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date: 21 January 2019

The Xiongnu

Summary and Keywords

The Xiongnu were an Inner Asian people who formed an empire, a state entity encompassing a multiethnic, multicultural, and polyglot population. The ruling elite of this empire were, for the most part, pastoralists. However, the empire also possessed a substantial agrarian base. In the late 3rd and early 2nd centuries bce, the Xiongnu created the first empire to unify much of Inner Asia. The Xiongnu Empire stretched from Manchuria in the east to the Aral Sea in the west, from the Baikal region in the north to the Ordos and Gansu regions of China in the south.

In the 2nd century bce, the Xiongnu also subjected the Han Empire of China to tribute payments. However, late in that century, the Han broke the heqin policy of engagement with the Xiongnu and began a long struggle for supremacy with its northern foe. Political instability arising from protracted struggles over the imperial succession gradually undermined the Xiongnu Empire. In the middle of the first century ce, the state splintered into two halves: the Northern Xiongnu and the Southern Xiongnu. The Southern Xiongnu later conquered Northern China in the early 4th century ce, while the remnants of the Northern Xiongnu became the political and cultural forebears of the later Huns of western Eurasia.

Keywords: Inner Asia, Xiongnu, Huns, steppes, Han Empire, agro-pastoralism

The Xiongnu Empire (匈奴‎) was a long-lasting Inner Asian state (or proto-state) entity that flourished between the 3rd century bce and the 2nd century ce. At its height, the Xiongnu Empire stretched from the forests of Manchuria in the east to the territory of the Kangju (southern Kazakhstan and northern Uzbekistan) in the west, from the Baikal region (southern Siberia) in the north to the Ordos and Gansu regions of northern China in the south. The Xiongnu have often been defined as a “nomadic” confederacy, and their state has also been viewed as essentially a complex chiefdom with the dimensions of an empire, but without the requisite administrative and organizational capacity. As will be demonstrated, the Xiongnu were neither a “nomadic” society nor simply a primitive steppe chiefdom.

The Nature of the Xiongnu State

What is known about the Xiongnu and their history derives primarily from information preserved in a few select Chinese historical sources, including the Yantielun, a record left by a Western Han dynasty official named Huan Kuan on the 1st century bce discourses/debates in the imperial court regarding the controversial state monopolies of salt and iron. These debates highlight the impact of the Xiongnu on the Han imperial economy. State monopolies were introduced by Emperor Wu prior to these debates primarily to finance his expensive wars against the Xiongnu). Another source is the Shiji, the historical records of the Grand Historian Sima Qian from the early 1st century bce that contain a chapter devoted to the Xiongnu, the Xiongnu liezhuan (book 110 of the Shiji), which is by far the most important primary source on the Xiongnu. A third is the Hanshu, by the Eastern Han historian Ban Gu and other members of his family from the 1st century ce; it is essentially an expanded and supplemented record of the material on the Western Han found in the Shiji (volume 94 deals specifically with the Xiongnu). Finally, the Hou Hanshu, compiled by Fan Ye and others during the 5th century ce, records the history of the Eastern Han and contains valuable information about the later history of the Xiongnu).

These sources in general treat the Xiongnu not as the main subject matter but as a side note to the history of the Chinese empire. What must also be noted is the fact that “Xiongnu” (the imperial Xiongnu in particular) described in these sources does not primarily denote an ethnic or racial category, but rather a political community that comprised numerous ethno-linguistic groups.

The detailed but still limited information from these written sources has recently been augmented significantly by substantial progress made in the field of Xiongnu archaeology. With regard to the preimperial Xiongnu in Inner Mongolia (primarily the Ordos region), excavations at sites such as Maoqinggou in Liangcheng county,1 Yulongtai, and Taohongbala2 (which have been classified as containing Xiongnu remains) have yielded weapons, ornamental plaques, and equestrian items that show the existence among the early Xiongnu of a “nomadic” or, rather, equestrian militarized elite.3 Farther north, four Xiongnu cemeteries (primarily from the imperial period)—Ivolga,4 Dyrestui, Burkhan Tolgoi, and Daodunzi—have now been fully excavated, and thousands of other Xiongnu-period tombs have been recorded in Transbaikalia and Mongolia (the geographical center of the Xiongnu Empire). The combination of this archaeological data with the aforementioned information from written sources has veritably revolutionized our understanding of Xiongnu culture, the political organization of the Xiongnu imperial state, and its state economy.

What the archaeological evidence definitively shows is that the Xiongnu were not “nomads” who wandered about without a clear sense of belonging to a fixed territory but, rather, as Ursula Brosseder and Bryan Miller point out, a highly complex empire that “encompassed vast territories and varied regions.”5 The main power base of the dominant ruling elite of this empire (centered as it was on the steppe zone and Mongolia) was steppe pastoralists, who were closely affiliated with the ruling dynasty and the upper aristocracy. However, pastoralism was only one aspect of the Xiongnu imperial economy, which, the archaeology shows, was much more diverse.

