The Huns were a group of nomadic people who, appearing from East of the Volga, migrated into Europe c. AD 370 and built up an enormous empire in Europe. Since De Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu who had been northern neighbours of China 300 years earlier to the emergence of Huns, considerable scholarly effort has been devoted in investigating such a connection. However, there is no evidence for a direct connection between the dominant element of the Xiongnu and that of the Huns. A contemporary mentions that the Huns had a language of their own; very little of it has survived and its relationships have been the subject of debate for centuries. According to some theories, it was a Turkic language. Numerous other languages were spoken within the Hun pax including East Germanic. Their main military technique was mounted archery.
The Huns may have stimulated the Great Migration, a contributing factor in the collapse of the western Roman Empire. They formed a unified empire under Attila the Hun, who died in 453; their empire broke up the next year. Their descendants, or successors with similar names, are recorded by neighbouring populations to the south, east, and west as having occupied parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia roughly from the 4th century to the 6th century. Variants of the Hun name are recorded in the Caucasus until the early 8th century.
All surviving accounts were written by enemies of the Huns, and none describe the Huns as attractive either morally or in appearance.
Jordanes, a Goth writing in Italy in 551, a century after the collapse of the Hunnic Empire, describes the Huns as a "savage race, which dwelt at first in the swamps,—a stunted, foul and puny tribe, scarcely human, and having no language save one which bore but slight resemblance to human speech."
Jordanes also recounted how Priscus had described Attila the Hun, the Emperor of the Huns from 434-453, as: "Short of stature, with a broad chest and a large head; his eyes were small, his beard thin and sprinkled with grey; and he had a flat nose and tanned skin, showing evidence of his origin."
The Huns kept herds of cattle, horses, goats, and sheep. Their other sources of food consisted of wild game and the roots of wild plants. For clothes they had round caps, trousers or leggings made from goat skin, and either linen or rodent skin tunics. Ammianus reports that they wore these clothes until the clothes fell to pieces. Priscus describes Attila's clothes as different from his men only in being clean. In warfare they utilized the bow and javelin. The arrowheads and javelin tips were made from bone. They also fought using iron swords and lassos in close combat. The Hun sword was a long, straight, double-edged sword of early Sassanian style. These swords were hung from a belt using the scabbard-slide method, which kept the weapon vertical. The Huns also employed a smaller short sword or large dagger which was hung horizontally across the belly. A symbol of status among the Huns was a gilded bow. Sword and dagger grips also were decorated with gold.
With the arrival of the Huns, a separate tradition of composite bows arrived in Europe. Each siyah was stiffened by two laths, as in the longstanding Levantine tradition, and the grip by three. Therefore, each bow possessed seven grip and ear laths, compared with none on the Scythian and Sarmatian bows and four (ear) laths on the Middle Eastern Yrzi bow. There is no evidence that the Huns used bows in any way superior to those of their contemporaries.
Ammianus mentions that the Huns had no kings but were instead led by nobles. For serious matters they formed councils and deliberated from horseback.
Jordanes and Ammianus report that the Huns practiced scarification, slashing the faces of their male infants with swords to discourage beard growth. Another custom of the Huns was to strap their children's noses flat from an early age, in order to widen their faces, as to increase the terror their looks instilled upon their enemies. Certain Hun skeletons have shown evidence of artificially deformed skulls that are a result of ritual head binding at a young age.
Traditionally, historians have associated the Huns who appeared on the borders of Europe in the 4th century with the Xiongnu who migrated out of the Mongolia region in the 1st century AD. However the evidence for this has not been definitive (see below), and the debates have continued ever since Joseph de Guignes first suggested it in the 18th century. Due to the lack of definitive evidence, a school of modern scholarship in the West instead uses an ethnogenesis approach in explaining the Huns' origin.