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Area: White Huns (Hephthalites)
Branch: Napki Malik (Nezak Malka)
Reigned: c. 475-575
Denomination: Billon Drachm
Obverse: Bust right in the Sassanian style, bull headress. Palhavi? Script.
Reverse: Fire altar with attendants in the sassanian style. Attendants have an 8-spoked wheel on their heads.
Reference: Michener ACW 1507+
Weight: 3.4 gms
Diameter: 24.8 mm


The Hephthalites were known as 'White Huns' due to a quotation in Procopius's History of the Wars, written in the mid 6th century. In fact, they may have no relation to the Huns of Attila fame. They were given the name Ephthalites by Byzantine historians and Ye-tai or Hua by Chinese historians. They are believed to have been steppe people who originally occupied the pasture-lands in the Altai mountain of south-western Mongolia.

Toward the middle of the 5th century, they expanded westward probably because of the pressure from the Juan-juan, a powerful nomadic tribe in Mongolia. Soon they had became a great power in the Oxus basin and danger to the Persian empire. Around 440 they took Sogdiana (Samarkand) and then Balkh and Bactria.

In 484 the Hephthalite chief, Akhshunwar, attacked the Sassanian King Peroz (459-484), who was defeated and killed in Khurasan. The Hephthalite empire now extended to Merv and Herat, which had been the regions of the Sassanid Empire. They also intervened in the dynastic struggles when the Sassanid ruler, Kavad (488-496), was fighting for the throne with Balash, brother of Peroz. Kavad gained their support by marrying the niece of the Hephthalites chief which allowed him to regain his crown in 498.

After the conquest of Sogdia and Kushan, the Hephthalites founded their capital, Piandjikent, 65 kilometers south-west of Samarkand in the Zaravshan valley.

With their western border stabilised, the Hephthalites extended their influence to the northwest into the Tarim Basin. From 493 to 556 A.D., they invaded Khotan, Kashgar, Kocho, and Karashahr.

During the 5th century, the Gupta dynasty in India reigned in the Ganges basin with the Kushan empire occupying the area along the Indus. In 470, after the death of the Gupta ruler, Skandagupta (455-470), the Hephthalites entered India from the Kabul valley after the conquest of Kushan. The Gupta dynasty was extinguished. The Buddhists were persecuted and their monasteries burned.

For thirty years the north-western India was ruled by Hephthalite kings. They seem to have followed the Zoroastrian religion, as did the Sassanians.

Between 557 to 561 the Sassanian King Chosroes (Kushru I) allied himself with another steppe people who had appeared from inner Asia. Chorsoes wanting to take revenge over the defeat of his grandfather Peroz, married a daughter of the nomadic chief, Sinjibu, to gain his support against the Hephthalites. It was Sinjibu who conquered the Hephthalites and killed their king.

The Hephthalites were completely broken and disappeared by 570. Some surviving groups living south of the Oxus escaped Chosroes' grasp and later fell to Arab invaders in the 7th century. One of the surviving groups fled to the west and may have been the ancestors of the later Avars in the Danube region.

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