Agriculture certainly played a significant role. The Ivolga complex near Ulan Ude in modern Buryatia, for instance, shows clear signs of agriculture and fortifications.6 Deep within Xiongnu territory, even in areas where pastoralism rather than agriculture was the norm, there were walled enclosures that have yielded agricultural tools. Up to twenty fortified settlements have so far been documented, and in these settlements there were permanent buildings of various types.7 Evidence of active trade with wider Eurasia is also found in grave goods. They include Chinese metal and lacquer vessels and textiles from the south, as well as items that originated in West Asia via the Greco-Bactrian areas in Central Asia.8 What is becoming increasingly evident is that the Xiongnu were hardly a simple, homogeneous, tribal or even cultural group. Instead, all of the available evidence points to a multiethnic and multicultural society with a diversified agro-pastoralist economy.9

The Xiongnu were also likely to have been polyglot. The Xiongnu Empire encompassed virtually every ethnic and linguistic group in Inner Asia. These included the Mongolic-speaking Donghu people to the east and the Indo-European-speaking Yuezhi people to the west. There was also a large population of Turkic and Iranian language speakers within the Xiongnu Empire. The Chinese source Jinshu (95.2486), compiled in the 7th century ce, gives us an extremely rare transliteration of what purports to be a Xiongnu song sung during a battle between two Southern Xiongnu factions in the early 4th century ce. Linguistic analysis conducted on this transliteration has shown that the song was composed in a language most likely related to Yeniseian languages (which currently survive only in small pockets in central Siberia). Edwin Pulleyblank and Alexander Vovin, on the basis of this analysis, have argued that the Xiongnu, therefore, must have had a Yeniseian-speaking core elite10 who dominated the various Tocharian-Iranian and Turco-Mongol subject nations. However, the song recorded in the Jinshu is sung by the Jie tribe of the wider Southern Xiongnu confederation, and whether or not the Jie tribe and the language they spoke are representative of the core ruling elite of the Xiongnu Empire remains highly uncertain. Other scholars have argued in favor of a Turkic,11 Mongolic, or even Iranian ruling elite.

The European Huns, who originated from the Xiongnu Empire, are known to have spoken primarily a Turkic language, more specifically Oghuric Turkic.12 However, this may be due to the heavy concentration of Turkic peoples in the areas that the Huns inhabited immediately before their major expansions into Europe and Central Asia. The Chinese historical source, the Weilue (=Sanguozhi 30.863-4), confirms that the Dingling (an ancient Turkic people) were the main inhabitants of what is now the Kazakh steppes by the 3rd century ce. There is thus no scholarly consensus on the language that was spoken by the Xiongnu elite, and the whole debate may well be futile given the multifaceted identity of that elite and the multilingual empire they governed.

A more substantive debate is the dispute among scholars over whether the Xiongnu constituted a state or merely a complex tribal confederacy.13 The assumption that “nomadism” is somehow an insurmountable barrier to organized statehood has no doubt influenced this debate. However, as mentioned previously, the Xiongnu were not “nomads.” Significant elements of the Xiongnu population were indeed pastoralists, but pastoralism in ancient Inner Asia by no means implied a lack of fixed boundaries or limited organizational capacity. Exactly the opposite was the case, since the existence of well-defined territories and regular movements under an authoritative leader was essential for the survival of a pastoralist community in a very fragile ecological environment.14 Therefore, the idea that nomadism or pastoralism necessarily leads to political anarchy must first be dismissed as unfounded.

Nikolay Kradin, who thinks that the Xiongnu did not constitute a state, argues that a state must possess the following features:

  1. (1) access to managerial positions by a form of merit-based, extra-clan and non-kin-based selection

  2. (2) regular taxation to pay wages to officials

  3. (3) a special judicial power separate from political power

  4. (4) a “class” of state functionaries engaged in running the state machinery, consisting of services for the administration of the whole political community.

It has been argued that this definition of the state is far too modernist and not nearly as relevant to, or appropriate in, defining pre-early-modern states like the Xiongnu. Kradin, however, argues that on the basis of these criteria, the Xiongnu achieved “statehood,” at best, merely at an “embryonic” level, and therefore should be categorized not as a state but as a super-complex chiefdom, a stateless empire.15

On the other hand, Lawrence Krader, who argues that all steppe empires of Eurasia were actually state-level polities, provides a much looser definition of the state than does Kradin,16 while Nicola Di Cosmo points out that the Xiongnu Empire, even by Kradin’s own criteria, was much more similar to a well-organized state than to a haphazardly constructed chiefdom. Di Cosmo’s observations are likely to be correct. As will be demonstrated, Xiongnu administration possessed distinct military and civilian apparatuses separate from kin-based hierarchies. Wages (in various forms) were paid to top military commanders and state functionaries from a political center headed by the Xiongnu Chanyu (emperor, also sometimes transliterated as Shanyu). The ceremonies and rituals conducted by the Xiongnu emperor were also meant to include the entire political community, not just his kin group. The complexity of the organization of the Xiongnu military, the grand imperial rituals, elaborate government structures, and politically centralized functions of trade and diplomacy all collectively point to what Di Cosmo calls a political machinery and supratribal, imperial ideology.17

Therefore, the Xiongnu should be defined as comprising a state or, at the very least, an “early state” entity18 and also, without any dispute, as an empire: “a political formation that extended far beyond its original territorial or ethnic confines and embraced, by direct conquest or by the imposition of its political authority, a variety of peoples and lands that may have had different types of relations with the imperial center, constituted by an imperial clan and by its charismatic leader.”19

