possibly an alliance broader than the Hephthalites and/or Xionites. The ''Hunas'' were initially defeated by Emperor Skandagupta+ of the Gupta Empire+. By the end of the 5th century, however, the ''Hunas'' had overrun the part of the Gupta Empire that was to their southeast and had conquered Central and North India+.

The name Hephthalites originated with Ancient Greek sources, which also referred to them as ''Ephthalite'', ''Abdel'' or ''Avdel''.

In Ancient India, names such as Hephthalite were unknown. The Hephthalites were apparently part of, or offshoots of, people known in India as ''Hunas+'' or ''Turushkas'', although these names may have referred to broader groups or neighbouring peoples. To the Armenians+ the Hephthalites were ''Haital'', to the Persians and Arabs they were ''Haytal'' or ''Hayatila'', while their Bactrian+ name was ηβοδαλο ''Ebodalo''.

In Chinese chronicles, the Hephthalites are called ''Yanda'' or ''Yediyiliduo'' or "Bikova", while older Chinese sources (c. 125) call them ''Hua'' or ''Hudun'' and describe them as a tribe living beyond the Great Wall+ in Dzungaria.''Columbia Encyclopedia'' Although the Hephthalite Empire was known in China as ''Yàdā'' (嚈噠), Chinese chroniclers recognized this designated the leaders of the empire. The same sources document that the main tribe called themselves ''huá'' (滑). The modern Chinese variation ''Yanda'' has been given various Latinised+ renderings such as "Yeda", although the corresponding Cantonese+ and Korean+ pronunciations ''Yipdaat'' and ''Yeoptal'' () are more compatible with the Greek ''Hephthalite''.

There are several theories regarding the origins of the White Huns, with the Turkic+David Christian ''A History of Russia, Inner Asia and Mongolia'' (Oxford: Basil Blackwell) 1998 p248, ''Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia'' and Iranian+ theories being the most prominent.

According to most specialist scholars, the spoken language of the Hephthalites was an Eastern Iranian language+, but different from the Bactrian language+ written in the Greek alphabet+ that was used as their "official language" and minted on coins, as was done under the preceding Kushan Empire+.Enoki, Kazuo: "On the Nationality of the White Huns", ''Memoirs of the Research Department of the Tokyo Bunko'', 1959, No. 18, p. 56. Quote: "Let me recapitulate the foregoing. The grounds upon which the White Huns are assigned an Iranian tribe are: (1) that their original home was on the east frontier of Tokharestan; and (2) that their culture contained some Iranian elements. Naturally, the White Huns were sometimes regarded as another branch of the Kao-ch’e tribe by their contemporaries, and their manners and customs are represented as identical with those of the T’u-chueh, and it is a fact that they had several cultural elements in common with those of the nomadic Turkish tribes. Nevertheless, such similarity of manners and customs is an inevitable phenomenon arising from similarity of their environments. The White Huns could not be assigned as a Turkish tribe on account of this. The White Huns were considered by some scholars as an Aryanized tribe, but I would like to go further and acknowledge them as an Iranian tribe. Though my grounds, as stated above, are rather scarce, it is expected that the historical and linguistic materials concerning the White Huns are to be increased in the future and most of the newly-discovered materials seem to confirm my Iranian-tribe theory." here or or .Xavier Tremblay, ''Pour une histore de la Sérinde. Le manichéisme parmi les peoples et religions d’Asie Centrale d’aprés les sources primaire'', Vienna: 2001, Appendix D «Notes Sur L'Origine Des Hephtalites», pp. 183–88 «Malgré tous les auteurs qui, depuis KLAPROTH jusqu’ ALTHEIM in SuC, p113 sq et HAUSSIG, ''Die Geschichte Zentralasiens und der Seidenstrasse in vorislamischer Zeit'', Darmstadt, 1983 (cf. n.7), ont vu dans les White Huns des Turcs, l’explication de leurs noms par le turc ne s’impose jamais, est parfois impossible et n’est appuyée par aucun fait historique (aucune trace de la religion turque ancienne), celle par l’iranien est toujours possible, parfois évidente, surtout dans les noms longs comme ''Mihirakula'', ''Toramana'' ou ''γοβοζοκο'' qui sont bien plus probants qu’ ''αλ''- en ''Αλχαννο''. Or l’iranien des noms des White Huns n’est pas du bactrien et n’est donc pas imputable à leur installation en Bactriane [...] Une telle accumulation de probabilités suffit à conclure que, jusqu’à preuve du contraire, les Hepthalites étaient des Iraniens orientaux, mais non des Sogdiens.» Available here or here [http://www.azargoshnasp.net/history/Hephtalites/Hephtalites.htm]Denis Sinor, "The establishment and dissolution of the Türk empire" in Denis Sinor, "The Cambridge history of early Inner Asia, Volume 1", Cambridge University Press, 1990. p. 300:"There is no consensus concerning the Hephthalite language, though most scholars seem to think that it was Iranian."

