The Hephthalites (green), c. 500.
Chorasmian, Tocharian, Turkic, Saka dialects
|Religion||Mostly Buddhism and Hinduism
|Political structure||Nomadic confederation|
|-||430/440 – ≈490||Khingila|
|-||490/500 – 515||Toramana|
|Historical era||Late antiquity|
|Today part of|| Afghanistan
The Hephthalites (or Ephthalites), also known as the White Huns, were a nomadic confederation in Central Asia during the late antiquity period. The Hephthalite Empire, at the height of its power (in the first half of the 6th century), was located in the territories of present-day Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, India and China. The stronghold of the Hephthalite power was Tokharistan on the northern slopes of the Hindukush, present-day northeastern Afghanistan. By 479, the Hephthalites had conquered Sogdiana and driven the Kidarites westwards, and by 493 they had captured areas of present-day northwestern China (Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin). By the end of the 5th century, the Hephthalites overthrew the Indian Gupta Empire to their southeast and conquered northern and central India. But later they were defeated and driven out of India by the Indian kings Yasodharman and Narasimhagupta in the 6th century.
In Chinese chronicles, the Hephthalites are called Yanda or Ye-ti-i-li-do, while older Chinese sources of c. 125 AD call them Hoa or Hoa-tun and describe them as a tribe living beyond the Great Wall in Dzungaria. Elsewhere they were called the "White Huns", known to the Greeks as Ephthalite, Abdel or Avdel, to the Indians as Sveta Huna ("white Huns"), Chionite or Turushka, to the Armenians as Haital, and to the Persians and Arabs as Haytal or Hayatila, while their Bactrian name is ηβοδαλο (Ebodalo). According to most specialist scholars, the spoken language of the Hephthalites was an East Iranian language but different from the Bactrian language that was utilized as the "official language" and minted on coins. They may be the eponymous ancestors of the modern Pashtun tribal union of the Abdali, the largest tribal union in Afghanistan.
Although the Hephtalite Empire was known in China as Yanda (嚈噠), Chinese chroniclers recognized this designated the leaders of the empire. The same sources document that the main tribe called themselves Uar (滑). The modern Chinese variation Yanda has been given various Latinised renderings such as "Yeda", although the corresponding Korean pronunciation Yeoptal (엽달) is more compatible with the Greek Hephthalite.
According to B.A. Litvinsky, the names of the Hephtalite 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" is also considered to have an Iranian origin. Accordingly, 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, scholars suggested that they were of Turkic stock, and it seems likely that at least some groups amongst the Hephthalites were Turkic-speakers. 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 eastern Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They apparently had no direct connection with the European Huns, but may have been causally related with their movement. It is noteworthy that the tribes in question deliberately called themselves Huns in order to frighten their enemies.
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.
|History of Afghanistan|
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|Early modern history|
The Ephthalitae Huns, who are called White Huns [...] The Ephthalitae are of the stock of the Huns in fact as well as in name, however they do not mingle with any of the Huns known to us, for they occupy a land neither adjoining nor even very near to them; but their territory lies immediately to the north of Persia [...] They are not nomads like the other Hunnic peoples, but for a long period have been established in a goodly land.
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 AD 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 AD 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 AD 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 AD 503–513, they were driven out of Persia and completely defeated in AD 557 by Khosrau I. Their polity thereafter came under the Göktürks and subsequent Western Turkic Khaganate.
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 fifth century AD, 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 AD 460.
According to Song Yun, the Chinese Buddhist monk who visited the Hephthalite territory in 540 AD and "provides accurate accounts of the people, their clothing, the empresses and court procedures and traditions of the people and he laments that the Hephthalites recognized the Buddhist religion but they preached pseudo-gods(referring to local deities of Hinduism), and killed animals for their meat." It is reported that some Hephtalites 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.
"Interestingly in the Hephthalite dominion Buddhism and Hinduism was predominant but there was also a religious sediment of Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism." Balkh had some 100 Buddhist monasteries and 30,000 monks. Outside the town was a large Buddhist monastery, later known as Naubahar. Termez had 10 sangharamas (monasteries) and perhaps 1,000 monks.
White Huns in Southern Central Asia 
In the northwest of the Indian subcontinent, the Hephtalites 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 fifth 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 fifth 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.
