Between approximately 300 BC and 450 AD, there existed a nomadic group known as the Xiongnu. Their ethnic identity has been greatly contested, but they were a very powerful tribal confederation that were considered a great threat to China. In fact, it was their repeated invasions that prompted the small kingdoms of North China to begin erecting barriers, in what later became the Great Wall of China. The Xiongnu formed their tribal league in the area that is now known as Mongolia. It is believed that they stemmed from the Siberian branch of the Mongolian race, although it has been hotly debated whether they are ethnically Turkic, Mongolic, Yeniseian, Tocharian, Iranian, Uralic, or some mixture. Some say the name “Xiongnu” has the same etymological origin as “Hun,” but this is also controversial. Only a few words from their culture, mostly titles and individual names, were preserved in Chinese sources.
It is believed that the Xiongnu created their empire under the supreme leadership of Modu Chanyu sometime around 209 BC. This political unification allowed them to build stronger armies and use better strategic coordination, turning them into a more formidable state. They adopted many Chinese agriculture techniques, built Chinese-styled homes, and wore silk like the Chinese. The Xiongnu worshipped the sun, moon, heaven, earth, as well as their ancestors. They formed a number of tribes, called the Chubei, Huyan, Lan, Luandi, Qiulin, and Suibu. Between 53-60 BC, the Xiongnu empire faced a civil war. After the Battle of Ikh Bayan in 89 AD, the Northern Xiongnu were driven out of Mongolia, and the Southern Xiongnu became part of Han China. Some believe that the Northern Xiongnu continued west, came under the leadership of Attila, and took on the new name “the Huns.”
The unique culture of the Xiongnu Empire was very powerful during its time. The fortifications that were initially built to keep the Xiongnu away were eventually transformed into the Great Wall of China. This demonstrates the size and power of the Xiongnu – an ancient nomadic group that played an important role in the history of Mongolia and China.
Kemo D. 7