According to B.A. Litvinsky, the names of the Hephthalite rulers used in the ''Shahnameh+'' are Iranian+. According to Xavier Tremblay, one of the Hephthalite rulers was named "Khingila+", which has the same root as the Sogdian+ word ''xnγr'' and the Wakhi+ word ''xiŋgār'', meaning "sword". The name Mihirakula+ is thought to be derived from ''mithra-kula'' which is Iranian for "the Sun family", with ''kula'' having the same root as Pashto+ ''kul'', "family". Toramāna+, Mihirakula's father, is also considered to have an Iranian origin. In Sanskrit, ''mihira-kula'' would mean the ''kul'' "family" of ''mihira'' "Sun", although ''mihira'' is not purely Sanskrit but is a borrowing from Middle Iranian+ ''mihr''. Janos Harmatta gives the translation "Mithra's Begotten" and also supports the Iranian theory.

For many years, however, scholars suggested that they were of Turkic stock. Some have claimed that some groups amongst the Hephthalites were Turkic+-speakers. Today the Hephthalites are generally held to have been an Eastern Iranian people+ speaking an East Iranian language+. The Hephthalites enscribed their coins in the Bactrian+ (Iranian+) script, held Iranian titles, the names of Hephthalite rulers given in Ferdowsi+'s Shahnameh+ are Iranian, and gem inscriptions and other evidence shows that the official language+ of the Hephthalite elite was East Iranian. In 1959, Kazuo Enoki proposed that the Hephthalites were probably Indo-European (East) Iranians+ as some sources indicated that they were originally from Bactria+, which is known to have been inhabited by Indo-Iranian people in antiquity. Richard Frye is cautiously accepting of Enoki's hypothesis, while at the same time stressing that the Hephthalites "were probably a mixed horde". More recently Xavier Tremblay's detailed examination of surviving Hephthalite personal names has indicated that Enoki's hypothesis that they were East Iranian may well be correct, but the matter remains unresolved in academic circles.

According to the ''Encyclopaedia Iranica+'' and ''Encyclopaedia of Islam+'', the Hephthalites possibly originated in what is today Afghanistan+ and Pakistan+.G. Ambros/P.A. Andrews/L. Bazin/A. Gökalp/B. Flemming and others, "Turks", in ''Encyclopaedia of Islam'', Online Edition 2006A.D.H. Bivar, "", in ''Encyclopaedia Iranica'', Online Edition. They apparently had no direct connection with the European Huns+, but may have been causally related with their movement. The tribes in question deliberately called themselves "Huns" in order to frighten their enemies.M. Schottky, "", in ''Encyclopaedia Iranica'', Online Edition

Some White Huns may have been a prominent tribe or clan of the Chionites+. According to Richard Nelson Frye+:

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The 6th-century Byzantine+ historian Procopius of Caesarea+ (Book I. ch. 3), related them to the Huns in Europe:

Scholars believe that the name ''Hun'' is used to denote very different nomadic confederations. Ancient Chinese chroniclers, as well as Procopius, wrote various theories about the origins of the people:

* They were descendants of the Yuezhi+ or Tocharian+ tribes who remained behind after the rest of the people fled the Xiongnu+;
* They were descendants of the Kangju+;
* They were a branch of the Tiele+; or
* They were a branch of the Uar.

They were first mentioned by the Chinese, who described them as living in Dzungaria+ around 125. Chinese chronicles state that they were originally a tribe of the Yuezhi, living to the north of the Great Wall, and subject to the Rouran+ (''Jwen-Jwen''), as were some Turkic peoples at the time. Their original name was '''Hoa''' or '''Hoa-tun'''; subsequently they named themselves '''Ye-tha-i-li-to''' (厌带夷栗陁, or more briefly Ye-tha 嚈噠), after their royal family, which descended from one of the five Yuezhi families which also included the Kushan+.

They displaced the Scythians+ and conquered Sogdiana+ and Khorasan+ before 425. After that, they crossed the Syr Darya+ (Jaxartes) River and invaded Persian lands. In Persia, they were initially held off by Bahram Gur+ but around 483–85, they succeeded in making Persia a tributary state+ by defeating the Sassanid+ forces at the Battle of Herat+ where they killed the Sassanid king, Peroz I+. After a series of wars in the period 503–513, they were driven out of Persia and completely defeated in 557 by Khosrau I+. Their polity thereafter came under the Göktürks+ and subsequent Western Turkic Khaganate+.

The Hephthalites also invaded the regions Afghanistan and present-day Pakistan+, succeeding in extending their domain to the Punjab region+.

The Hephthalite was a vassal state to the Rouran Khaganate+ until the beginning of the 5th century. Between Hephthalites and Rourans were also close contacts, although they had different languages and cultures, and Hephthalites borrowed much of their political organization from Rourans. In particular, the title "Khan+", which according to McGovern was original to the Rourans, was borrowed by the Hephthalite rulers. The reason for the migration of the Hephthalites southeast was to avoid a pressure of the Rourans. Further, the Hephthalites defeated the Yuezhi+ in Bactria+ and their leader Kidara led the Yuezhi to the south.

