The Alchon Huns, also known as the Alchono, Alxon, Alkhon, Alkhan, Alakhana and Walxon, were a nomadic people who established states in Central Asia and South Asia during the 5th and 6th centuries CE. They were first mentioned as being located in Paropamisus, and later expanded south-east, into the Punjab and central India, as far as Eran and Kausambi. The Alchon invasion of South Asia greatly weakened, and contributed to the fall of, the Gupta Empire. The names of the Alchon kings are known from their extensive coinage and from inscriptions in Buddhist stupas.

To the Indians, they were one of the Hūṇa peoples (or Hunas),[1] whose origins are controversial. The Hunas may have been linked to the Huns that invaded Europe from Central Asia during the same period.[dubious ] Their invasion of India follows numerous other invasions in the preceding centuries, such as those of the Indo-Greeks, the Indo-Scythians or the Kushans.[2] The Xionites and Hephthalites of Central Asia appear to have been precursors of the Huna peoples collectively.

One of four major Huna states in South Asia, the Alchon empire was preceded by that of the Kidarites, about half a century earlier,[3][4] and the Hephthalites, and succeeded by the Nezak.

The term 'Hun' may cause confusion. The word has three basic meanings: 1) the Huns proper, that is, Attila's people; 2) groups associated with the Huna people who invaded northern India; 3) a vague term for Hun-like people. Here the word has the second meaning with elements of the third.


Portrait of king Khingila, founder of the Alchon Huns, c. 430 - 490 CE.

The Alchon Huns emerged in Kapisa around 380, taking over Kabulistan from the Sassanian Persians, at the same time the Kidarites (Red Huns) ruled in Bactria and Ghandara. They are said to have taken control of Kabul in 388.[1]


Around 430 king Khingila, the most notable Alchon ruler, emerges and takes control of the routes across the Hindu Kush from the Kidarites.[1] As the Alchons took control, diplomatic missions were established in 457 with China.[5] In 460, the Alchons conquered Taxila. Between 460-470 CE, as they took over Gandhara and Punjab, the Huna apparently undertook the mass destruction of Buddhist monasteries and stupas at Taxila, a high center of learning, which never recovered from the destruction. The rest of the 5th century marks a period of territorial expansion and eponymous kings (Tegins), several of which appear to have overlapped and ruled jointly.[citation needed]

First Hunnic War: Central India

In the First Hunnic War (496-515),[6] the Alchon reached their maximum territorial extent, with king Toramana pushing deep into Indian territory, reaching Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh in Central India, and ultimately contributing to the downfall of the Gupta Empire.[7]

To the south, the Sanjeli inscriptions indicate that Toramana penetrated at least as far as northern Gujarat , and possibly to the port of Bharukaccha.[8] To the east, far into Central India, the city of Kausambi, where seals with Toramana's name were found, was probably sacked by the Alkhons in 497-500, before they moved to occupy Malwa.[6][9][10][11]

These territories may have been taken from Gupta Emperor Budhagupta.[12] Alternatively, they may have been captured during the rule of his successor Narasimhagupta.[13]

First Battle of Eran (510 CE)

A particularly decisive encounter occurred in Malwa, where a local Gupta ruler, probably a Governor, named Bhanugupta was in charge. In the Bhanugupta Eran inscription, this local ruler reports that he participated in a great battle in 510 CE at Eran, where he suffered severe casualties.[13] Bhanugupta was probably vanquished by Toramana at this 510 CE Eran battle, so that the western Gupta province of Malwa fell into the hands of the Hunas at that point.[13]

According to a 6th-century CE Buddhist work, the Manjusri-mula-kalpa, Bhanugupta lost Malwa to the "Shudra" Toramana, who continued his conquest to Magadha, forcing Narasimhagupta Baladitya to make a retreat to Bengal. Toramana "possessed of great prowess and armies" then conquered the city of "Tirtha" in the Gauda country (modern Bengal).[14] Toramana is said to have crowned a new king in Benares, named Prakataditya, who is also presented as a son of Narasimha Gupta.[15][13]

