Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 26.10.15-19 ; 31.1-2

Halani Migrations

A map of Halani migrations.


While that usurper thus far survived, whose multiple acts we have shown, and his death, on the twelfth day before the kalends of August, when Valentinianus was consul for the first time, with his brother, great fears of trembling suddenly went about through the whole circuit of the world, of a kind that the ancients published neither in fiction nor in truth-telling. For not long after the  rising of the light, with a leading cluster of dazzling, thundering flashes, the quaked stability of the entire earthly weight was shaken, and the sea withdrew, driven back with unfurled waves, such that, with the abyss bared of its depths, multiformed figures of swimming things were seen, clinging to the mud, and there the wastes of valleys and mountains, so it is given to be believed, looked up at the rays of the sun, which the prime mover had hidden beneath the gulf. With many ships, therefore, as if joined to the dry earth, and with a great many men wandering about freely through the scant remains of waves, such that they gathered fishes and similar things with their hands, the roar of the sea—as if grieving its repulse—rose up against the change, and through the roiling pools, beaten violently against islands and widespread spaces of the mainland, it razed innumerable buildings in the cities and wherever they were found; just as if, with the raging strife of the elements, the face of the world, overwhelmed, displayed the appearance of marvels. For, the magnitude of the relapsed waters when it was least expected killed many thousands of people and submerged them, and with the excited whirls of the rushing back billows, certain ships, when the swelling of damp substance subsided, were seen destroyed, and on the shipwrecks, lifeless bodies lay about to and fro. Other huge ships, thrust out by the rabid winds sat upon the summits of roofs, as happened at Alexandria; and to the second boundary stone, quite a distance from the shore, others were brandished, as we ourselves, while passing near the town of Mothone, saw a laconian ship, yawning open with long decay.


Meanwhile, the winged wheel of Fortune, ever turning from good fortune to adversity, arms Bellona, with the Furies adopted as allies, and bore across to the east sorrowful events, which the clear promise of forebodings and portents warned would come. For, after many things which seers and augurs truthfully foretold, the dogs leapt back from the echoing wolves, and the night birds dolefully rang a certain plaintive cry, and the gloomy risings of the sun dimmed the morning splendors of the day, and at Antioch, through brawls and vulgar tumults, this came to be accustomed, that anyone who thought himself oppressed by violence, cried out insolently, “Let Valens be burned alive!” And the voices of heralds were heard continuously, ordering that wood be heaped up for the kindling of the Valentian bath, built by the effort of the princeps himself. These things thereupon showed him, manner of speaking all but explicit, that the end of his life threatened. Concerning these, a ghostly simulacrum of the king of Armenia, and the pitiable shadows of those killed a little earlier in the affair of Theodorus, by keening certain fearful songs of lamentation, stirred up many with their awful terrors. A heifer, with its throat slit, was seen lying lifeless, whose death indicated the ample and widespread tribulations of public funerals. And then when the ancient walls of Calchedon were torn down so that at Constantinople a bath might be built, when a row of rocks was unloosed, in a squared stone, which hid amidst the structure, these Greek verses were found to be cut, unfolding the future in full:

But when dewy maidens through town in dance
cheerfully should whirl through the garlanded roads
and lamented walls become the defense of a bath,
then indeed countless tribes of men, spread over the earth,
driving through passage of the beautiful-flowing Danube with spear-point,
will destroy the Scythian land, and the Mysian earth,
and crossing over Paionia, with maddened hope,
shall work battle and the end of life.


More fully, however, the sowing of destruction and the origin of diverse calamities, which furious Mars assembled, by mixing the whole with unaccustomed conflagration, I disclose this cause: The tribe of the Huns, known little in older remembrances, dwelling on the icy ocean beyond the Maeotian swamps, exceed all manner of ferocity. There, seeing that from the very first moments of being born, the cheeks of the infants are deeply furrowed with iron, such that the timely vigor of their hair is blunted by wrinkled scars, beardless they grow old, without any loveliness, like eunuchs, all of them with firm, compact limbs and fat necks, unnaturally deformed and crooked, such that you might think then bipedal beasts, or as a kind of post fashioned for putting railings on bridges, artlessly hewn.

