barbarzynskie tsunami glowny

Hunnic onslaught

The Huns in Europe

The irruption in 375 of the nomad Huns from Asia into the East European forest steppe region put an end to the preexisting social and economic order. Their sudden attack against the Ostrogoths caused the flight of the Germanic peoples from south-eastern Europe. Some of them obtained permission to settle in the Danubian provinces of the Roman Empire. Treated harshly by the Roman administration they soon rebelled, engaging the entire army of the Eastern Roman Empire which they defeated at Hadrianopolis. The Huns advanced west and settled in the Hungarian Plain where they established a state led by their king, Attila.

Main directions of the Hunnic invasions in Europe; after A. Kokowski with supplements

Główne kierunki najazdów Hunów w Europie; według: A. Kokowskiego z uzupełnieniami

Votive offerings or furnishing elements form grave found at Jędrzychowice, Strzelin District; after E. Krause

Depozyt ofiarny lub elementy wyposażenia grobu odkrytego w Jędrzychowicach, pow. strzeliński; według E. Krausego

Grave goods from the grave at Juszkowo, Gdańsk District; after K. Dyrda, B. Kontny, M. Mączyńska

Wyposażenie grobu z Juszkowa, pow. gdański; według K. Dyrdy, B. Kontnego, i M. Mączyńskiej

The Hunnic control extended presumably as far as Lesser Poland and Silesia where a number of rich grave assemblages display may be attributed to the nomads  (Jakuszowice [10] and Jędrzychowice [11]). Everywhere in barbarian Europe there were unceasing migrations of entire peoples and smaller groups, this is evidenced by finds recorded in the cave sites in Czech Republic, Slovakia and southern Poland where the people ran for shelter (Jaskinia Wisielec [12]).


Archaeological Research of the Hanging Cave, Zawiercie District conducted within “Migration Period between the Odra and the Vistula” project; phot. by M. Rudnicki

Badania Jaskini Wisielec, pow. zawierciański prowadzone w ramach projektu „Okres Wędrówek Ludów między Odrą i Wisłą”; fot. M. Rudnicki
Badania Jaskini Wisielec, pow. zawierciański prowadzone w ramach projektu „Okres Wędrówek Ludów między Odrą i Wisłą”; fot. M. Rudnicki

The state of the Huns was defeated in 451 in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains (now in north-eastern France) by the Western Roman armies, but the changes which took place in Europe in the wake of their invasion proved irreversible. The barbarian peoples had breached the borders of the Roman state, set up their states on its territory, a development which proved threatening and fatal in its consequences.

The Huns appear

The appearance of the Huns, the extent of the havoc they wreaked did not escape notice of classical authors. The first detailed description of this people is provided by Ammianus Marcellinus:

However, the seed and origin of all the ruin [...] that the wrath of Mars aroused, putting in turmoil all places with unwonted fires, we have found to be this. The people of the Huns, but little known from ancient records, dwelling beyond the Maeotic Sea near the ice-bound ocean, exceed every degree of savagery. [...] They all [...] are so monstrously ugly and misshapen, that one might take them for two-legged beasts [...]. [...] they are so hardy in their mode of life that they have no need of fire nor of savory food [...]. For not even a hut thatched with reed can be found among them. [...] But when they have once put their necks into a faded tunic, it is not taken off [...] until by long wear and tear it has been reduced to rags and fallen from them bit by bit.  [...] they are almost glued to their horses [...]. From their horses by night or day every one of that nation buys and sells, eats and drinks, and bowed over the narrow neck of the animal relaxes into a sleep [...].

Ammianus Marcellinus, History, J. C. Rolfe (ed.), Loeb Classical Library 331, Harvard–Cambridge–London 2007, vol. III, 31:2, p. 380–383

Huns and early Germans

The irruption of Hunnic hordes into Europe around 375 destroyed the peaceful life of barbarians living in the region, first of the Goths, and later of other peoples. The Goths tried to take shelter inside the Roman Empire, the Hunnic onslaught ultimately set the barbarians of East Central Europe on the move.

Yet when the report spread widely among the other Gothic peoples, that a race of men hitherto unknown had now arisen from a hidden nook of the earth, like a tempest of snows from the high mountains, and was seizing or destroying everything in its way, the greater part of the people, who worn out by lack of the necessities of life [...] looked for a home removed from all knowledge of the savages; and after long deliberation what abode to choose they thought that Thrace offered them a convenient refuge [...]. Therefore [...] they took possession of the banks of the Danube, and sending envoys to Valens, with humble entreaty begged to be received [...].

Ammianus Marcellinus, History, J. C. Rolfe (ed.), Loeb Classical Library 331, Harvard–Cambridge–London 2007, vol. III, 31:3–4, p. 398–401

The extent of hunnic rule

By the mid-fifth century the Huns had established themselves on the middle Danube, under the rule of Attila (d. 453) their great empire extending as far as the islands of the Ocean, possibly the Baltic Sea. This we learn from the Byzantine Priscus of Panion who travelled to the court of Attila and noted that:

No previous ruler of Scythia or of any other land had ever achieved so much in so short a tome. He ruled the islands of the Ocean and, in addition to the whole of Scythia, forced the Romans to pay tribute.

Priscus of Panium, [in:] The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roam Empire. Eunapius, Olympiodorus, Priscus and Malchus, R. C. Blockley (ed.), ARCA – Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs, 10, Wiltshire 1983, t. II, Text, Translation and Historiographical Notes, p. 276–277

Exhibition organised by:

mns uw

Project co-organised by:

  • Państwowe Muzeum Archeologiczne w Warszawie-logo
  • Muzeum Lubelskie-logo
  • Muzeum Warmii i Mazur-logo
  • Muzeum w Lęborku-logo
  • Muzeum Archeologiczne w Poznaniu-logo
  • Muzeum Zamojskie w Zamościu-logo
  • Muzeum Regionalne im. Janusza Petera w Tomaszowie Lubelskim-logo
  • Muzeum Okręgowe w Rzeszowie-logo
  • Muzeum Archeologiczne w Krakowie-logo
  • Muzeum Miejskie Wrocławia-logo
  • Muzeum Okręgowe Ziemi Kaliskiej w Kaliszu-logo
  • Narodowe Centrum Nauki-logo