Toramana sacked Kausambi and occupied Malwa.
The Eran "Varaha" boar, under the neck of which can be found an inscription mentioning the rule of Toramana.[16]
A rare gold coin of Toramana in the style of the Guptas. The obverse legend reads: "The lord of the Earth, Toramana, having conquered the Earth, wins Heaven".[17][18]

Having conquered the territory of Malwa from the Guptas, Toramana was mentioned in a famous inscription in Eran, confirming his rule on the region.[13] The Eran boar inscription of Toramana (in Eran, Malwa, 540 km south of New Delhi, state of Madhya Pradesh) of his first regnal year indicates that eastern Malwa was included in his dominion. The inscription is written under the neck of the boar, in 8 lines of Sanskrit in the Brahmi script. The first line of the inscription, in which Toramana is introduced as Mahararajadhidaja ("The Great King of Kings"),[12] reads:

"In year one of the reign of the King of Kings Sri-Toramana, who rules the world with splendor and radiance..."

On his gold coins minted in India in the style of the Gupta Emperors, Toramana presented himself confidently as:

""Avanipati Torama(no) vijitya vasudham divam jayati"

"The lord of the Earth, Toramana, having conquered the Earth, wins Heaven"

— Toramana gold coin legend.[17][18]

Defeat (515 CE)

Toramana was finally defeated by local Indian rulers. The local ruler Bhanugupta is sometimes credited with vanquishing Toramana, as his 510 CE inscription in Eran, recording his participation to "a great battle", is vague enough to allow for such an interpretation. The "great battle" to which Bhanagupta participated according to the inscription is not detailed, and it is impossible to know what it was, or which way it ended, and interpretations vary.[19][20][21] Mookerji and others actually consider, in view of the inscription as well as the Manjusri-mula-kalpa, that Bhanugupta was, on the contrary, vanquished by Toramana at the 510 CE Eran battle, so that the western Gupta province of Malwa fell into the hands of the Hunas at that point,[13][15] so that Toramana could be mentioned in the Eran boar inscription, as the ruler of the region.[13]

Toramana however was finally vanquished with certainty by an Indian ruler of the Aulikara dynasty of Malwa, after nearly 20 years in India. According to the Rishtal stone-slab inscription, discovered in 1983, king Prakashadharma defeated Toramana in 515 CE.[22][23][6] The First Hunnic War thus ended with a Hunnic defeat, and Hunnic troops apparently retreated to the area of Punjab.[6] The Manjusri-mula-kalpa simply states that Toramana died in Benares as he was returning westward from his battles with Narasimhagupta.[13]

Second Hunnic War: to Malwa and retreat

The defeat of the Alchon under Mihirakula by King Yashodharman at Sondani in 528 CE.
Pillar of Yashodharman at Sondani, Mandsaur, claiming victory over Mihirakula of the Alchons in 528 CE.

The Second Hunnic War started in 520, when Alchon king Mihirakula, son of Toramana, is recorded in his military encampment on the borders of the Jhelum by Chinese monk Song Yun.[6]

At the head of the Alchon, Mihirakula is then recorded in Gwalior, Central India as "Lord of the Earth" in the Gwalior inscription of Mihirakula.[6] According to some accounts, Mihirakula invaded India as far as the Gupta capital Pataliputra, which was sacked and left in ruins.[24][25]

Mihirakula was finally defeated in 528 by king Yasodharman.

Finally however, Mihirakula was defeated in 528 by an alliance of Indian principalities led by Yasodharman, the Aulikara king of Malwa, in the battle of Sondani in Central India, which resulted in the loss of Alchon possessions in the Punjab and north India by 542. The Sondani inscription in Sondani, near Mandsaur, records the submission by force of the Hunas, and claim that Yasodharman had rescued the earth from "rude and cruel kings of the [Kali] age, who delight in viciousness",[26] and that he "had bent the head of Mihirakula".[6] In a part of the inscription at Sondani, Yasodharman thus praises himself for having defeated king Mihirakula:[16]

"He (Yasodharman) to whose two feet respect was paid, with complimentary presents of the flowers from the lock of hair on the top of (his) head, by even that (famous) king Mihirakula, whose forehead was pained through being bent low down by the strength of (his) arm in (the act of compelling) obeisance"