Procopius claims that the White Huns lived in a prosperous territory, and that they were the only Huns with fair complexions. According to him, they did not live as nomads, did acknowledge a single king, observed a well-regulated constitution, and behaved justly towards neighboring states. He also describes the burial+ of their nobles in ''tumuli+'', accompanied by their closest associates. This practice contrasts with evidence of cremation+ among the Chionites in Ammianus+ and with remains found by excavators of the European Huns and remains in some deposits ascribed to the Chionites in Central Asia. Scholars believe that the Hephthalites constituted a second "Hunnish" wave who entered Bactria+ early in the 5th century, and who seem to have driven the Kidarites+ into Gandhara+.

Newly discovered ancient writings found in Afghanistan reveal that the Middle Iranian Bactrian language+ written in Greek script+ was not brought there by the Hephthalites, but was already present from Kushan times as the traditional language of administration in this region. There is also evidence of the use of a Turkic language under the White Huns. The Bactrian documents also attest several Turkic royal titles (such as ''Khagan+''), indicating an important influence of Turkic people on White Huns, although these could also be explained by later Turkic infiltration south of the Oxus+.

According to Simokattes, they were Chionites who united under the Hephthalites as the "(Wusun+) vultures descended on the people" around 460.

According to Song Yun+, the Chinese Buddhist monk who visited the Hephthalite territory in 540 and "provides accurate accounts of the people, their clothing, the empresses and court procedures and traditions of the people and he states the Hephthalites did not recognize the Buddhist religion and they preached pseudo gods, and killed animals for their meat." It is reported that some Hephthalites often destroyed Buddhist monasteries but were rebuilt by others. According to Xuanzang+, the third Chinese pilgrim who visited the same areas as Song Yun about 100 years later, the capital of Chaghaniyan+ had five monasteries.

According to historian André Wink "...in the Hephthalite dominion Buddhism+ was predominant but there was also a religious sediment of Zoroastrianism+ and Manichaeism+."''Al-Hind, the Making of the Indo-Islamic World: Early medieval India''. André Wink, p. 110. E. J. Brill. Balkh+ had some 100 Buddhist+ monasteries and 30,000 monks. Outside the town was a large Buddhist monastery, later known as Naubahar+.

In the northwest of the Indian subcontinent, the Hephthalites were not distinguished from their immediate Chionite predecessors and are known by the same name as ''Huna'' (Sanskrit: Sveta-Hūna, White Huns). The ''Huna'' had already established themselves in Afghanistan and the modern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa+ of Pakistan+ by the first half of the 5th century, and the Gupta emperor Skandagupta+ had repelled a ''Hūna'' invasion in 455 before the Hephthalite clan came along.

The Hephthalites had their capital at ''Badian'', modern Kunduz+, but the emperor lived in the capital city for just three winter months, and for the rest of the year, the government seat would move from one locality to another like a camp. The Hephthalites continued the pressure on ancient India's northwest frontier and broke east by the end of the 5th century, hastening the disintegration of the Gupta Empire+. They made their capital at the city of ''Sakala'', modern Sialkot+ in Pakistan+, under their Emperor Mihirakula+.
But later the Huns were defeated and driven out of India by the Indian kings Yasodharman+ and Narasimhagupta in the 6th century.

The last Hephthalite King, Yudhishthira, ruled until about 670, when he was replaced by the Kabul Shahi+ dynasty.

Hephthalites are believed to be among the ancestors of modern-day Pashtuns+ and in particular of the Abdali+ Pashtun tribe. According to the academic Yu. V. Gankovsky,

The Hephthalites could also have been ancestors of the Abdal tribe which has assimilated into the Turkmens+ and Kazakhs+. In India, the Rajput+s formed as a result of merging of the Hephthalites and the Gurjar+s with population from northwestern India, though this is disputed.

Umberto Eco+'s novel+ ''Baudolino+ ''makes reference to the "White Huns", portrayed as a fearsome warrior race.

Eric Flint+'s ''Belisarius series+'' makes frequent reference to Ye Tai warriors.

The White Huns is a playable faction in ''Total War: Attila+''. Somewhat anachronistically, they are portrayed as being led by Khingila in 396 CE. The game alludes to their conquest in India.

* Huna people+
* Kidarites+ (Red Huns)
* Kushan Empire+
* Xionites+


* pdf
* (long article with a timeline)
* Article archived from the University of Washington's Silk Road exhibition – has a slightly adapted form of the Richard Heli timeline.
* The Ethnonym Apar in the Turkish Inscriptions of the VIII. Century and Armenian Manuscripts – Mehmet Tezcan

Afghanistan topics:

Hephthalite Empire+ The Hephthalites, Ephthalites, or Ye-tai were a confederation of nomadic and settled people in Central Asia who expanded their domain westward in the 5th century.