Tamga of the Hephthalites
The Hephthalites (green), c. 500.
The Hephthalites (green), c. 500.
StatusNomadic empire
Common languages
Historical eraLate Antiquity
• Established
• Disestablished
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kushan Empire
Sassanid Empire
Gupta Empire
Alchon Huns
Nezak Huns
Kabul Shahi
Göktürk Empire
Principality of Chaghaniyan

The Hephthalites (or Ephthalites), sometimes called the White Huns, were a people who lived in Central Asia during the 5th to 8th centuries. Militarily important during 450 to 560, they were based in Bactria and expanded east to the Tarim Basin, west to Sogdia and south through Afghanistan to northern India. They were a tribal confederation and included both nomadic and settled urban communities. They were part of the four major states known collectively as Xyon (Xionites) or Huna, being preceded by the Kidarites, and succeeded by the Alkhon and lastly the Nezak. All of these peoples have often been linked to the Huns who invaded Eastern Europe during the same period, and/or have been referred to as "Huns", but there is no consensus among scholars about such a connection.

The stronghold of the Hephthalites was Tokharistan on the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush, in what is present-day northeastern Afghanistan. By 479, the Hephthalites had conquered Sogdia and driven the Kidarites westwards, and by 493 they had captured parts of present-day Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin in what is now Northwest China. They expanded into northwestern India as well.[6]

The sources for Hephthalite history are poor and historians' opinions differ. There is no king-list and historians are not sure how they arose or what language they spoke. The Sveta Huna who invaded northern India are probably the Hephthalites, but the exact relation is not clear. They seem to have called themselves Ebodalo (ηβοδαλο, hence Hephthal), often abbreviated Eb (ηβ), a name they wrote in the Bactrian script on some of their coins.[7][8][9] The origin of the name "Hephthalites" is unknown, possibly from either a Khotanese word *Hitala meaning "Strong" or from postulated Middle Persian *haft āl "the Seven".[4]

Name and ethnonyms

Coin of the Hephthalites circa 350 CE, possibly from Bactria, imitating a coin of Shapur I.

The name Hephthalites originated with Ancient Greek sources, which also referred to them as Ephthalite, Abdel or Avdel.

To the Armenians, the Hephthalites were Haital, to the Persians and Arabs, they were Haytal or Hayatila (هياطلة), while their Bactrian name was Ebodalo (ηβοδαλο).[4]

In Chinese chronicles, the Hephthalites are usually called Ye-ta-i-li-to (or Yediyiliduo), or the more usual modern and abbreviated form Yada (嚈噠 Yàdā). The latter name has been given various Latinised renderings, including Yeda, Ye-ta, Ye-Tha; Ye-dā and Yanda. The corresponding Cantonese and Korean names Yipdaat and Yeoptal (Korean: 엽달), which preserve aspects of the Middle Chinese pronunciation (roughly yep-daht, [ʔjɛpdɑt]) better than the modern Mandarin pronunciation, are more consistent with the Greek Hephthalite. Some Chinese chroniclers suggest that the root Hephtha- (as in Ye-ta-i-li-to or Yada) was technically a title equivalent to "emperor", while Hua was the name of the dominant tribe.[10]

In Ancient India, names such as Hephthalite were unknown. The Hephthalites were apparently part of, or offshoots of, people known in India as Hunas or Turushkas,[11] although these names may have referred to broader groups or neighbouring peoples.