The Gupta Empire emperor Narasimhagupta is also credited in helping repulse Mihirakula, after the latter had conquered most of India, according to the reports of Chinese monk Xuanzang.[28][29] In a fanciful account, Xuanzang, who wrote a century later in 630 CE, reported that Mihirakula had conquered all India except for an island where the king of Magadha named Baladitya (who could be Gupta ruler Narasimhagupta Baladitya) took refuge, but that Mihirakula was finally captured by the Indian king, who later spared his life on intercession of his mother, as she perceived the Hun ruler "as a man of remarkable beauty and vast wisdom".[29] Mihirakula is then said to have returned to Kashmir to retake the throne.[30][31]

This ended the Second Hunnic War c. 534, after an occupation which therefore lasted nearly 15 years.[6]

Retreat to Kabulistan

"Alchon-Nezak Crossover" coinage, 580-680. Nezak-style bust on the obverse, and Alchon tamga within double border on the reverse.[32]

Around the middle of the 6th century CE, the Alchons withdrew to Kashmir and, pulling back from Punjab and Gandhara, went back west across the Khyber pass where they resettled in Kabulistan. There, their coinage suggests that they merged with the Nezak – as coins in Nezak style now bear the Alchon tamga mark.[32][16]

During the 7th century, continued military encounters are reported between the Hunas and the northern Indian states which followed the disappearance of the Gupta Empire. For example, Prabhakaravardhana, the Vardhana dynasty king of Thanesar in northern India and father of Harsha, is reported to have been "A lion to the Huna deer, a burning fever to the king of the Indus land".[33]

The Alchons in India declined rapidly around the same time that the Hephthalites, a related group to the north, were defeated by an alliance between the Sassanians and the Western Turkic Kaghanate.[citation needed]

Eventually, the Nezak-Alchons were replaced by the Turk shahi dynasty.[34]

Religion and ethics

The period of Huna rule corresponds to the last stages of Greco-Buddhist art. 7th century, Ghorband District, Afghanistan.

The four Alchon kings Khingila, Toramana, Javukha, and Mehama are mentioned as donors to a Buddhist stupa in the Talagan copper scroll inscription dated to 492-493 CE, that is, at a time before the Hunnic wars in India started.[35] This corresponds to a time when the Alchons had recently taken control of Taxila (around 460 CE), at the center of the Buddhist regions of northwestern India.[citation needed]

Persecution of Buddhism

Meditating Buddha from the Gupta era, 5th century CE.

Later however, the attitude of the Alchons towards Buddhism is reported as very negative. Mihirakula in particular is remembered by Buddhist sources to have been a "terrible persecutor of their religion" in Gandhara in northern Pakistan.[36] Under his reign, over a thousand Buddhist monasteries throughout Gandhara are said to have been destroyed.[37] In particular the Chinese monk Xuanzang, writing in 630 CE, explained that Mihirakula ordered the destruction of Buddhism and the expulsion of monks.[31] Indeed, the Buddhist art of Gandhara, in particular Greco-Buddhist art, becomes essentially extinct around that period. When Xuanzang visited northwestern Indian c. 630 CE, he reported that Buddhism had drastically declined, and that most of the monasteries were deserted and left in ruins.[38]

Although the Guptas were traditionally a Brahmanical dynasty,[39] around the period of the invasions of the Alchon, the Gupta rulers had apparently been favouring Buddhism. Narasimhagupta Baladitya, Mihirakula's supposed nemesis, was, according to contemporary writer Paramartha, brought up under the influence of the Mahayanist philosopher, Vasubandhu.[39] He built a sangharama at Nalanda and also a 300 ft (91 m) high vihara with a Buddha statue within which, according to Xuanzang, resembled the "great Vihara built under the Bodhi tree". According to the Manjushrimulakalpa (c. 800 CE), king Narasimhsagupta became a Buddhist monk, and left the world through meditation (Dhyana).[39] The Chinese monk Xuanzang also noted that Narasimhagupta Baladitya's son, Vajra, who commissioned a sangharama as well, "possessed a heart firm in faith".[40]:45[41]:330

Khingila with solar symbol.
Alchon king with small male figure wearing solar nimbus.

