Varhran I


Chionites, Chionitae or Xionites (Chinese: Xiōng (匈) or Xīróng (西戎) meaning "Western Barbarians", Middle Persian: Xiyon, (Hiun/Hion)) were a nomadic tribe prominent in Transoxania and Bactria.

Chionites had arrived in the mid-4th century with the wave of immigration from Central Asia into Iran in late antiquity. They had been influenced by the Kushan and Bactrian culture, and had become a threat on the northeastern frontiers of the Sassanid Empire.

Nomenclature: Red Xyon and transference to Red Huns

The name Xyon is familiar in Avestan and Pahlavi texts. In the Avestan tradition (Yts. 9.30-31, 19.87) the Xiiaona were characterized as enemies of Vishtaspa, the patron of Zoroaster. In the later Pahlavi tradition, the Red Huns and "White Huns" (Sveta-Hunas) are mentioned. The Red Huns of the Pahlavi tradition (7th A.D.) has been identified by Harold Walter Bailey as the Kermichiones or Ermechiones. According to Bailey, the name Xyon was transferred later to the Huns owing to similarity of sound, as Tur was adapted to Turk in Pahlavi tradition.


It is difficult to determine the ethnic composition of Chionites. In addition, there is no evidence that the Chionites were different from the Ephthalites. In other words, the Epthalites may have been a prominent tribe or clan of the Chionites.

According to A.S. Shahbazi (article dated 2005):

On the northeastern front, the Chionites (q.v.), a Hunnic people who by the early fourth century had mixed with north Iranian elements in Transoxiana and adopted the Kushan-Bactrian language, threatened Persia..

According to Wolfgang Felix (article dated 1992):

The Chionites were a tribe of probable Iranian origin that was prominent in Bactria and Transoxania in late antiquity.

According to Richard Nelson Frye (book dated 1991):

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 tribesman 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 and 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.

According to Carlile Aylmer Macartney (article dated 1944):

We must consider briefly a third nation playing a role in our sources: the Kermichiones. Who were these people? They cannot have been the Turks-Toue-Kioue, since their embassy reached Constantinople while the Avars were still negotiating with Rome for settlement inside the frontier-probably, therefore, as early as A.D. 558, whereas the true Turks appeared there first in 568; further, their ruler's name was `Aσκήλτ or Scultor, while the Khagan of the Turks at that time was Silzabul, Dizabul, or Istämi. Neither can they have been the Juan Juan, as Marquart suggests; nor the Epthalites, who were well known to the Byzantines and would not have been described in this way. Moreover, the Epthalites were known as White Huns, and Mr. Bailey has pointed out that the word Karmir xyon, meaning Red Chyon, occurs in a Pahlavi text in juxtaposition with SpEt xyon, White Chyon. The name Chyon, originally that of some other race, was "transferred later to the Huns owing to the similarity of sound". The nation can hardly be other than that which appears in the fourth century, under the name of Chionits, in the steppes on the north-west frontier of Persia. These Chionites were probably a branch of the Huns, the other branch of which afterwards appeared in Europe, the latter appear to have attacked and conquered by the Alans, then living between Urals and the Volga about A.D.360, while the first mention of the Chionites is dated A.D.356. In the fifth century the name is replaced by that of the Kushan or of the Kidarite Huns, who are clearly identical with the Kushan.

According to Sir Harold Walter Bailey (article dated 1932):

Xyon. This name is familiar in Pahlavi and Avestan texts. It would appear to be a name of an enemy of the Iranian people in Avestan times, transferred later to the Huns owing to similarity of sound, as Tur was adapted to Turk in Pahlavi. In the present passage (a passage from the Pahlavi book of Bahman Yasht) three divisions of this people seem to be recognized, the Xyon with the Turks, the Karmir (Red) Xyon, and the White Xyon.


Early history

In the earliest periods, Xiōng (匈) were more of a concern to the Chinese than to the Persians. They dominated the smaller Donghu nations beyond Tianshan in the East Asian steppes who were known as the Xiong (匈)'s Serfs until the Xiōng (匈)'s hold over them was broken by the Chinese by the end of the Sino-Xiongnu War. Chionitae campaigns are better documented in connection to a number of events of the political history of Central Asia particularly during the second half of the 4th century AD until the mid 5th century AD. Their most famous rulers were called the Kidarites. At the end of the 4th century AD, a new wave of Hunnic tribes (Alchoni) invaded Bactria, pushing the Kidarites into Gandhara.


Alchon or Alχon (Uarkhon) became the new name of the Chionites in 460 when Khingila I united the Uar with the Chionites under his Hephthal ruling élite. In India the Alchon were not distinguished from their immediate White Huns 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. The Alchon were called Varkhon or Varkunites (OuarKhonitai) by Menander Protector (538-582) literally referring to the Uar & Hunnoi. Around 630, Theophylaktos Simokattes 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 Newcommers with brilliant gifts..." when the Avars first arrived in their lands in 555AD.

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.


Alchon Huns refers to a tribe which minted coins in Bactria in the 5th & 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).

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