Nevertheless, in the shape of men, however unpleasant, thus in their living they are rough: they want neither fire nor savory food, but by the roots of wild grasses and by the half-raw meat of any beast they are fed, which, placed between their thighs or under the backs of their horses, they make warm by brief foment. Never roofed by any edifice, but these they shun like tombs separated from common use. For, not among them is it possible for any hut peaked with reed to be found, but roaming, they travel through mountains and snowy forests, and they are accustomed from the cradle to endure famine and drought. When abroad, except when dire necessity drives them, they do not approach roofed houses; for they do not consider themselves safe beneath roofs. They are covered by garments of linen or sewn from the pelts of woodland animals, nor do they have some clothing for the household, and other for public, but once neck is inserted into tunic of washed out colour, no earlier is it laid aside or changed than, fallen apart by long decay, it goes to pieces in rags. They cover their heads with curved conical caps, protecting their hairy legs with kid-leather hides, and their shoes, fitted to no mould, prohibit marching with unrestrained step. For these reasons, they are scarcely adapted to fights on foot, but are practically affixed to their horses, hardy creatures, certainly, but deformed, and sometimes sitting upon them in the womanly fashion, they carry out their accustomed duties. From their horses, each in that tribe, all day and all night, buys and sells, and takes food and drink, and leaning upon the narrow neck of the beast in deep sleep, even then as he yields to the fickleness of dreams. And when deliberation is resolved concerning serious matters, in this state everyone counsels in common. They are led, however, by no regal severity, but content by the hurried leadership of their first rank, they overcome whatever comes upon them.

And provoked, they sometimes fight, entering battles in a wedge, diverse voices singing a piercing song. And as they are lightly armed and sudden for fleetness, thus, by stealthy advance, they intentionally spread themselves thin, scattered, and in a disorderly line. Although they run about with widespread slaughter, on account of their exceeding rapidity, they are seen neither rushing a rampart nor ramming down enemy camps. And for this you might say that they are the cruelest warriors of all, that from afar with hurled spears, sharpened stones, instead of the point of arrows,  joined with marvellous skill, and divided …, they join hand-to-hand battle with iron without regard for themselves, and their enemies, while they guard against the injury of their blades, they bind with them with twisted cloth, so that with the arms of their opponents ensnared, they might deprive them of the faculty for riding or walking.

No one among them ploughs, nor touches the handle of a plough at any time. For they all wander, without fixed abode, or hearth or law, or steadfast custom, ever like fugitives with their wagons, in which they dwell; where their spouses weave hideous vestments, and they join to their wives and they spawn, and they suckle the boys right up to puberty. And no one among them, when questioned, is able to answer whence he comes, conceived elsewhere and born far off, and raised further still.

Since they are inconstant, they are untrustworthy during armistice, far too easily moved by coming upon every breath of new hope, handing over the whole to the swiftest of passions. In the custom of unthinking animals, which might be honorable or dishonorable, inwardly ignorant, ambiguous and cryptic, hindered at no time by reverence of any religious rite or superstition, burning with boundless desire for gold, and thus changeable and easily angered, such that several times on the same day, they often withdraw from alliances with no provocation, and likewise they are propitious, although no one mollifies them.

This tribe of men, unencumbered and ungoverned, burning with a monstrous avidity for pillaging foreign tribes, were rioting for the rapine and slaughter of their neighbours, and came all the way to the Halani, the ancient Massagetae, and where these were from, or the lands in which they dwelled—seeing that the matter had fallen hither—it is now befitting to show, due to the demonstrated geographic obscurity, which has lengthy and many games … and various, at length discovered internal … of truth … the Hister, overflowing with foreign waters, flowing with great size, passes by Sauromatae, reaching all the way to the rush of Tanais, which separates Asia from Europe.

