The Kidarite (Chinese: Ki-To-Lo) were a dynasty of the "Ki" clan, probably originating from the Uar people. They were part of the complex of Iranian-speaking tribes known collectively as Xionites or "Hunas".

During the 4th-5th century they established the Kidarite kingdom.


The Kidarites, a nomadic clan, are supposed to have arrived in Bactria with the great migrations of the second half of the 4th century. When Shi Le established the Later Zhao state, it is thought that many of the Uar from around Pingyang (平陽, in modern Linfen, Shanxi) fled west along the Silk Road. This caused the Xionites to encroach upon Khorasan and the frontiers of the Kushan state around 320 AD.

The Kidarite king Grumbat mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus was a cause of much concern to the Persians. Between 353 AD and 358 AD, the Xionites under Grumbat attacked in the eastern frontiers of Shapur II's empire along with other nomad tribes. After a prolonged struggle they were forced to conclude a peace, and their king Grumbat accompanied Shapur II in the war against the Romans. Victories of the Xionites during their campaigns in the Eastern Caspian lands are described by Ammianus Marcellinus:

...Grumbates Chionitarum rex novus aetate quidem media rugosisque membris sed mente quadam grandifica multisque victoriarum insignibus nobilis.

...Grumbates, the new king of the Xionites, while he was middle aged, and his limbs were wrinkled, he was endowed with a mind that acted grandly, and was famous for his many, significant victories.

The southern or "Red" Kidarite vassals to the Kushans in the North-Western Indus valley became known as Kermikhiones, Hara Huna or "Red Huns" from 360 AD after Kidara II led a Bactrian portion of "Hunni" to overthrow the Kushans in India. At this time the Kidarites successfully controlled the length of the Oxus from the Hindu Kush all the way to the Aral Sea.

D.M. Lang (1976) identified the Kermikhion-Kidarites with the Khazar and Kutrigurs proto-Bulgarians involved in causing Hunnic migrations across the Volga into Europe around 463 according to their envoy Priscus.

Kidarite kingdom

The Kidarite kingdom was created either in the second half of the 4th century, or in the twenties of the 5th century.

The only 4th century evidence are gold coins discovered in Balkh dating from c. 380, where 'Kidara' is usually interpreted in a legend in the Bactrian language. Most numismatic specialists favor this idea. All the other data we currently have on the Kidarite kingdom are from Chinese and Byzantine sources from the middle of the 5th century.

They may have risen to power during the 420s in Northern Afghanistan before conquering Peshawar and part of northwest India, then turning north to conquer Sogdiana in the 440s, before being cut from their Bactrian nomadic roots by the rise of the Hephthalites in the 450s. Many small Kidarite kingdoms seems to have survived in northwest India up to the conquest by the Hephthalites during the last quarter of the 5th century are known through their coinage.

The Kidarites are the last dynasty to regard themselves (on the legend of their coins) as the inheritors of the Kushan empire, which had disappeared as an independent entity two centuries earlier.

Kidara I fl. c. 320 CE
Kungas 330's ?
Varhran I fl. c. 340
Grumbat c. 358-c. 380
Kidara (II ?) fl. c. 360
Brahmi Buddhatala fl. c. 370
(Unknown) fl. 388/400
Varhran (II) fl. c. 425
Goboziko fl. c. 450
Salanavira mid 400's
Vinayaditya late 400's
Kandik early 500's

The Kidarites were the first "Hunas" to bother India. Indian records note that the Hūna had established themselves in modern Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier Province in present day Pakistan by the first half of the 5th century, and the Gupta emperor Skandagupta had repelled a Hūna invasion in 455.

White Huns

As a result of "Wusun vultures" descending upon them in Transoxiana, the Kidarite powerbase moved in 460 from southern "Red" Balkh to western "White" Khiva, where the Hephthalite dynasty was established by Khingila I.

The Greek envoy Rhetor often referred to the "White Huns" as "Kidarite Xionites" when they united with the Uar under the Hepthalite clan. While in India, the Kidarite Xionites became known as Sveta-Hūna meaning "White Huns". They were said to have been of fair complexion according to Procopius, although according to the Central Asian order of cosmic precedence, "White Huns" would simply mean "Western Huns".

Although they fought against the Sassanians, early 5th century "OIONO" coins (thought to have been minted by Xionite rulers) imitate Sassanian drachmas (for more information on coins see Xionites).

The Kidarite Xionites flourished under the Hephthalites, until something forced them to migrate from Khiva to Atil under Kandik in the mid-6th century. Not long afterwards, the Hephthalites remaining in Central Asia submitted to Gokturk rule in 567AD.

Relation to the "Huns" of Europe

The Huns already present on the Black Sea Steppes might not have been as closely related to the northern Karakum Desert Kidarites and the related Xionites or Hunas as is usually presumed. Though the Chronicles of Kiev mention how the Ki clan founded Kiev after subjugating the eastern Hunno-Bulgars who subsequently became known as the Kazarig. In Europe the Kidarites became known as the Avars, first mentioned in Balkan province of Turkmenistan attacking the Sabirs in 460 AD and who the following century (in 557) entered Europe under the leadership of Kandik. Because of their flimsy connection to the Uar dynasty the Gokturks objected to the Kidarites calling themselves "Avars" and demanded the Byzantine Emperor Maurice (582-602) recognise the fact that the eastern Avars (from which the Dulo clan descended) who had submitted to Gokturk rule were the "true" Avars, while the Kidarites who had entered Europe under Kandik should be called "Pseudo-Avars".

See also

References and notes

  • ENOKI, K., « On the Date of the Kidarites (I) », Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko, 27, 1969, p. 1–26.
  • GRENET, F. « Regional Interaction in Central Asia and North-West India in the Kidarite and Hephtalite Period », in SIMS-WILLIAMS, N. (ed.), Indo-Iranian Languages and Peoples, (Proceedings of the British Academy), London, 2002, p. 203–224.
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