The 12th century Kashmiri historian Kalhana too painted a dreary picture of Mihirakula's cruelty, as well as his persecution of the Buddhist faith:

"In him, the northern region brought forth, as it were, another god of death, bent in rivalry to surpass... Yama (the god of death residing in the southern regions). People knew of his approach by noticing the vultures, crows and other birds flying ahead eager to feed on those who were being slain within his army's reach. The royal Vetala (demon) was day and night surrounded by thousands of murdered human beings, even in his pleasure houses. This terrible enemy of mankind had no pity for children, no compassion for women, no respect for the aged"

— 12th century Kashmiri historian Kalhana[29]

Shivaism and Sun cult

The Alchons are generally described as sun worshipers, a traditional cult of steppe nomads, due to the appearance of sun symbols on some of their coins, combined to the probable influence they received from the cult of Surya in India.[42] Mihirirakula is also said to have been an ardent worshiper of Shiva,[43][44] although he may have been selectively attracted by the destructive powers of the Indian deity.[29]

Consequences on India

Find spots indicating epigraphic inscriptions related to local control by the Alchon.[6]

These invasions, although only spanning a few decades, had long term effects on India, and in a sense brought an end to Classical Indian civilization.[29]

Soon after the invasions, the Gupta Empire, already weakened by these invasions and the rise of local rulers, ended as well.[45] Following the invasions, northern India was left in disarray, with numerous smaller Indian powers emerging after the crumbling of the Guptas.[46]

The Huna invasions are said to have seriously damaged India's trade with Europe and Central Asia.[29] In particular, Indo-Roman trade relations, which the Gupta Empire had greatly benefited from. The Guptas had been exporting numerous luxury products such as silk, leather goods, fur, iron products, ivory, pearl or pepper from centers such as Nasik, Paithan, Pataliputra or Benares etc. The Huna invasion probably disrupted these trade relations and the tax revenues that came with it.[47]

Furthermore, Indian urban culture was left in decline, and Buddhism, gravely weakened by the destruction of monasteries and the killing of monks, started to collapse.[29] Great centers of learning were destroyed, such as the city of Taxila, bringing cultural regression.[29]

During their rule of 60 years, the Alchons are said to have altered the hierarchy of ruling families and the Indian cast system. For example, the Hunas are often said to have become the precursors of the Rajputs.[29]

On the artistic side however, the Alchon Huns may have played a role, just like the Western Satraps centuries before them, in helping spread the art of Gandhara to the western Deccan region.[48]


Ancient sources refer to the Alchons and associated groups ambiguously with various names, such as Huna in Indian texts, and Xionites in Greek texts. Xuanzang chronicled with more detail some of the later history of the Alchons.[28]

Modern archeology has provided valuable insight into reconstructing the history of the Alchons. The most significant cataloguing of the Alchon dynasty came in 1967 by Robert Göbl's analysis of the coinage of the "Iranian Huns".[49] This work documented the names of partial chronology of Alchon kings, beginning with Khingila.

Talagan copper scroll

The next significant contribution to our understanding of Alchon history came in 2006 when Gudrun Melzer and Lore Sander published their finding of the "Talagan copper scroll", also known as the "Schøyen Copper Scroll", dated to 492/3 that mentions the four Alchon kings Khingila, Toramana, Javukha, and Mehama (who was reigning at the time) as donors to a Buddhist reliquary stupa.[50][51]

In 2012, the Kunsthistorisches Museum completed a reanalysis of previous finds together with a large number of new coins that appeared on the antiquities market during the Second Afghan Civil War.[34] This work redefines the timeline and narrative of the Alchons and related peoples, and is the current authoritative work on the Iranian Huns.[citation needed]

Alchon Tegins

The rulers of the Alchons practiced skull deformation, as evidenced from their coins, a practice shared with the Huns that migrated into Europe. The names of the first Alchon rulers do not survive. Starting from 430 CE, names of Alchon kings, assuming the title "Tegin", survive on coins[49] and religious inscriptions:[50]