Political Organization of the Xiongnu

One of our principal sources on the Xiongnu, the Shiji, written by the Western Han dynasty historian Sima Qian, provides an elaborate picture of the Xiongnu political system. Sima Qian reports that a complex hierarchy existed among the Xiongnu, descending from an emperor (called Chanyu/Shanyu 單于‎, but likely to have been pronounced dàn-wà, representing the Xiongnu word darγ‎wa in Early Middle Chinese)20 to lesser kings and sub-kings. For want of a better term the system has been called “quasi-feudal.”21 Sima Qian reports:

Under the Shan-yü22 are the Wise Kings of the Left and Right, the left and right Lu-li kings, left and right generals, left and right commandants, left and right household administrators, and left and right Ku-tu marquises. The Hsiung-nu word for “wise” is “t’u-ch’i,” so that the heir of the Shan-yü is customarily called the “T’u-ch’i King of the Left.” Among the other leaders, from the wise kings on down to the household administrators, the more important ones command ten thousand horsemen and the lesser ones several thousand, numbering twenty-four leaders in all, though all are known by the title “Ten Thousand Horsemen.” The high ministerial offices are hereditary, being filled from generation to generation by the members of the Hu-yen and Lan families, and in more recent times by the Hsü-pu family. These three families constitute the aristocracy of the nation. The kings and other leaders of the left live in the eastern sector, the region from Shang-ku east to the land of the Hui-mo and the Ch’ao-hsien peoples. The kings and leaders of the right live in the west, the area from Shang province west to the territories of the Yüeh-chi and Ch’iang tribes. The Shan-yü has his court in the region of Tai and Yün-chung. Each group has its own area, within which it moves about from place to place looking for water and pasture. The Left and Right Wise Kings and the Lu-li kings are the most powerful, while the Ku-tu marquises assist the Shan-yü in the administration of the nation. Each of the twenty-four leaders in turn appoints his own “chiefs of a thousand,” “chiefs of a hundred,” and “chiefs of ten,” as well as his subordinate kings, prime ministers, chief commandants, household administrators, chü-ch’ü officials and so forth. (Shiji 110: 9b–10b)23

This information in the Shiji, though brief, gives us some critical details about the Xiongnu political system. The Chanyu, who was the functioning head of the central government, possessed the supreme power in the state. However, the actual administration of the empire seems to have been managed by the Gu-du/Ku-tu marquises. These state officials supervised communications with regional governors and vassal lords on behalf of the reigning emperor.

Under the direction of the central government, there were four principal, regional governorships in the East and West. These were called the “horns,” and they consisted of the Worthy King of the Left and the Luli King of the Left in the East and the Worthy King of the Right and the Luli King of the Right in the West. Each of these four governorships, like the central government, had its own government bureaucracy.24 The “kings,” who headed these governorships, were the highest-ranking nobles in the realm and were usually the sons or brothers of the reigning Xiongnu Chanyu. They all belonged to the Xulianti/Luanti imperial clan, which descended from the early Chanyus Touman and Modu. The other three aristocratic clans that were linked via family/marriage ties to the Chanyu were the Huyan, Lan, and Xubu. Together these clans constituted the ruling upper class of Xiongnu society.25

The later Hou Hanshu adds some more details to the information found in the Shiji. Below the four horn kings were six more kings: the Rizhu kings of the Left and Right (titles originally reserved for the sons and younger brothers of the Chanyu [Hou Hanshu 79.2944]), but later, for some reason, transferred to the aristocratic Huyan clan, which was related to the royal family by marriage; Wenyuti kings of the Left and Right; and the Zhanjiang Kings of the Left and Right. It has been argued that these six lesser kings were later added to the Xiongnu hierarchy after the Xiongnu had splintered into two separate entities, the Northern Xiongnu and Southern Xiongnu in the 1st century ce; that is, this was a political innovation introduced long after the time of the writing of the Shiji by Sima Qian.26 However, it may also simply be that the Han Chinese, by the time of the Later Han, had acquired a more accurate understanding of the Xiongnu political system and improved on the original description of Xiongnu political organization left in the Shiji by Sima Qian.27

Below these ten top-ranking nobles (or perhaps including these ten) were the twenty-four imperial leaders/ministers (each with the title Ten Thousand Horsemen). These lords were the imperial governors of the strategically key and most important provinces of the Xiongnu Empire. Again, many of them consisted of the close relatives of the Chanyu or were members of the Xiongnu aristocracy who were related to the royal house by marriage.28 These senior nobles were divided into eastern and western groups in a dual system,29 and the designated heir to the throne was invested with the title Wise King of the Left, as the titular ruler of the eastern half of the empire.

At the bottom of this highly elaborate administrative hierarchy was a large group of subordinate, or vassal, tribal leaders. They are called in the Shiji subkings, prime ministers, chief commandants, household administrators, chü-ch’ü officials, and so on. These lower-ranked officials were controlled by the twenty-four imperial governors, but some of them at times enjoyed a considerable level of local autonomy.30 These were usually former rulers of conquered peoples who had been allowed to remain as subkings/chiefs under the overlordship of Xiongnu overkings.

