Hun Warfare

What made the Huns so successful in warfare? The answer is mobility, weapons, and a lifestyle that prepared them for war.


Among the Huns, nothing was more important than horses. Horses were not just used in warfare but were part of everyday life. Primary sources note the Huns conducted business, met with envoys, ate, drank, and sometimes even slept in the saddle. Hun children knew how to ride before they learned to walk. By the time a Hun reached adulthood, riding was as natural as breathing. The Huns were superior horsemen such to the extent that they were compared to centaurs. Warfare on horseback made the Huns faster and more maneuverable than their enemies.

The Hun horse was a different breed from the horses used by the agrarian civilizations they had contact with. Roman chroniclers wrote how the Hun horse was more hardy, accustomed to cold, and had stronger constitutions than “civilized” Roman horses that were used to warm stables and plenty of food. Like other Central Asian stock, the Hun horse required less food and knew how to dig through snow to graze. These resilient horses were ideal for an army made up of cavalry.


No weapon was more important than the bow. The bow was paramount to the Hun warrior and a Hun could shoot at full gallop and even shoot in retreat. The bow used by the Huns was a reflexed composite bow. Seven bone plaques were used to stiffen the ears and handle of the bow. Hun bows were asymmetrical. One theory for the use of asymmetric shape was that it allowed the bow to be increased in size without restricting its use from the saddle of a horse. These bows could shoot arrows at much greater distances than any Roman or European bow. The advantages of distance and maneuverability gave the Huns a great advantage in battle. Finely crafted bows were passed down to the next generation. Bows were the symbol of ruling power to the Huns just as swords were to their European counterparts. Great leaders would be buried with golden, ornamental bows as a symbol of might and power.

When the enemy had been sufficiently weakened by the onslaught of arrows, the Huns would move in closer to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. One of the most popular weapons used was the “Scythian ax”. These were used along with javelins and swords to kill the remaining enemies. Like the Scythians and Sarmatians before them, the Huns used lassos in combat. The lasso could be used to dismount or entangle an enemy, or to drag him until he strangled to death. Lassos could also be used to capture the enemy alive in order to be ransomed later.