Huns and Refugees

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Then, fire and chaos. The story of Rome’s decline begins here. In the late summer of 376, 200,000 men, women and children had appeared on the north bank of the Danube asking to be taken in as refugees. They were Gothic people’s, reportedly fleeing from massive amounts of violence which had occurred on the steppe just north of the Black Sea the earlier that year. An alien people riding innumerable horses with a strange language and stranger names had apparently just exploded onto the eastern fringes of Europe. The Huns.

The Huns were a nomadic people under many rulers, living on the Eurasian steppe (which stretched broadly from Hungary to Korea) in groups of tents called ‘gers’, making their living herding pasture animals between summer and winter pastures. Life on the steppe was very different than life in the sedentary world, it’s a tougher life not lacking many raids between tribes. Steppe people are naturally equipped for war, all members of the tribe tending to be very skilled in horsemanship for herding and bowmanship for hunting. Steppe tribes did impose dominance and expect tribute from weaker steppe tribes and historically steppe confederations could grow quite massive. The Huns were no exception. At this point in history they seem to have been the dominant power on the western Eurasian steppe but there are theories they originated in Mongolia as the biggest pain in Han China’s neck some 300 years before. The theory goes, after being defeated and pushed west they slowly drifted to Europe, subjecting more steppe tribes along the way. As is only natural, the temptation for steppe tribes to raid richer sedentary populations rather than their fellow nomads is very alluring. Alluring because steppe tribes didn’t grow their own grain and such massive concentrated populations were ripe for taking slaves who could milk their cows and sew their clothes. Nomads were not historically ignorant to the use of raided riches either, commonly putting them towards the war effort or wearing them.

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These were the people who descended on 4th century Ukraine in pragmatic fury, a people described by the Romans as having an inhuman desire for plundering others’ property. The Huns had plundered the Alani, the nomadic people, described as mostly tall and blond, then occupying Ukraine, and compelled them into military alliance. This unstoppable horde of Huns and now Alani advanced on Eastern Europe..

The throngs of Gothic refugees north of the Danube awaiting entry into the Empire sent ambassadors to Emperor Valens, who was then in Antioch. Valens happily admitted them into the Empire because he saw in this a great opportunity: to gain so many young new recruits so as to make his army invincible and to gain vast amounts of gold from a terrified and hurried people wanting as soon as possible to be ferried across.

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