With regard to the government of the more distant western parts of their territory, the Xiongnu created the office of the “Commandant in charge of Slaves.”31 These “commandants” apparently had the power to tax minor city–states, such as Karashar and Kalmagan (in what is now Xinjiang province in western China) and to conscript corvée labor for the Xiongnu central government. A system of decimal ranks (thousands, hundreds, tens, etc.) was used in times of war in order to assemble and regulate large-scale armies conscripted from different parts of the empire under a single command structure.32 A census was also taken to determine the empire’s reserve of manpower and livestock.33 In war, the Chanyu of the Xiongnu could reportedly mobilize an army of 140,000 men.34

It has been argued that at least some of these elaborate Xiongnu administrative practices were influenced by the practices of the neighboring Chinese. For instance, the complex Xiongnu hierarchy of kings and marquises (the highest ranks of which were reserved almost exclusively for members of the royal clan and the lesser ranks for leaders of other leading clans that intermarried with the royal clan)35 is quite similar to the manner in which kingdoms and marquisates within the Han imperial system were distributed. Also noteworthy is the fact that in the Xiongnu Empire the left, that is, the East, had precedence over the right/West. Some have argued that this may reflect the influence of Chinese ideas that identified the left (East) with the yang (as in yinyang) forces of generation and growth. The use of colors as symbolism for territory—blue for east, white for west, black for north, and red for south—also seems to correspond to the symbolism of Chinese cosmology (Wuxing, five elements theory).36 However, the possibility of Chinese influence on the Xiongnu is rejected by other scholars who argue that the resemblances or similarities between Xiongnu and Chinese administrative and cultural practices are the result of numerous shared sets of associations that probably go back to a more ancient cultural stratum.37 What is not at all in dispute is the fact that the political organization of the Xiongnu provided an excellent model on which all subsequent aspiring states in Inner Asia built their state administrations.38

Political History of the Xiongnu

How did the Xiongnu Empire come into being? Thomas Barfield has famously argued that the first steppe empire to unite Inner Asia came into existence as a “nomadic” reaction to, and imitation of, the unification of their sedentary neighbors in China under the Qin dynasty. Thus, according to this theory, the empire of the Xiongnu was formed firstly as a means of resisting Qin encroachment, as a kind of “shadow” empire, and then maintained primarily via the efficient exploitation through military aggression of the abundant material wealth of the unified, sedentary empire of China (tribute received from the Han was distributed to nobles and vassals, thereby ensuring regime stability and magnifying the prestige of the ruling dynasty in the steppes).39

Barfield’s perhaps excessive focus on the influence of sedentary states on state formation in the steppes, as well as the presumption of wholesale dependence of steppe empires on China to survive, have been sharply criticized by Nicola Di Cosmo and Christopher Beckwith.40 The counterargument that they present is increasingly gaining support because of the growing awareness in scholarship that the so-called nomadic empires of Inner Asia, as pointed out earlier, were by no means “nomadic,” but always possessed a sedentary, agrarian element. Although the frontier zone between China and the steppes, that is, the Ordos region, is still regarded by some scholars to have been the key to the formation process of the Xiongnu Empire,41 scholarship now tends to view the phenomenon of this empire as largely the product of internal dynamics of the steppe zone.42

What is not in doubt among historians is the fact that the empire of the Xiongnu was born in the midst of crisis.43 The Xiongnu were expelled from their homeland in the Ordos region by the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi, in the late 3rd century bce. This military reverse led to the reconfiguration of the Xiongnu polity farther north in the steppe zone of Mongolia. There, under the dynamic leadership of Modu Chanyu (reigned 209–174 bce, who seized the Xiongnu throne via a coup in which he assassinated his father the Chanyu Touman [Shiji 110.2888]), the Xiongnu rapidly defeated steppe-zone rivals, the Donghu and the Yuezhi, and became a fully fledged imperial state encompassing much of Inner Asia. The Shiji reports further that “Later [Modu] in the north subjugated the states of the Hunyu 渾庾‎, Quyi 屈射‎, Dingling 丁零‎, Likun 鬲昆‎, and Xinli 薪黎‎ (Shiji 110.2893)”.44

Modu then inflicted a humiliating defeat on the nascent Han Empire in 200 bce at the battle of Ping Cheng, where he surrounded the main Han army commanded by the Chinese emperor Gaozu in person and forced him to buy his freedom by agreeing to terms that essentially reduced the Han to the status of tributary state in relation to the Xiongnu. And thus began the so-called heqin phase of Xiongnu–Han relations, whereby the Han bought peace from the Xiongnu via an annual tribute and the surrender of a Han princess as wife to the Xiongnu Chanyu.45 When Gaozu died Modu, added insult to injury by sending an irreverent letter to the empress dowager of the Han, suggesting that she become one of his wives. The empress, unable to challenge the Xiongnu militarily, sent a self-deprecating letter to Modu asking for the Chanyu’s indulgence, explaining to him that she was unfit to be his wife because of old age and deteriorating physical condition. She then reminded the great Chanyu that her country had done nothing wrong and begged the Xiongnu emperor to spare it (Hanshu, 94A: 5a).

