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Xionites, Chionites, or Chionitae (Middle Persian: Xiyōn or Hiyōn; Avestan: Xiiaona; Sogdian: xwn; Pahlavi: Huna), or Hunni, Yun or Xūn (獯), were probably an Iranian-speaking people[1] who were prominent in Transoxania and Bactria.

Asia in 400 AD, showing the Xionites and their neighbors.

The 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 Asia into 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 Sassanid Empire.[1][2]


It is difficult to determine the ethnic composition of the Xionites.[1] Simocatta, Menander, and Priscus provide evidence that the Xionites were somewhat different from the Hephthalites although, Frye suggested that the Hepthalites may have been a prominent tribe or clan of the Xionites.[3] They followed their versions of Buddhism and Shaivism mixed with animism.

In 1932 Sir Harold Walter Bailey wrote:[4]

In 1944 Carlile Aylmer Macartney wrote:[5]

A more recent specialist, Richard Nelson Frye[6] wrote in 1991:

In 1992 Wolfgang Felix[1] considered the Xionites a tribe of probable Iranian origin that was prominent in Bactria and Transoxania in late antiquity.

According to A.S. Shahbazi (2005),[2] 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 threatened Persia.


Conquest of Bactria[edit]

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 and Ban Chao's efforts are responsible for their first appearance in the West. The Armenian historian 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.[7]

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.[8]


Alchon or Alχon (Uarkhon) became the new name of the Xionites in 460 when Khingila I united the Uar with the Xionites under his Hephthalite ruling élite.

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 Alchon in 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.

The Alchon were called Varkhon or Varkunites (Ouar-Khonitai) by 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 tribes. He wrote that: "...the Barsilt, the Unogurs and the Sabirs were struck with horror... and honoured the newcomers with brilliant gifts..."[9] when the Avars first arrived in their lands in 555AD.


Alchon Huns refers to a tribe which minted coins in Bactria in the 5th and 6th centuries. The name Khigi on one of the coins and Narendra on another has led some scholars of the area to believe that the Hephthalite Khagans Khingila and Narana were of the AlChoNo tribe inscribed in Bactrian script on the coins in question. They imitated the earlier style of their 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).[citation needed]

The earliest coins of Alchon 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[10]

Red Huns and White Huns[edit]

The name Xyon is found in Avestan and Pahlavi texts.[citation needed] In the Avestan tradition (Yts. 9.30-31, 19.87) the Xiiaona were characterized as enemies of Vishtaspa, the patron of Zoroaster.[1] In the later Pahlavi tradition, the Red Huns (Karmir Xyon) and White Huns (Spet Xyon) are mentioned.[1] The Red Huns of the Pahlavi tradition (7th century)[11] have been identified by Harold Walter Bailey as the Kermichiones or Ermechiones.[1] According to Bailey[12] 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.[4] 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 Hephthalite dynasty.

Later, the Armenian Patriarch John (c. 728) mentions an ancient town of Hunor's foundation (Hunoracerta) in the Utik region, suggesting a connection to the Utigur. The Armenian Agathangelus mentions also that there are "Huns" living amongst the peoples of the Caucasus.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Felix, Wolfgang. "CHIONITES". Encyclopædia Iranica Online Edition. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  2. ^ Richard Nelson Frye; "Emperor Ardeshir and the cycle of history"
  3. ^ a b Harold Walter Bailey, Iranian Studies, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London. BSOAS, vol. 6, No. 4 (1932)
  4. ^ 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)). 
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Chinese
  7. ^ Nomads of the Steppe Archived October 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Theophilactus Simocatta, Historiae, -Ed. C. deBoor. Lipsiae, 1887, ps.251, 258
  9. ^ Notes on the Evolution of Alchon Coins, Pankaj Tandon, http://coinindia.com/Alchon.pdf
  10. ^ "BAHMAN YAŠT" in Encyclopædia Iranica by W. Sundermann
  11. ^ (Bailey, 1954, pp.12-16; 1932, p. 945),

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