  • Khingila (c. 430 - 490 CE)
  • Javukha/Zabocho (c. mid 5th - early 6th CE)
  • Mehama (c. 461 - 493 CE)
  • Lakhana Udayaditya (c. 490's CE)
  • Aduman
  • Toramana (c. 490 - 515 CE)
  • Mihirakula (c. 515 - 540 CE)
  • Toramana II (c. 530 - 570 CE)
  • Narana/Narendra (c. 570 - 600 CE)


The earliest Alchon Hun coins were based on Sasanian designs, often with the simple addition of the Alchon tamgha and a mention "alchon" or "alkhan".[52]

Soon however coinage of the Alchon becomes original and differs from predecessors in that it is devoid of Iranian (Sasanian) symbolism.[1] The rulers are depicted with elongated skulls, a result of artificial cranial deformation.[1]

After their invasion of India the coins of the Alchon were numerous and varied, as they issued copper, silver and gold coins sometimes roughly following the Gupta pattern. The Alchon empire in India must have been quite significant and rich, with the ability to issue an important volume of gold coins.[53]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila, Michael Maas p.286
  2. ^ Concise Encyclopeida Of World History by Carlos Ramirez-Faria
  3. ^ History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Ahmad Hasan Dani, B. A. Litvinsky, Unesco p.119 sq
  4. ^ The Huns, Hyun Jin Kim, Routledge, 2015 p.50 sq
  5. ^ Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks by Jason Neelis
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hans Bakker 24th Gonda lecture
  7. ^ Jason Neelis (19 November 2010). Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks: Mobility and Exchange Within and Beyond the Northwestern Borderlands of South Asia. BRILL. pp. 162–. ISBN 90-04-18159-8. 
  8. ^ The World of the Skandapurāṇa by Hans Bakker p.34
  9. ^ Indian History, Allied Publishers p.81
  10. ^ Dynastic History of Magadha, Cir. 450-1200 A.D., by Bindeshwari Prasad Sinha p.70
  11. ^ Geography from Ancient Indian Coins & Seals, by Parmanand Gupta p.175
  12. ^ a b Dynastic History of Magadha, Cir. 450-1200 A.D. by Bindeshwari Prasad Sinha p.79
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h The Gupta Empire, Radhakumud Mookerji, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1959 p.120
  14. ^ "After the successful conclusion of the Eran episode, the conquering Hunas ultimately burst out of Eastern Malwa and swooped down upon the very heart of the Gupta empire. The eastern countries were overrun and the city of the Gaudas was occupied. The Manjusrimulakalpa gives a scintillating account of this phase of Toramana’s conquest. It says that after Bhanugupta's defeat and discomfiture, Toramana led the Hunas against Magadha and obliged Baladitya (Narasimha-gupta Baladitya, the reigning Gupta monarch) to retire to Bengal. This great monarch (Toramana), Sudra by caste and possessed of great prowess and armies took hold of that position (bank of the Ganges) and commanded the country round about. That powerful king then invested the town called Tirtha in the Gauda country." in The Hūṇas in India, Volume 58, Upendra Thakur, Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1967, p.122
  15. ^ a b Early history of Jammu region, Raj Kumar, Gyan Publishing House, 2010 p.538
  16. ^ a b c d Coin Cabinet of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna
  17. ^ a b CNG Coins
  18. ^ a b The Identity of Prakasaditya by Pankaj Tandon, Boston University
  19. ^ Archaeological Excavations in Central India: Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, by Om Prakash Misra p.7
  20. ^ Encyclopaedia of Indian Events & Dates by S. B. Bhattacherje A15
  21. ^ The Classical Age by R.K. Pruthi p.262
  22. ^ The World of the Skandapurāṇa, by Hans Bakker p.34 sq
  23. ^ Ojha, N.K. (2001). The Aulikaras of Central India: History and Inscriptions, Chandigarh: Arun Publishing House, ISBN 81-85212-78-3, pp.48-50
  24. ^ Personal and Geographical Names in the Gupta Inscriptions by Tej Ram Sharma p.232
