Yuezhi and Asii – pt 2 – Xiongnu, from Bactria to Balkans

In part 1 we defined the Asian homeland of Yuezhi and Wusun (Asii) tribes. Then, we traced their migration from the western Chinese borders to Sogdia and Bactria. And from there, to the modern-day Ossetia and the Sea of Azov. The official history supports these facts.

But now we will go back and see who were the Xiongnu, a tribe that forced Yuezhi and Wusun to migrate in the first place. We will also explore the possibility that these tribes have had a significant presence in Europe, starting with the Balkan region.

Bactria, another name for Balkans

Officially, the word Balkans is Ottoman Turkish and means “chain of wooded mountains”. But the true etymology is obscure. The root could be Persian bālk “mud”, while Persian “balā-khāna” means “big high house”.

Therefore, the word may sound Turkish, but the most plausible translations come from the Persian roots. The most significant contact between Turkic people and Persians was in the region of Bactria. And the original name of Bactria was Balkh!

Bactria, the capital of the Xidun Yuezhi (Issedones)

Bactria was a capital city of one of the five Yuezhi tribes. Their name was Xīdùn (肸頓) for the Chinese. Without a doubt, these are the same Issedones that Herodotus mentions in the 5th century BC. Their capital, Balkh, was “Bactra” for the ancient Greeks. But in their own language, the name was βαχλο. In Old Persian the city name was Bāxtri, in the Middle Persian Baxl.

It is quite obvious that Balkh was an original, Bactrian word. If its root was really Persian, there would be no need for Persians to change it to Baxhtri / Baxl, would it?

In modern Afganistan, ie. on the territory of ancient Bactria, there is a Balkh river. And somewhat more to the north, in the land of Issedons, there is a lake Balkhash. The original word “balkh” therefore probably comes from this general region, and perhaps it somehow relates to water.

This land of the Xidun (Issedones), located between the Balkh river and Lake Balkhash has been conquered by the Bulgar tribes.

Bactria and the Bulgars of Balkhara

The Bulgars were a semi-nomadic people of Turkic descent. Around the 2nd century AD, they controlled a large state in Central Asia, between the sea of Azov and the Caspian sea. (This is the largest orange area on the map below.) It included the steppes north of the Caucasus and the banks of river Volga. Bactria lied on the opposite side of the Caspian sea. (see picture above)

However, many Bulgarian historians consider northern Afganistan as their homeland. You can see it on the far right of this map below.

Bulgars – Wikipedia commons

Bulgarians pronounce the first syllable of their country as “BA”, rather than “BU” as it is in English. Therefore the original name is Balgaria. The root “Balg” is etymologically very close to “Balkh”, as the Kh sound at the end, is just a softened G.

For this reason, there are many Bulgarian historians who call this original homeland of the Bulgars Kingdom of Balkhara.

As we saw, it is not really clear what the term “balkh” meant. But in the case of the Balkhash lake, Wikipedia states that it comes from the word “balkas“. This word apparently comes from Tatar, Kazakh and Southern Altai languages and means “tussocks in a swamp”. The name is probably ancient, as the Chinese mention it as Bu-Ku already in 103 BC.

Bactria – Iranian or Turkic?

Bactrian language used an alphabet based on the Greek script. Natives called it αριαο [arjaː] (“Arya”; an endonym common amongst Indo-Iranian peoples). Therefore, the original Bactrian language was undoubtedly Iranian. The mainstream historians support this view as many ancient texts confirm it.

However, Bactria was conquered by Sakas and later Yuezhi. And under the Yuezhi-Kushan rule, Bactria became known as Tukhara or Tokhara, and later as Tokharistan. The suffix -stan is considered to be Iranian by mainstream science. But the fact is that we usually see it in Turkic countries. Therefore the name Tokharistan is pretty much a tell-tale sign of the arrival of the Turkic languages.

It is not clear when exactly did the Turkic-speaking people conquer the Bactrian region, but the fact is that a part of it became known as Turkmenistan.

Balkan region of Turkmenistan – Bulgars and Hungarians

If so far there were any doubts that this part of the region relates to Balkans in South-Eastern Europe, it is time to disperse them. Because even today, there is a Balkan mountain there, and it gave a name to the whole Balkan region of Turkmenistan.

Wikipedia on Turkmenistan’s history claims that in 91 AD it was the Huns of Kushan who controlled the Balkan Province of Turkmenistan. Alans joined them later, from east and north. The fourth-century alliance between these Kushans and Alans resulted in 10 tribes joining into the first proto-Turkic tribal confederation.

Now, when the ancient writers mentioned Huns, they did not always make a clear distinction between Huns and Turkic tribes. Here we are probably talking about Turks. We know that the language of Turkmenistan (and Azerbaijan) belongs to the Oghuz family – the same as those of the Bulgars. And as we just saw, it was a Kushan noble who organized the first proto-Turkic confederation. The Alans who were involved in this process were Ossetians – in other words, Wusun or Asii.

Oghur languages developed in the pre-5th century Mongolia. The Oghuric tribes (Onogurs) are probably the same people we consider Hungarians (Hungars). The Hungarian language is a mix of Fino-Ugric and Turkic. The Turkic part comes from Oghuric-Bulgar and Khazar influences.

Oghur VS Uyghur, the language of the Xiongnu

Uyghur is a Turkic language belonging to the Karluk branch of the Turkic family. The first note on the Wikipedia states that it shouldn’t be confused with Oghur, as it belongs to a different branch.

However, the cradle of the Uyghur language is in Western China and the Oghur comes from the border of Mongolia, so geographically they are not too far away from each other. Moreover, significant communities of Uyghur speakers are located in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and various other countries have Uyghur-speaking expatriate communities.