The empress dowager had good reasons to be afraid. Modu followed up his success against the Han with yet another decisive victory over the Yuezhi and the annexation to the Xiongnu Empire of the vast Tarim basin (modern Xinjiang). A total of twenty-six nations to the west of China, including the powerful Wusun nation in modern eastern Kazakhstan, were subjected to the Xiongnu. Under Laoshang, Modu’s heir, the Xiongnu crushed the Yuezhi once again in 162 bce and turned the skull of the defeated Yuezhi king into a drinking cup (Shiji 123.3162). Han Wendi (reigned 180–157 bce) increased the tribute that was paid to the Xiongnu to 1,000 pieces of gold a year to placate his northern rival (Hanshu, 94B:12b).

This appeasement, or heqin policy, however, was ended by the more militant Emperor Wu (the “martial” emperor). The story of how Emperor Wu precipitated a war between China and the Xiongnu is told in great detail by Sima Qian. In 134 bce, the Chinese attempted to trap Gunchen Chanyu (the grandson of Modu) and the Xiongnu army in an ambush. The plot failed, but just five years later in 129 bce, full-scale war erupted between the two empires and would continue on and off until the final dissolution of the Xiongnu Empire more than two hundred years later in the late 1st century ce. Fortune initially favored the Han, as the death of Gunchen Chanyu in 126 bce during the early stages of the war between the Xiongnu and Han China precipitated the first serious succession crisis among the Xiongnu since the accession of Modu Chanyu. This internal struggle severely hampered Xiongnu efforts to counter the military challenge from the Han, and furthermore compromised the loyalty of Xiongnu vassals. Defections of key subkings to the Han deprived the Xiongnu of control over the Gansu region, and Han armies also pushed the Xiongnu out of the Ordos. By 60 bce, after more than six decades of war with China, the Xiongnu lost control over the Tarim basin and faced massive rebellions among their subject peoples: the Wusun, Wuhuan, and Dingling.46

All these reverses were due partly to a chronic leadership crisis in the Xiongnu state. Between 114 and 58 bce, the Xiongnu enthroned no fewer than eight short-lived Chanyus. Of these ephemeral emperors, only two lasted for more than ten years. Factional conflict at the imperial court, sometimes exacerbated by growing regional power struggles, seriously undermined the ability of the Xiongnu central government to suppress internal uprisings and resist Han encroachment. By 57 bce, the struggle over the imperial throne had reached a crisis point, producing no fewer than five regional contenders. In 54 bce, the field was narrowed to two contestants, Zhizhi in the north and Huhanye in the south, but Huhanye, in order to eliminate his northern rival, allied with the Han and offered to reverse the tributary relations that had existed earlier between the Han and Xiongnu. Huhanye became a vassal of the Han Empire47 and received subsidies and military support with which to defeat Zhizhi. By 36 bce, Huhanye, with Han support, was master of the whole of the Xiongnu realm, but his was a much weakened and reduced empire.

The Xiongnu, however, gradually rebuilt their military power, and while the Han dynasty descended into civil war due to the usurpation of Wang Mang, the Xiongnu used the breathing space to crush rebellious vassals, such as the Wuhuan in the east, and reconquer lost territories in the west, most notably the Tarim basin. The resurgent Xiongnu then demanded that the tributary relationship between the Han and Xiongnu again be reversed, with the Chanyu assuming the position of overlord of the Han Chinese emperor.

Yet another succession dispute, however, halted the revival of Xiongnu power. In 46 ce, Punu Chanyu was crowned by the Xiongnu in the north, but in the south, eight disaffected tribes and their nobility proclaimed another pretender, Bi, as their Chanyu. In 50 ce, Bi sent his son to Luoyang, offering to submit to the Han Empire in return for aid against Punu. Bi’s Southern Xiongnu then broke away permanently from the main Xiongnu in the north (henceforth, the Northern Xiongnu) and entered the Xihe-Ordos region, setting up a rival court (Hou Hanshu 89.2943). These Southern Xiongnu have often been treated as sinicized “federates” of the Han Empire (subject to direct or indirect Chinese rule), reminiscent of the dependent foederati of the Roman Empire in the West. However, as Miller points out, the Southern Xiongnu continued to maintain their distinctive Xiongnu political organization and were essentially independent of their Han overlords.48 What they were attempting was the rerun of the policy of Huhanye a century earlier, who utilized Han aid to retake the north.

This goal was not realized, however, due to the complete disintegration of the Northern Xiongnu in the traditional center of the Xiongnu Empire in Mongolia. In 73–74 ce, the Northern Xiongnu lost the Tarim basin to the Chinese once again. This loss was then followed by the invasion of the formerly subject Xianbei from the east. In 87 ce, the Xianbei hordes inflicted a catastrophic defeat on the Northern Xiongnu, killed the reigning Chanyu, and flayed his body. Worse was to follow as fifty-eight Xiongnu tribes then deserted to the Han Empire. In 89 ce, the Chinese general Dou Xian defeated the next Chanyu in the very heartland of the Xiongnu, Mongolia. The Northern Xiongnu allegedly suffered 13,000 casualties, and 81 Xiongnu tribes consisting of 200,000 people are said to have surrendered to the Han Empire. The coup de grace came just two years later in 91 ce when another crippling defeat in the southern range of the Altai mountains ended all Northern Xiongnu pretensions to imperial rule in Mongolia. The role of the Xiongnu was now taken over by the victorious Xianbei.

