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The Xiongnu (Chinese: 匈奴; pinyin: Xiōngnú; Wade–Giles: Hsiung-nu, Middle Chinese: Guangyun: [xi̯woŋ˥˩nu˩]) were a confederation of nomadic tribes from Central Asia with a ruling class of unknown origin. The bulk of information on the Xiongnu comes from Chinese sources. What little is known of their titles and names comes from Chinese transliterations of their language.

The identity of the ethnic core of Xiongnu has been a subject of varied hypotheses, because only a few words, mainly titles and personal names, were preserved in the Chinese sources. Proposals by scholars include Mongolic, Turkic, Iranian[1] and Yeniseian.[2][3] The name Xiongnu may be cognate to the name Huns, but the evidence for this is controversial.[3][4]

Chinese sources from the 3rd century BC report them creating an empire under Modu Chanyu (who became supreme leader in 209 BC)[5] stretching beyond the borders of modern day Mongolia. In the 2nd century BC, they defeated and displaced the previously dominant Yuezhi and became the predominant power on the steppes of eastern Asia. They were active in the areas now known as southern Siberia, Mongolia, western Manchuria, and the Chinese provinces of Inner Mongolia, Gansu, and Xinjiang. Relations between early Chinese dynasties and the Xiongnu were complex, with repeated periods of military conflict and intrigue alternating with exchanges of tribute, trade, and marriage treaties.


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