By Robert L. Reynolds and Robert S. Lopez
The American Historical Review, Vol. 52, No. 1 (1946)
Introduction: The history of the migrations which marked the downfall of both the Roman Empire in the West and the Han Empire in China is still very obscure. “Nowhere, since the time of Alexander the Great, do we feel so strongly that the meagreness of the sources flouts the magnitude of the events.”
Unfortunately, the starting point, hence the guiding thread of all these migrations, lies in Central Asia, whose political, economic, and cultural history will in most of its details remain to us a blank page. For even such remote and belated repercussions of Central-Asiatic events as took place within the view of the classic world are but dimly shown to us in cursory, contradictory, and often unreliable sources.
To be sure, new archaeological and philological material has been piling up in the last two or three scores of years, which has been used in a number of valuable studies. But little of such evidence is specific enough to contribute to the revision of the histories of individual tribes. It is clear, nevertheless, that non-Germanic steppe peoples and cultures must have had a deep influence on many groups which were denominated German by a bygone generation of historians and philologists.
Two chief difficulties are encountered by anyone attempting to use the Asiatic materials which throw light upon the history of the great migrations. In the first place, despite the archaeological and philological discovery of Asia, no one has yet appeared to draw together from the one hand the learning of Ural-Altaic philology and archaeology and from the other the written documents and monuments, the epics, sagas, and even the modern folklore, of the West. Moreover, the affinities of the varied Asiatic peoples are still uncertain. It is still unclear whether the earliest Turks were ethnically more akin to the “Mongoloid” or to the “Caucasic” stocks (although the Turkish speech has always been Altaic), and whether the leading tribe of the Hunnic conglomerate was Turkic or Mongolic. Even the identifications of the Hunni with the Hiung-nu and of the Avars with the Yuan-yuan are not definitely proved. We do perceive that all these tribes were so thoroughly commingled by inter-marriage, migration, and conquesthat we can scarcely speak of clear-cut ethnic border lines. At the most, we can speak of linguistic groups, as far as the Asiatic evidence goes.