Once this is crossed, the Halani inhabit the lonely wilds of Scythia, stretched to immensity, named from the appellation of the mountains, the nations bordering them, worn away little by little by the frequency of their victories, they took as kindred of their own name, like the Persians do. Among these, the Nerui dwell in the inland regions, neighbors to lofty peaks, which, wrenched and numbed by the cold, the north winds bind together. After these are the Vidini and the Geloni, extremely wild, who, with skins taken from murdered enemies, make clothes for themselves and coverings for their warlike horses. The Agathyrsi border the Geloni, their bodies just as their hair, checkered with a dark blue colour, the lowly, indeed, with small and few, the nobles, however, marked widely and densely painted. After these, the Melanchlaenae and the Anthropophagi (lit. “Maneaters”), I have heard that they wander through different places, feeding on human bodies, places forsaken due to these wicked victuals, all those bordering them have sought distant regions of the lands. And thus every region exposed to the north east, even should we come as far as Seras, remains uninhabitable. At another part, near the abode of the Amazons, the Halani are inclined toward the east, spread through populous and ample tribes, turning toward Asiatic lands, which I have heard are stretched all the way to the Ganges, the river cutting through the lands of the Indi, and filling the southern sea.

These Halani, divided into two regions, across both sides of the world, whose various tribes it is not now necessary to enumerate, although divided by large territories, wander through immense regions like the Nomades, yet in the march of time, they assent to a single name, and in brief, all are dubbed Halani, on account of their customs and their savage manner of living, and the same equipment. For they have neither any huts, nor concerns to busy themselves with the plough, but they feed on meat and an abundance of milk, dwelling in wagons, which in curved coverings of bark, they convey through lonely wildernesses that extend without limit. And when they reach a grassy place, with their carts placed in a circular formation, they are fed in a feral manner, and once the food is consumed, they go as if cities were placed in their chariots, and the males join with their wives atop them, and children are born and raised in them, and they are continuous habitats for them, and wherever they may go, they consider this their hearth. And they pasture cattle, driving them before themselves, with flocks, and to the highest degree, the care of the horse-drove is of great concern for them. There fields ever grow grass, at places sown with fruit-trees, and on that account, going wherever they please, they want neither food nor fodder, because it comes to pass that the soil is moist and the paths frequented by rivers passing by. Every age and sex unfit for war, therefore, abides around the vehicles themselves, busied with peaceful tasks. The youth, even, growing strong in the practice of riding from earliest boyhood, think it base to go by foot, and all are skilled warriors by training of multiple kinds. Whence even the Persians, who originate from Scythia, are very well practiced in fighting.

Indeed, almost all the Halani are tall, and handsome, usually with golden hair, frightful by the tempered savagery of their eyes, and fast by lightness of arms, you would think them like the Huns in every way, but more moderate in sustenance and culture, running about for robbing and for hunting all the way to the Maeotian swamps, and the Cimmerian Bosporus, and in the same way, Armenia and Media. And just as leisure is pleasant to calm and peaceful men, thus trials and wars benefit them. He is there judged blessed who casts away his life in battle, for those who grow old and depart from the world by fortuitous death, they censure with bitter invective as degenerate and cowardly, nor is there anything that they cast more loftily than the man killed where they please, and for glorious spoils, rent from the killed, they hang the pelts removed from the heads, as ornaments for their warlike mounts. And neither is temple or shrine visited among them, nor is any hut roofed with straw anywhere able to be seen, but a naked sword, in barbarous custom, is fixed to the earth, and this, like the Mars of the territories they go round, they worship reverently as their patron. They foretell things to be in a wondrous manner. For gathering together the straightest wicker sticks, and measuring these with certain secret incantations at a pre-appointed time, they will have known clearly what is portended. Slavery, they are ignorant of what it might be, all begotten by noble seed, and even now, they choose as their judges men observed for a long time in the practice of making war. But let us return to the remainder of our composed purpose.

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