Legacy of the Xiongnu

The end of the Xiongnu Empire in Mongolia, however, was not the end of the history of the Xiongnu. The Southern Xiongnu in the Ordos maintained themselves as a separate political entity from China up to the 4th century ce, and they even managed briefly to conquer northern China in the first two decades of the century at the expense of the Chinese Jin dynasty (which had briefly reunified China after the Period of the Three Kingdoms). The history of the Southern Xiongnu in China is beyond the scope of this article. However, attention must be given to the long-disputed question as to whether the famous Huns of Central Asia and Europe originated from the Xiongnu Empire. If the Huns were in some way associated with the Xiongnu, then the most profound Xiongnu legacy in later world history would be their contribution to the geopolitical and cultural reconfiguration of the Eurasian world in Late Antiquity, brought about by the expansion of the Huns into Central Asia, Europe, Iran, and India.

In the 18th century, the Jesuit priest Deguignes in Histoire générale des Huns, des Turcs, des Mogols et des autres Tartares occidentaux first argued (or rather in passing guessed) that the European Huns of the 4th and 5th centuries ce were Xiongnu. Because the subsequent scholarly debate on the connections between the Xiongnu and the Huns was then focused on identifying the ethnic composition of the two groups and discovering putative blood links between the Huns and Xiongnu, no consensus could easily be reached. However, this whole debate was arguably based on the erroneous assumption that the Huns and Xiongnu constituted a specific race or a particular ethnic group. As explained earlier, the Xiongnu were a heterogeneous political entity, rather than a homogeneous ethnic group. The key to answering the question of the connections between the Xiongnu and the Huns is to determine whether the Huns claimed the political heritage/legacy of the Xiongnu Empire, and whether their ruling tribes traced their origins to the territory once controlled by the Xiongnu state.

Due to the recent research of Etienne de La Vaissière, it is now recognized that the name Hun meant Xiongnu to the residents of Central Asia and India, indicating that whoever was using the name Hun was harking back to the political legacy of the Xiongnu Empire. The first confirmation of this recognition, in fact, came in 1948 when the esteemed German scholar of Middle Iranian languages Walter Henning published a letter written by a Sogdian merchant named Nanaivande dating to 313 ce. The letter was sent by the merchant from the Gansu region and referred to the sack of the imperial Chinese capital, Luoyang, by the Southern Xiongnu two years earlier in 311 ce. In the letter, Nanaivande, without any ambiguity or generalization, calls the Xiongnu Huns. La Vaissière provides more evidence: the translations of the Buddhist sutras Tathagataguhya-sutra and Lalitavistara. These texts, which were translated by a certain Zhu Fahu, a Buddhist monk of Bactrian descent from Dunhuang writing in 280 and 308 ce, equate the Huna (appellation of the Huns in Indian sources) with the Xiongnu, again without any ambiguity or generalization. The Xiongnu are also identified as a specific political entity adjacent to China.49 Therefore, it is now virtually indisputable that the Huns of Central Asia and Europe were using the imperial name of the Xiongnu as their state or ethnic name.50

The archaeological evidence, as always, is much more problematic, since identifying archaeological cultures with ethnic or political groups in history, especially in Inner Asia, is fraught with difficulties. The available evidence does, however, tend to support the existence of strong cultural links between the Huns of Europe and Central Asia and the old territory ruled by the Xiongnu. Most experts on Inner Asian history now agree that Hunnic cauldrons, presumed to be an important archaeological marker of a Hunnic presence, ultimately derive from older “Xiongnu” cauldrons of the Ordos region (although, as mentioned, applying the ethnic marker “Xiongnu” to these archaeological objects must be done with caution).51 These cauldrons apparently had a religious function, and in both Xiongnu and later Hunnic contexts, they were used in very similar ways, their placement being on the banks of rivers. Cultural and religious continuity between the Xiongnu and the Huns in Central Asia and Europe can therefore be suggested.

The available information from Chinese primary sources also confirms the hypothesis that the Huns originated from the old territory of the Xiongnu. The Weilue (=Sanguozhi 30.863–864) a mid-3rd-century ce source, shows that after their defeat at the hands of the Xianbei, the Northern Xiongnu still existed as a political entity in the Altai region, just west of their original power base in Mongolia. The Weishu (103.2290), the official history of the Tuoba Xianbei Northern Wei in China, gives further indication that toward the beginning of the 5th century ce, Xiongnu remnants were still to be found to the northwest of the Rouran (Mongolia). The Weishu (102.2268) also adds that a people called the Yueban, remnants of the Northern Xiongnu, were in the 5th century ce occupying the old territory of the Wusun in the Zhetysu region (eastern Kazakhstan). These Yueban Xiongnu are referred to as the weak elements among the Northern Xiongnu, who were left behind by the “strong” Xiongnu in the area north of the city of Qiuci (now in central Xinjiang), when the stronger elements migrated further west. The Weishu (102.2278–9) then explains that the Central Asian White Huns originate from the Altai region. They are said to have moved into Central Asia around 360 ce52 (strikingly enough, this is exactly the same time that the European Huns pushed into Europe farther north).

