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The Hephthalites, also known as White Huns, were a nomadic people who lived across northern China, Central Asia, and northern India in the fourth through sixth centuries. The term Hephthalite derives from Greek, supposedly a rendering of Hayathelite, the name used by Persian writers to refer to a 6th century empire on the northern and eastern periphery of their land.

Missing image
Map showing the extent of regions under Hephthalite dominion, c. 520 CE.

In China they were known as Yanda (厌哒 or 嚈噠) also written Yedaiyiliduo/Yeda/Yeoptal, but are documented as having called themselves Hua or Huer (滑), chroniclers recognising that the Chinese Yoptal terms came actually from the name of the Hua leaders. Peoples with similar ethnicons had been present in Central Eurasia for centuries. The Chinese classic Liang Zhigongtu describes them as of the same origin as the Hua Country in China. Yanda has been given various latinised renderings such as "Yeda", although the Korean pronunciation "Yeoptal" 엽달 is much more recognisable and is certainly a much more archaic fossilisation. The later name Hephthal, which some sources indicate were originally one of the 5 Yuezhi families from Kushan, is supposed to have been a name derived from their ruling lite.



Throughout the 5th century, it was the Huer who managed to succeed to the Central Eurasian Hun heritage in a campaign which spread from the Tian Shan to the Carpathians. After the failure of Xiong's Zhou County (352) the influence of the Huer Dragon Tribe started to expand. The influence of the northern deer-people (Elunchun) retreated north up the Yenisei River as the Huer chased a western portion of the Choni into Uzbekistan (Late 4thC Alchoni) while the eastern branch founded the Xiong's last eastern dynasty Xia (407-431). By 460 the Huer had taken over much of Central Eurasia from Xinjiang to the Volga River though very little is known about the area for the late 5th early 6th centuries.

Some sources (!?refs?!) indicate that one branch of the Juan Juan was called Uar or Var(?), and they were placed at the head of the Uyghurs after Juan Juan subjugation in 460. If the "Uar" people in question are the same as the Hua; then they must have joined the Juan Juan in 460 after pushing the Choni into Uzbekistan and taken over Uyghuristan, then heading for Europe left the Juan Juan controlled area to Hephthalites sovereignty before the 541-545 power shift.

Chinese sources mention a "king" called Yedaiyiliduo (!?Characters?!) (perhaps rather the name of the dynasty than a single man) from 507, indicating the Hephthalite family had come to rule them in Xinjiang by this time. Sometime during Ye-Tai-Yi-Li-Tuo's reign (507-531) those Huer and Alchoni tribes who had become one unit under his direct rule sought to usurp control in Xinjiang from the Juan Juan. From this time on they came to be called Hephthalites, but meanwhile the rest of the Huer and Alchoni under Sarosios's father strengthened their position in Khwarezmia to conquer the dregs of Attila's Hunnic empire in the west.

The Eastern Huer or Hephthalite control of Uyghuristan was achieved between 541 and 545, during the reign of Yedaiyiliduo's successor Toramana II, which is why some scholars say Avar rule began in the area from this time. After Toramana II, the Hephthalite seat of power was relocated to India.

References to eastern "Avars" in control of Uyghuristan from 541-565 concern them. This was during the reign of the Hephthal Toramana II though they had a presence in Xinjiang under his predecessor Yedaiyiliduo (507-531), even during the Juan Juan rule there (460-545). It was apparently during the reign of Yedaiyiliduo that there was a split resulting in the western portions of Huer & Alchoni relocating their interests in the Volga region of Europe as the Avars.

India knew the Hephthalites by the Sanskrit name Hūna (perhaps used originally to refer to the Xiyonites?). Procopius called them "White Huns" while Simokattes calls them Uar (reminicient of their own self designation) and identifies them as the "real" Avars of the east and the true political force behind what he calls the "pseudo" Avars who eventually settled down in Transylvania. It has been said that their legendary ancestor was Afrasiabus in whose name we can perhaps see some kind of connection to the Avar ethnicon. Armenian sources also mention a White Hun origin for the Parthian Arsaces. According to Simokattes, Alchoni were also a part of their composition having united under the Yoptal with the "vulturous" Uar around 460 CE.

Hephthalites in India

Missing image
Billon drachm of the Indo-Hephthalite King Napki Malka (Afghanistan/ Gandhara, c. 475-576).

Main article: Indo-Hephthalites

The Hephthalites, or Huna as they were known in India, established themselves in Afghanistan by the first half of the fifth century, with their capital at Bamiyan.

The Indian emperor Skandagupta repelled a Hūna invasion in 455, but the Hephthalites continued to pressure India's northwest frontier (present day Pakistan), and broke through into northern India by the end of the fifth century, hastening the disintegration of the Gupta empire.

After the end of the sixth century little is recorded in India about the Hephthalites, and what happened to them is unclear; some historians surmise that the remaining Hephthalites were assimilated into northern India's population.


Different in spellings include "Ephthalite", "Epthalite", "Ephtalite", "Eptalite", "Hepthalite", "Hephtalite", and "Heptalite". It has been suggested that Oghur & Oghuz from which derives the Russian Yugor mean White Huns (Ak-Gunz or Aq-Guzz).

Origin Theories

K. Enoki believed them to be an Iranian group while some of their practices remind us of Khwarezmia in which case they may have been slightly Mongolian looking Indo-Europeans like many of the modern Tajiks. There were various theories about their origins documented by contemporary Chinese chroniclers as with Procopius.

  • They were related in some way to the Visha (Indo-Europeans known to the Chinese as the Yuezhi or Yueh Chih),
  • They were a branch of the Kao-ch`e,
  • They were descendants of the general Pahua,
  • They were descendants of Kang Chu
  • Their origins cannot be made clear at all.

See also


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

External links

  • Hephthalite coins (http://www.anythinganywhere.com/commerce/coins/coinpics/indi-heph.htm)

bg:Ефталити de:Hephthaliten fr:Shvetahna tr:Ak Hun İmparatorluğu


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