Yedivar (Hephthalites)

The history of the Yedivar (Chinese: 嚈噠, 乙咥, 厭帶夷栗陀; Bactrian: ηβοδαλο), a Xunı tribe that originally inhabited the southern side of the Altay Mountains prior to the 5th century C.E. From the 5th to 8th century C.E., they inhabited Central Asia, ruling for a time as its Yabğus.


The Yedivar, or Hephthalites, were one of the many Xunı tribes that took up the tribal name of Avar, a powerful Mongolic tribe in Inner-Asia. They were simultaneously, perhaps originally, known as the "White Huns." The name Hephthalite comes from Middle Persian *haft āl "the seven Al," with *āl being a corruption of ār < avar. It is likely a translation of Turkic Yedivar < Yedi Avar "seven Avars." Some of the Chinese transcriptions of their name appear to preserve the original Turkic:

― 乙咥 LH *ʔi-det MC *ʔjet-diet - The Book of Sui 84​

​― 嚈噠 LH *ʔen-tʰɑp MC *ʔien-tʰâp - The Book of Zhou 50

― 囐噠 LH *dzət-tʰɑp MC *dzət-tʰâp - The Book of Zhou 50

― 厭帶夷栗陀 LH *ʔiam-tɑs-ji-lit-dɑi MC *ʔjiäm-tâi-ji-ljet-dâ - The History of the South 79

Early History

The Book of Wei records that the Yedivar were a division of the Tägäräk, residing beyond the wall, south of the Altay Mountains (金山) and to the west of Qotan (于闐). The Book of Sui also lists them as a division of the Tägäräk, recording them west of Yi-wu (伊吾) and north of Arşi (焉耆), on the side of Aqtağ Mountain (白山), near the Avars (烏讙) and Savars (蘇婆).

Like most of the Turkic tribes under the Tägäräk, the Book of Wei records that their customs were similar to those of the Kök Türük (突厥). Like the Xuŋa and Kök Türük, they were described as migrating in search of water and grass, furnishing their dwellings with felt, moving to cooler lands during the summer, and moving in search of warmer lands during the winter. Their early marital customs decreed that each wife would be given land, two to three hundred Li apart from one another, to govern in the name of their husband and king. Their king was said to visit these territories once a month; however, he would not do so during the third month of winter.

Keeping to early Hunnic tradition, the position of king was not necessarily passed on to the child. Rather, both the child and the younger brother were eligible to rule upon the death of the king. Oddly, they were said to have no carts or carriages, but many camels and horses. Also in accordance with early Hunnic tradition, they practiced a legal system that dealt heavy, often brutal, punishments. Regardless of how much of something was stolen, the punishment was always decapitation at the waist. Moreover, it was said that stealing one put you in debt for ten.

As for their funerary customs, the rich were buried in a pile of stones, while the poor were required to dig and bury their dead. Their dead carried many things with them, that were all placed in their tomb. It is recorded that their people were fierce and brave, being capable warriors in an army.


Sometime in the early 4th century, the Yedivar began to frequently raid their southern neighbors, the Red Huns, who eventually fled westwards. At the time, the Yedivar may have been subjects of the Tatar Qağanate. According to the Liang Diagram of Foreign Embassies, the Yedivar had left their homeland sometime during the Southern Qi dynasty (479 to 502 C.E.), settling in Margiane. This is supported by Northern Wei documents that place the Qıdır Xunı in Gandhara in 477 C.E. After this date, sometime towards the end of the 5th century C.E. or the beginning of the 6th century C.E., the Yedivar had come to rule the region. They would establish their capital at Badiyan, likely modern Herat. The Book of Zhou states that the city was walled and more than 10 li square.

Following their conquest over the Qıdır Xunı, a second capital would be established at Baqlo (Balkh). The Book of Sui referred to this capital as Badiyan as well. However, according to the Book of Zhou Badiyan meant “the walled city of the king.” Thus, it may have been a general term of theirs for their cities. Although there is no obvious etymology of the word, Persian or otherwise, there may have been a Turkic *bɑd “wall” at one point. It would derive from Altaic *p῾ádo “wall” and may have been connected to Turkic *bɑdrɑk “flag, standard” (Starostin et al., 2003). If so, Turkic *bɑd “wall” and the Persian nominal suffix *-gān could explain the word’s meaning.

In 508 C.E., following the Tatar Qağan Futu’s death at the hands of the Tägäräk ruler Mietu, the Book of Sui records that King Qu Jia became a vassal of the Tägäräk. It is recorded that the Yedivar had simultaneously destroyed Agni, allowing for a son of Qu Jia to become its new king. The events, seemingly connected, would imply that the Yedivar were still aligned with the Tägäräk.

Sometime between 512 and 515 C.E., the Northern Wei official Gao Hui led an embassy to the Yedivar. At the time, the states of Farağana and the Ürpän gifted him horses. He returned to the court of the Yedivar between 518 and 525 C.E. but was soon recalled. According to the Monasteries of Luoyang, Northern Wei officials also arrived at the Yedivar court in the year 519 C.E. They observed that the Yedivar were surrounded by numerous mountains and marshes, and that they lived in yurts of felt and fallow on large extensive fields. The king’s residence was said to be a large yurt made of felt and adorned with wool carpets on its walls. It was forty paces square. The king himself wore brocade and sat on a golden throne, whose legs were in the shape of phoenixes. The Book of Liang also informs us that the yurts’ doors would face East and that the king’s throne would rotate following the position of the Jupitar star. According to the Northern Wei officials, the king apparently kowtowed twice before receiving their letter. This, however, may not have happened. Records from the Central States are full of dubious instances of foreign leaders kowtowing to their envoys.

It is also from the Monasteries of Luoyang that we also learn about the customs of the Yedivar queen. According to the Northern Wei officials who visited the Yedivar court, the queen wore a brocade robe that was so long that it extended three chi on the ground and had to be carried by her servants. She also wore a single horned headdress that was eight chi long and had multicolored pearls adorning what may have been the last three chi of the tail or an additional three chi at the end of the tail. When she entered the yurt, she sat on a golden throne in the shape of six tusked elephant with four legs in the shape of lions. This elephant was likely the Indic Airavarta, a six-tusked white elephant that was said to carry the god Indra. It held an important place in Buddhist traditions. The queen was accompanied by the wives of the nobility, each of which also wore a headdress in the shape of a single curled horn that hung down like a bejeweled shawl. When she left the yurt, she would be carried out on a litter. She would only sit with the king when they received guests.