  25. ^ Dynastic History of Magadha, Cir. 450-1200 A.D. by Bindeshwari Prasad Sinha p.64
  26. ^ "The earth betook itself (for succour), when it was afflicted by kings of the present age, who manifested pride; who were cruel through want of proper training; who,from delusion, transgressed the path of good conduct; (and) who were destitute of virtuous delights" Punjab Monitor, April 2013 [1], from Fleet, John F. Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum: Inscriptions of the Early Guptas. Vol. III. Calcutta: Government of India, Central Publications Branch, 1888, 147-148.
  27. ^ Punjab Monitor, April 2013 [2], from Fleet, John F. Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum: Inscriptions of the Early Guptas. Vol. III. Calcutta: Government of India, Central Publications Branch, 1888, 147-148.
  28. ^ a b Malwa Through the Ages, from the Earliest Times to 1305 A.D, Kailash Chand Jain p.249
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i The First Spring: The Golden Age of India by Abraham Eraly p.48 sq
  30. ^ Rise and Fall of the Imperial Guptas by Ashvini Agrawal p.245
  31. ^ a b Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks by Jason Neelis p.168
  32. ^ a b CNG Coins
  33. ^ Ancient Indian History and Civilization by Sailendra Nath Sen p.253
  34. ^ a b Klaus Vondrovec (2014). Coinage of the Iranian Huns and Their Successors from Bactria to Gandhara (4th to 8th Century CE). ISBN 978-3-7001-7695-4. 
  35. ^ A Note on the Schoyen copper scroll Bactrian or Indian? by Etienne de la Vaissiere [3]
  36. ^ Grousset, Rene (1970), The Empire of the Steppes, Rutgers University Press, p. 71, ISBN 0-8135-1304-9 
  37. ^ Behrendt, Kurt A. (2004). Handbuch der Orientalistik. BRILL. ISBN 9789004135956. 
  38. ^ The Spread of Buddhism by Ann Heirman,Stephan Peter Bumbacher p.60 sq
  39. ^ a b c A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India by Upinder Singh p.521
  40. ^ Sankalia, Hasmukhlal Dhirajlal (1934). The University of Nālandā. B. G. Paul & co. 
  41. ^ Sukumar Dutt (1988) [First published in 1962]. Buddhist Monks And Monasteries of India: Their History And Contribution To Indian Culture. George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London. ISBN 81-208-0498-8. 
  42. ^ Faiths Across Time: 5,000 Years of Religious History by J. Gordon Melton p.455
  43. ^ Foreign Influence on Ancient India by Krishna Chandra Sagar p.270
  44. ^ Studies in the Buddhistic Culture of India During the Seventh and Eighth Centuries by Lal Mani Joshi p.320
  45. ^ Ancient Indian History and Civilization by Sailendra Nath Sen p.221
  46. ^ A Comprehensive History Of Ancient India p.174
  47. ^ Longman History & Civics ICSE 9 by Singh p.81
  48. ^ Brancaccio, Pia (2010). The Buddhist Caves at Aurangabad: Transformations in Art and Religion. BRILL. p. 107. ISBN 9004185259. 
  49. ^ a b Robert Göbl (1967). Dokumente zur Geschichte der iranischen Hunnen in Baktrien und Indien. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. GGKEY:4TALPN86ZJB. 
  50. ^ a b Gudrun Melzer; Lore Sander (2006). Jens Braarvig, ed. A Copper Scroll Inscription from the Time of the Alchon Huns. Buddhist manuscripts. 3. Hermes Pub. pp. 251–278. together with the great Íahi Khiãgila, together with the god-king Toramana, together with the mistress of a great monastery Sasa, together with the great sahi Mehama, together with Sadavikha, together with the great king Javukha, the son of Sadavikha, during the reign of Mehama. 
  51. ^ For an image of the copper scroll: Coin Cabinet of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna Showcase 8
  52. ^ Notes on the Evolution of Alchon Coins, by Pankaj Tandon
  53. ^ Pankaj Tandon , Boston University, The Identity of Prakāśāditya p.668
  54. ^ CNG coins
  55. ^ For reference CNG Coins
  56. ^ CNG Coins

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