"The Pashtuns began as a union of largely East-Iranian tribes which became the initial ethnic stratum of the Pashtun ethnogenesis, dates from the middle of the first millennium CE and is connected with the dissolution of the Epthalite (White Huns) confederacy. [...] Of the contribution of the Epthalites (White Huns) to the ethnogenesis of the Pashtuns we find evidence in the ethnonym of the largest of the Pashtun tribe unions, the Abdali (Durrani after 1747) associated with the ethnic name of the Epthalites — Abdal. The Siah-posh, the Kafirs (Nuristanis) of the Hindu Kush, called all Pashtuns by a general name of Abdal still at the beginning of the 19th century."
The Hephthalites could also have been ancestors of the Abdal tribe which has assimilated into the Turkmens and Kazakhs. In India, the Rajputs formed as a result of merging of the Hephthalites and the Gurjars with population from northwestern India,
Contemporary literature 
See also 
- "Chinese Travelers in Afghanistan". Abdul Hai Habibi. alamahabibi.com. 1969. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
- Kurbanov, Aydogdy (2010). "The Hephthalites: Archaeological and historican analysis". Retrieved 5 September 2012.
- Al-Hind, the Making of the Indo-Islamic World: Early medieval India. André Wink, p. 110. E. J. Brill.
- Columbia Encyclopedia
- , Berzin Archives
- 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 "Hephtalites" or "On the Nationality of the Hephtalites".
- 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 
- 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."
- Enoki, K. "The Liang shih-kung-t'u on the origin and migration of the Hua or Ephthalites," Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia 7:1-2 (December 1970):37-45
- B.A. Livinsky, "The Hephthalites", in History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Vol. 3. South Asia Books; 1 edition (March 1999). pg 135
- Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin, Congrès International d&Etud. Études mithriaques: actes du 2e Congrès International, Téhéran, du 1er au 8 september 1975. p 293. Retrieved 2012-9-5.
- Janos Harmatta, "The Rise of the Old Persian Empire: Cyrus the Great," AAASH (Acta Antiqua Acadamie Scientiarum Hungaricae 19, 197, pp. 4-15.
- David Christian A History of Russia, Inner Asia and Mongolia (Oxford: Basil Blackwell) 1998 p248
- "White Huns", Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia
- M. A. Shaban, "Khurasan at the Time of the Arab Conquest", in Iran and Islam, in memory of Vlademir Minorsky, Edinburgh University Press, (1971), p481; ISBN 0-85224-200-X.
- "The White Huns - The Hephthalites", Silk Road
- Enoki Kazuo, "On the nationality of White Huns", 1955
- R. Frye, "Central Asia in pre-Islamic Times", Encyclopaedia Iranica
- G. Ambros/P.A. Andrews/L. Bazin/A. Gökalp/B. Flemming and others, "Turks", in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Online Edition 2006
- A.D.H. Bivar, "Hephthalites", in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition.
- M. Schottky, "Iranian Huns", in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition
- Robert L. Canfield, Turko-Persia in Historical Perspective, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 49
- Procopius, History of the Wars. Book I, Ch. III, "The Persian War"
- "Ephtalites", Classic Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911
- David Christian (1998). A history of Russia, Central Asia, and Mongolia. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 0-631-20814-3.
- Litvinovsky, Boris Abramovich. History of civilizations of Central Asia, Volume 3. UNESCO; published by Motilal Banarsidass. p. 149.
- Encyclopedia of ancient Asian civilizations, by Charles Higham, p. 141
- Gankovsky, Yu. V., et al. A History of Afghanistan, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982, pg 382
- Kurbanov, Aydogdy (2010). "The Hephthalites: Archaeological and historican analysis". p. 243. Retrieved 11 January 2013. "As a result of the merging of the Hephthalites and the Gujars with population from northwestern India, some Rajputs (from Sanskrit “rajputra” – “son of the rajah”) clans may have been formed."
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Hephthalites|
- Columbia Encyclopedia: Hephthalites
- Hephthalite coins
- Hephthalite History and Coins of the Kashmir Smast Kingdom- Waleed Ziad
- The Hephthalites of Central Asia - by Richard Heli (long article with a timeline)
- The Hephthalites Article archived from the University of Washington's Silk Road exhibition - has a slightly adapted form of the Richard Heli timeline.
- (pdf) The Ethnonym Apar in the Turkish Inscriptions of the VIII. Century and Armenian Manuscripts - Mehmet Tezcan
-  iranicaonline hephthalites