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Word With a Past: How Did Germany Become the Hun?

The original Huns were a tribe of nomadic horsemen from Central Asia who rode fast and fought hard.* When they reached Europe in the second half of the fourth century, the Huns triggered a mass migration of Germanic tribes that contributed to the fall of Rome in the fifth century.  Under the leadership of Attila, they invaded Italy in 452–and were defeated by an alliance of Germanic tribes in 455.

The Huns may have been the barbarian’s barbarians, but they certainly weren’t Germanic.  (Unlike the Vandals, the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths and the Franks.)  So who pinned the name “the Hun” on Germany as a term of abuse?

Ironically, it was Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who first linked Germany to the Huns.  Speaking in 1900 to German soldiers waiting to sail to China to help lift the siege of Peking in the Boxer Rebellion, Kaiser Wilhelm told his troops to fight “like the Huns under their King Attila a thousand years ago” so that “the name of Germany shall become known in China to such affect that no Chinaman will ever again dare so much as to look askance at a German.”  Ruthless was the name of the game, according to the Kaiser:  “Pardon will not be given, prisoners will not be taken.  Whoever falles into your hands will fall to your sword.”

Way to go, Wilhelm!  The Allies couldn’t have come up with a nastier description if they tried.

 

*Sometimes it seems like Central Asia had an inexhaustible supply of armed horsemen ready to ride across the Russian steppes or the Hindu Kush and change history. Think Ghengis Khan’s Mongol hordes.

 

 

20 Comments

  1. Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm on December 28, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    There’s a fun bit of trivia! Thanks. 🙂

  2. Johnelle on January 11, 2012 at 6:11 am

    You have more uesful info than the British had colonies pre-WWII.

  3. Michael on January 16, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Not seeing here that qualifies my ancestors, ie the Huns, as “nasty”. Yes they were fierce and maybe by todays standards not as refined, but then again the Romans were no better

    • pamela on January 16, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      Michael: I would never claim the Huns were “nasty”. They were fierce fighters and Attila was clearly a talented leader. In fact, I think a good argument could be made that the armed nomads who swept through Europe time and again brought a necessary infusion of energy, and occasionally new technology, with every pass. But I do find the way terms change and twist over time is interesting. Certainly the Kaiser’s use of the word was unusual within his own culture’s historical understanding of the fall of Rome.

      Just out of curiosity: how do you trace your link to the Huns?

      • ML on April 21, 2018 at 12:59 pm

        Let’s get into this baby. I will say that Huns under Attila through Ghengis and beyond were thoroughly nasty. Anyone who says different, genuinely needs to google image a child impaled on a spear for a reality check. You need to personally imagine and feel what vicious, gang rape would be like. To have your orifices violently ripped open over and over again. The kind where the only mercy is if the rape is deadly because it punctures your colon or your uterus and you bleed out. I’m not sorry if this feels graphic – – because this is the smallest part of the depredations of the Golden Horde, *regularly.* There was a study done in 2003 by DNA that says that “1 in every *200* men IN THE WORLD TODAY are DIRECT descendants of Genghis Khan”. There is no typo, it’s 1 in 200, traced through unique genetic material and chromosomal features to Ghengis Khan within the Y chromosome (which is why we can only track it through males and not females).
        Actual quote of Genghis Khan
        “The greatest joy for a man is to defeat his enemies, to drive them before him, to take from them all they possess, to see those they love in tears, to ride their horses, and to hold their wives and daughters in his arms.”

        And you know it Michael? Pamela? You’re completely right about the Romans. They. Were. SAVAGE. I’m just going to string words in a sort of collage as an ode to the Romans. Gladiator slaves vs hungry Rhinos, tigers, and bears, rhinos, tigers, and bears, Boudicea, arson&Jewish temple, crucifixion, slavery, child sex trafficking, genocide, Nero, Caligula, Commodus, Tiberius, the actual straightup BLUEPRINT for the Nazis (look that shit up). But you know what?
        I am not fucking interested in moral relativism. The Huns committed straight up evil because in a toxic society, evil became equated with strength. How much strength does it take to slaughter children?
        As for Michael being related to the Huns, get in line my brother. For real, if any of us could time travel, saw this man, his fairly immediate forefathers, or his descendants within that culture, in person, we would be horrified and then terrified, and then very quickly either dead or raped or both one and all. This does not negate the fact that they had a fascinating culture, but we can’t exactly pretend that it was free love and peace that spread those genetics around the world. Did Genghis happen to have a lot of sons? Hell yeah. Did he intentionally so his seed at the edge of a sword? Yup and that is foul and just because it happened a long time ago does not make EXTREME rape culture okay. Was there more to the culture? Yes, of course, I saw interesting and beautiful things in museums while living in China. But the real legacy of the Huns is one of terror, warfare, and rape.