Adding more evidence in favor of the argument that the Huns of the west were of Xiongnu origin is the remark in the Weishu that the 5th-century rulers of Sogdia, that is, the White Huns, were of Xiongnu origin (102.2270). It also calls the country they rule “wen-na-sha,” pronounced Huna sha in Early Middle Chinese, that is, King of the Huns.53 Therefore, the literary evidence strongly validates the thesis that the western Huns were the political heirs of the Xiongnu.

Another important legacy of the Xiongnu is superbly outlined by Brosseder in her 2015 publication: the facilitation of interaction and exchange of political symbols, ideas, and material culture.54 During the period of Xiongnu hegemony over much of Inner Asia, two vast interaction spheres emerged across Inner Asia and the steppe zone of eastern Europe, both of which were connected via a network of warrior elites that shared a common status symbol: belt plaques and geometric ornaments.55 As Brosseder points out, the Xiongnu are likely to have been the chief Inner Asian “agent” of this prolonged and sustained interconnectivity and exchange across the Eurasian continent, which saw Chinese and Inner Asian goods being circulated in the western steppe zone, and western goods being traded and purchased in Xiongnu territory in Mongolia.56

Another legacy (indirect in this case) of the Xiongnu was the foundation of the famous Kushan Empire of the Yuezhi and the collapse of the Greco-Bactrian states of Central Asia in the 2nd century bce. The Kushans, who created an empire that in its heyday stretched from the Tarim basin in the north to northwestern India in the south, were one of the five Da Yuezhi tribes driven out of Xinjiang and Gansu by the Xiongnu in 162 bce. The Chinese source Hanshu (61 4B) provides a succinct account of their forced migration west from their home territories. After their catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Xiongnu, the Yuezhi evidently pushed into the lands of the Sai (Saka)57 in eastern Kazakhstan. Under pressure from the Yuezhi, the Saka then in turn invaded the Greco-Bactrian kingdom ruled by the successors of Alexander the Great (Strabo, Geography 11.8.4). The Greeks of Central Asia were quickly overwhelmed, and the Saka, with the Yuezhi pursuing them, advanced even farther west before being checked by the Parthians in Iran.58 The Yuezhi eventually settled in Bactria under their five “Yabghus,”59 and later the king or lord of the Guishuang/Kushan tribe emerged as their supreme ruler. Under the aegis of the Kushan dynasty, the Yuezhi state then came to dominate much of Central Asia and parts of South Asia until their defeat by the Sassanian Persians in the mid-3rd century ce during the reign of Shapur I (reigned 240–70 ce).

Primary Sources

The most important primary sources on the Xiongnu are, as briefly mentioned above, the Yantielun, Shiji, Hanshu, and Hou Hanshu. With regard to the connections between the Xiongnu and the Huns of Central Asia, the most important source is Weishu, the official history of the Tuoba Xianbei Northern Wei compiled in the sixth century ce by Wei Shou. For specialists, the easiest way to access these primary sources is via the excellent database of Chinese texts provided by the Institute of History and Philology (IHP), Academia Sinica (Taiwan): the Scripta Sinica (Hanji dianzi wenxian) database. This resource provides almost all Classical Chinese texts for scholarly reference. For beginners and nonspecialists, probably the easier way to access the first four of the aforementioned primary sources would be via the Chinese Text Project portal, although in all instances, the Scripta Sinica database is to be preferred. For the Shiji Xiongnu liezhuan, in particular, the most easily accessible translation for the beginner remains the translation by Burton Watson cited in note 23.

Further Reading

Barfield, T. The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1989.Find this resource:

Barfield, T. “The Shadow Empires: Imperial State Formation along the Chinese–Nomad Frontier.” In Empires. Edited by S. E. Alcock, T. N. D. Altroy, K. D. Morrison, and C. M. Sinopoli, 10–41. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Brosseder, U. “A Study on the Complexity and Dynamics of Interaction and Exchange in Late Iron Age Eurasia.” In Complexity of Interaction along the Eurasian Steppe Zone in the First Millennium CE, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 7. Edited by J. Bemmann and M. Schmauder, 199–332. Bonn: uni-bonn, 2015.Find this resource:

Brosseder, U. “Xiongnu Terrace Tombs and Their Interpretation as Elite Burials.” In Current Archaeological Research in Mongolia, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 4. Edited by J. Bemmann, H. Parzinger, E. Pohl, and D. Tseveendorzh, 247–280. Bonn: uni-bonn, 2009.Find this resource:

Brosseder, U., and B. K. Miller. “State of Research and Future Direction of Xiongnu Studies.” In Xiongnu Archaeology: Multidisciplinary Perspectives of the First Steppe Empire in Inner Asia, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 5. Edited by U. Brosseder and B. K. Miller, 19–33. Bonn: uni-bonn, 2011.Find this resource:

Brosseder, U., and B. K. Miller, eds. Xiongnu Archaeology: Multidisciplinary Perspectives of the First Steppe Empire in Inner Asia, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 5. Bonn: uni-bonn, 2011.Find this resource:

de Crespigny, R. Northern Frontier: The Policies and Strategy of the Later Han Empire, Asian Studies Monographs, n.s. 4. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1984.Find this resource:

