Read this article to learn about the Hepthals and their relation with Iranians.
The Hephtals are referred to in India and Iran, as Huns, but this is incorrect. Under pressure from the Huns the Yuchis and other Scythian i tribes had left their homelands in Central Asia and migrated to the south, but in the west remnants of the Scythians continued to exist and were considerably influenced by Hun culture.
The Hephtals cannot therefore be considered Huns, but may be called Hunnish Scythians.
The northern part of Central Asia was still inhabited by nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes, but the reasons that led the Huns to migrate from the north to the Danube valley also forced the Hephtals to move southwards. The Hephtals were thus descendants of the western Scythians and related to the Alans. Their tribe very likely inhabited the area north of modern Tashkend where the boundaries of the Wusun and Kung territories met.
In the 5th century it was the Afrigs who dominated Khwarezm and they retained their independence till the sixth century. The Hephtals continued their drive southwards to Sogdh and Bactria. After conquering the Kushans who lived there they proceeded to occupy the Kapisha and Gandhar regions of the Kushan Empire. The main centre of the Hephtals was not the Vakhshu valley but the Sogdh valley. Ruins of their capital have been discovered near Bokhara, where the influence of Indian culture is evident.
Greek and Armenian writers have referred to the Hephtals as Aptolits or Ephtals. They have also been called white Huns. The historian, Prof. Prokop, mentions them as white Persians. The name white Hun was given to them because they were of fairer complexion and had a more developed culture than the Huns. In the sixth century they formed the dividing line between the Sasani and the Chinese Empires.
The rule of Torman and Mihirkul, kings of the Hephtal dynasty, extended to India also and their coins have made it clear that they were not Huns. The Hun was usually beardless, while the pictures of Torman and Mihirkal show them as having heavy beards. The coins of Torman are exact copies of the Gupta coins. On one side they bear the king’s head and his name in Gupta script and on the other the picture of a peacock. He probably considered himself successor to the Gupta Empire in India.
Torman and Mihirkul are the only two Hephtal rulers whose names are known. While Torman was ruling in India the Sasani Kawad was ruling over Iran. The Hephtals had to contend with the Guptas in India, but they also had to fight against the Sasanis who were their bitterest enemies. Piroj, the father of Kawad, died in battle against the Hephtals.
Excavations in Bokhara have been made in recent times by Soviet historians and the pictures and buildings found there reveal the impact of Indian culture on the Hephtals. The Sun temple built by Torman in Gwalior is also an indication of this influence.
The Iranians and the Hephtals:
The Hephtals had grown so powerful that on many occasions the Iranian kings had to sue them for mercy. The Hephtals replaced the Kushans and became Iran’s neighbour in the reign of King Behram Gor of Iran (421-438). The Hephtals occupied Bactria and raided Khurasan, but Behram met them with a large army and forced them to retreat across the Vakhshu. This however, had no lasting effect, for the strife continued in the reign of Behram’s son Yajdgurd II (438-457).
A dispute as to who should succeed to the Iranian throne arose between Hormuzd the heir and his brother Piroj. The latter went to Akhshunwar, chief of the Hephtals, for help and returned with a large Hephtal army, with the result that Hormuzd lost both his kingdom and his life.
The Hephtals wanted to keep Piroj in subjection, but he made a bid for freedom and attacked the son of Akhshunwar who was governor of Bactria. He was badly defeated, was forced to conclude peace on the most humiliating terms and when he failed to pay tribute in terms of the treaty the Hephtals attacked and killed him. The Sasani Empire now became wholly dependent on the Hephtals and soon their capital Mesopotamia itself was threatened.
Armenia was politically and culturally part of Iran, but because the Roman Emperor was eager to seize it, there was a constant struggle between the Iranians and Romans for its control.
Armenia had embraced Christianity and had thus come closer to Rome. The Iranian general Jermeher was conducting a campaign in Armenia when news of the death of Piroj reached him and he had to rush back to Iran. At first Balakh, the brother of Piroj, was placed on the throne but within three years he was replaced by Kawad, Piroj’s son.
Khusro Kaushekhan, the successor of Kawad, had also to contend against the Hephtals. But by the middle of the 6th century the Hephtals themselves had become civilised and, thanks to the influence of Indian and Iranian culture, had begun to lead a settled life. In accordance with the trend of Central Asian history, however, they too had to give way to another nomodic tribe. By 540 A. D., Tumin Llikhan defeated the Awars and founded the Turkish Empire. Unable to expand eastwards because of the Chinese empire he decided to move westwards.
Muyu Khan, his brother, succeeded him and allying himself with the Iranians, routed the Hephtals. The Hephtal empire was then divided between the Iranians and the Turks—Bactria and Tukharistan going to Iran and the area beyond the Vakhshu to the Turks. The alliance between the Turks and the Sasanis was cemented by the marriage between the daughter of Muyu Khan and Naushekhan, much to the displeasure of the Romans, who did not want to see the two unite.