        • ML on April 22, 2018 at 1:07 pm

          *ahem, “sow his seed”
          That was just a ridiculous typo that could not stand.

      • ML on April 23, 2018 at 9:36 am

        Yo Pam. You asked him a good question and OK I’ll admit it, I was amused. Michael cleared outta here a long time ago. I am going to lay a heavy bet that he did one of those DNA tests and it came back showing that he was one of those 1 in 200 men related to Genghis Khan… That being the most logical answer especially as Mongol culture has SIGNIFICANTLY dwindled to obscurity and been mostly assimilated into China. There are a some movies about the remnants of Mongol culture. One particularly features Zhang Ziyi, but it’s pretty hard to watch and not just because it’s centered around a storyline on the nonconsensual sex trafficking of a country Mongol girl taken from the steppe in the 80s/90s. Anyway if that’s how he did trace his lineage, I feel like in his place I would also have a hard time to working up enough righteous indignation to check this forum for a second time too. ^_^ Consider this a sort of DM. You don’t need to post this one, but I’m good with it if you do.

    • Gary Lawson on May 26, 2018 at 1:14 pm

      Agreed the old Roman ways were very cruel and wicked. Cruelty was a form of entertainment for them.

      But, as for Attila, I think heads on a stab, stick, pole, was overboard…. So

  4. Vic on March 14, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    How did the “HUN” get it’s name???

    • pamela on March 14, 2016 at 1:13 pm

      Now you’re asking the hard questions.

  5. Nick on September 30, 2016 at 1:15 am

    The real Huns are the true Hungarians, Not the Ashkenazi-Jews though, they are the Khazars. The modern Germans are the Lombardi or the Goths who’s been chased by the Huns and hence end up in South Europe. The Visigoths settled in Spain and the Ostrogoths in Italy.
    Both the Huns and the Goths were primitive barbaric tribes who’s been pushed from the N/Eastern regions mostly by the more advanced Asiatic tribes.

  6. Watson Davis on September 30, 2016 at 10:20 am

    Thanks, Pam.

    I’ve wondered about how the Germans, who were not Huns, got the “Hun” nickname.

  7. Iris Seefeldt on September 30, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Interesting. My great Grandfather happened to be one of those “Huns” that went to China. Doubt if he heard the Kaisers remarks however. He made it back and lived to sing some Chines song he picked up (phonetically of course) to my mother in 1927 when she was just 5. She repeated them to me (again phonetically) when I was 5.
    The Germans got other names too in the time between 1914 and 1945. Derogatory like Cabbage eaters, (English) les spunch (French) and some I can;t repeat. So. Still in all the culture of the Hun did do some good things if I recall.

    • pamela on September 30, 2016 at 3:14 pm

      You always add an interesting layer of personal experience that is different that mine. Thank you.

    • kanaka on August 16, 2017 at 11:14 pm

      how bout the croutes,,,did i spell it right,,what is an
      ARIAN and what does it mean,,

      • Margit Kuhn on April 6, 2018 at 2:04 am

        I think that’s spelled Krauts, from the German word Kraut= Cabbage which was eaten a lot by the german volks. Arian race are the nordice people, blond,blue eyed and racially pure. Hitler was fanatic about having only Arians in his special unit the SS ..

    • kanaka on August 16, 2017 at 11:21 pm

      So did the German soldiers were told to go to China and pretty much slaughter everyone like the huns did?I mean thats pretty much what the huns did to Germany when the invaded Germany right?And make the german ppl into hunts which is force the man to fight for them and the women there wifes.I mean who can deny that its what happen when a place is being conquered right?

  8. Keith Cannon on March 13, 2018 at 10:28 pm

    I have never heard of Germans being called “Huns”…. Barbarians yes…. But the Huns were always Russians, as in General Patton wanting to run the Huns out of Europe.

    • pamela on March 14, 2018 at 1:52 pm

      Interesting. I never heard of the Russians being called Huns.

    • JR on July 23, 2018 at 7:23 am

      General Patton was talking about Germans when he referenced the huns… think it must have been generally accepted then that the Huns had deeply penetrated Central Europe. The way I listen to the use, it’s vaguely racists and protectionist among Northern Europeans (Anglo-saxon-celts-Nordic) to infer a sense of purity among westerners. As if to say that their “eastern” blood and philosophy had infiltrated Europe.

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