And if you remember part 1 of this story, the ancient Chinese sources were clear that Xiongnu were Huns, who became so strong that they forced the Yuezhi and Wusun to migrate to Bactria.

Western of China was the original territory of Iranian-speaking Yuezhi and Wusun, whose only Iranian traces are now in modern Tajiks. Could it be that the Xiongnu who expelled them had settled there were the Uyghur Turks? This is certainly a view of some Uyghurs, who claim descent from the Xiongnu. According to the Chinese Book of Wei, the Uyghurs descended from a Xiongnu ruler.

This indeed sounds quite logical, although it is being disputed by modern China, for obvious geopolitical reasons. It is also likely that this Xiongnu joined forces with other Turkic tribes, for example, those of Mongolia, in order to take control over the silk road.

This would be a logical step. And it could explain the arrival of Huns and Proto-Bulgars to Bactria. At the same time, it could also explain the significant Uyghur diaspora in Kazakhstan.

Xiongnu – Huns or Turks?

Most modern scholars agree the Xiongnu was just a Chinese label for the Huns. Some of them also believe that the term “Hun” was a “political category” not an ethnic group. The Huns were nomads who moved on a vast territory between Central Asia, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe. They were most active between 4-6 century AD. European sources of the time claimed that they come from Scythia, in the region of the Volga river.

But as we saw, this territory around the Volga river was the seat of the Great Old Bulgaria. And indeed, only three words of ancient sources are nowadays regarded as “Hunnic”. They all have Indo-European roots. There are also a few names, and these names seem to come from the Turkic, Turco-Mongolic or a Yeniseian language.

In fact, the Hungarian descendant from Huns is officially rejected by mainstream historians. It survives only in the form of a nationalist myth. Modern scholars claim that they are rather associated with Turkic peoples, namely Bulgars and Avars, who did have some of the Hunnish elements but should not be regarded as a nation for itself

Huns are quite active in Europe between the 4th and the 5th century and they give significant blows to the already crumbling Roman empire. In order to make peace, Romans allowed them to settle on the fertile lands of Pannonia. This is where modern Hungary is today, separating Southern Slavs from the Northern.

Bulgars and Balkans

Bulgars arrived in Balkans a few centuries after the Huns, in 679 AD, lead by Khan Asparuh. The Bulgars founded the First Bulgarian state in the Balkans, but their influence stayed in the ranks of the political and military elite. As the majority of the population was Slavic, they become Slavicized, their language almost forgotten.

Another fraction of the Bulgars founded the Volga Bulgaria in the 7th century. It lasted until the 13th century. The Chuvash people and Tatars of Volga claim to be their descendants. Their language is probably the closest we can get to the language of the real Huns and Balkan Bulgars.

A summary of the facts

  1. Huns were a Turkic tribe that arrived in Balkans in the 4th century from the Volga river. Their origins could have been in Mongolia and on the borders of Western China. They could be related to Bulgars.
  2. Old Great Bulgaria was the 7th-century kingdom on the Volga river. Bulgars were Turkic speaking people – Oghur / Oghuz branch, preserved only in the modern-day Chuvash. Their origins lie further in East Asia, possibly in Mongolia or Western China. This is supported by the fact that their main religion was Tengrism, and their titles “Khan”, reminiscent of Mongol influence. They reached Balkans in the 7th century.

The similarities are obvious?

Furthermore, as these tribes passed Turkmenistan and Bactria on their way to Balkans, it is quite ludicrous to assume that this name comes from the Ottoman Turks of the 14th century. More likely it came with the Bulgars of the 7th century.

Helm – the real name of the Balkans

In antiquity, the name of Balkan mountain was Haemus. Unable to explain its etymology, Greeks created many different myths. Most of them revolve around “blood”, as this is the closest sounding word in Greek. However, Balkan Slavs have always used the term Helm. The etymology comes from “holm” or “hum”, meaning simply “hill”. (The English word has the same PIE root)

This etymology is undoubtedly more appropriate, but the problem is that there should be no Slavs on Balkans in antiquity. However, most medieval Slavic chronicles claim that Balkans was the original homeland of the Slavs, even though the official history does not support this view.

Problems with the Slavic migration to Balkans

Apparently, Slavs had settled Balkans in the 6th century. But here are some problems with this theory:

  1. There are no archaeological proves to support it. Even in written records, there is only one document – Porphyrogenet’s text from the 10th century. But in this case, we don’t even know where do Slavs originate, as historians claim that even in northern Europe Slavs appear around the same time.
  2. If Bulgars arrived in the 7th century in Balkans and became Slavicized, how big was that migration of the 6th century? It had to be big enough to completely erase all of the local languages over a course of just 100 years!
  3. And finally, if Slavs indeed migrated from northern Europe, they would have first had to go through the territory of the bloodthirsty Huns, who just settled there 100 years earlier. We are talking about a huge Slavic population, big enough to settle not only Bulgaria but also Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Macedonia… women and children included. And these Huns would just kindly observe as these endless caravans cross their territory?

However, if Slavs were already present in Balkans, then the decision of Rome to settle Huns there becomes quite logical. The point would be to create a buffer state that separates Slavs and reduces their influence and threat. The same trick that was used in Romania, some centuries earlier. And it worked like a charm. But a huge list of Slavic loanwords and toponyms still exists in both countries.

Obviously, the Slavic migration to Balkans is a myth. In part 3 we will have a deeper look at the Balkans and its ancient tribes. We will see that even before Romans, Iranian, Turkic and Slavic tribes were sharing this territory. The picture was not much different than in the rest of Asia, all the way to the land of Hyperboreans – the Chinese.

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