Di Cosmo, N. Ancient China and Its Enemies: The Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Di Cosmo, N. “Ethnogenesis, Coevolution and Political Morphology of the Earliest Steppe Empire: The Xiongnu Question Revisited.” In Xiongnu Archaeology: Multidisciplinary Perspectives of the First Steppe Empire in Inner Asia, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 5. Edited by U. Brosseder and B. K. Miller, 35–48. Bonn: uni-bonn, 2011.Find this resource:

Honeychurch, W., and C. Amartuvshin. “States on Horseback: The Rise of Inner Asian Confederations and Empires.” In Archaeology of Asia. Edited by M. T. Stark, 255–278. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2006.Find this resource:

Kim, H. J. The Huns, Rome and the Birth of Europe. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Kradin, N. “Stateless Empire: The Structure of the Xiongnu Nomadic Super-Complex Chiefdom.” In Xiongnu Archaeology: Multidisciplinary Perspectives of the First Steppe Empire in Inner Asia, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 5. Edited by U. Brosseder and B. K. Miller, 77–96. Bonn: uni-bonn, 2011.Find this resource:

La Vaissière, E. de. “Huns et Xiongnu.” Central Asiatic Journal 49.1 (2005): 3–26.Find this resource:

La Vaissière, E. de. “Is There a “Nationality of the Hephtalites”?” In Hephtalites, Bulletin of the Asia Institute 17 (2007): 119–132.Find this resource:

Miller, B. K. “Navigating and Negotiating the Middle Ground: Cultural Politics and the Southern Xiongnu in Northern China.” In Complexity of Interaction along the Eurasian Steppe Zone in the First Millennium CE, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 7. Edited by J. Bemmann and M. Schmauder, 127–198. Bonn: uni-bonn, 2015.Find this resource:


(1.) T. O. Höllmann and G. W. Kossack, Maoqinggou: Ein eisenzeitliches Gräberfeld in der Ordos Region (Innere Mongolei) (Mainz: Materialien zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Archäologie, 1992), 252–287.

(2.) Tian Guangjin. “Taohongbalade Xiongnum (The cemetery at Taohongbala),” Kaogu Xuebao 1 (1976): 131–142.

(3.) N. Di Cosmo, “Aristocratic Elites in the Xiongnu Empire as Seen from the Historical and Archaeological Evidence,” in Nomad Aristocrats in a World of Empires, Nomaden und Sesshafte7, ed. J. Paul (Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2013), 23–54; 39.

(4.) For discussion, see J. Wright, W. Honeychurch, and C. Amartuvshin, “The Xiongnu Settlements of Egiin Gol, Mongolia,” Antiquity 83.320 (2009): 372–387; 375.

(5.) U. Brosseder, and B. K. Miller, “State of Research and Future Direction of Xiongnu Studies,” in Xiongnu Archaeology: Multidisciplinary Perspectives of the First Steppe Empire in Inner Asia, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 5, eds. U. Brosseder and B. K. Miller (Bonn: uni-bonn, 2011), 19–33; 22.

(6.) E. I. Lubo-Lesnichenko, “The Huns, Third Century B.C. to Sixth Century A.D.,” in Nomads of Eurasia, ed. P. V. N. Basilov (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1989), 41–54; 47; and S. Minyaev, “Art and Archaeology of the Xiongnu: New Discoveries in Russia,” Circle of Inner Asian Art 14 (2001), 3–9; 3.

(7.) For details on these settlements and their fortifications, buildings, etc., see S. V. Danilov, “Typology of Ancient Settlement Complexes of the Xiongnu in Mongolia and Transbaikalia,” in Xiongnu Archaeology: Multidisciplinary Perspectives of the First Steppe Empire in Inner Asia, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 5, eds. U. Brosseder and B. K. Miller (Bonn: uni-bonn, 2011), 129–136.

(8.) Brosseder and Miller, “State of Research,” 25.

(9.) Z. Batsaikhan, “The Xiongnu-Progenitors of the Classical Nomad Civilization,” in Xiongnu Archaeology: Multidisciplinary Perspectives of the First Steppe Empire in Inner Asia, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 5, eds. U. Brosseder and B. K. Miller (Bonn: uni-bonn, 2011), 121–128; 122; and W. Honeychurch and C. Amartuvshin, “States on Horseback: The Rise of Inner Asian Confederations and Empires,” in Archaeology of Asia, ed. M. T. Stark (Malden, MA, and Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2006), 255–278; particularly 262.

(10.) E. G. Pulleyblank, “The Consonantal System of Old Chinese,” Asia Major 9 (1962): 58–144, 206–265; Pulleyblank, “The Hsiung-nu,” in Philologiae et Historiae Turcicae Fundamenta 1, ed. H. R. Roemer (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 2000), 52–75; especially 62–65; and A. Vovin, “Did the Xiongnu Speak a Yeniseian Language?” Central Asiatic Journal 44.1 (2000): 87–104.

(11.) Most notably C. Benjamin, The Yuezhi: Origin, Migration and the Conquest of Northern Bactria, Silk Road Studies 14 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007), 49, who sees the Xiongnu as either Proto-Turks or Proto-Mongols, who clearly spoke a language related to the Turkic Dingling people farther west.

(12.) I. Bona, Das Hunnenreich (Stuttgart: Corvina, 1991), 33–35; J. O. Maenchen-Helfen, The World of the Huns (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1973), 392–415, 427–441; and O. Pritsak, “Der Titel Attila,” in Festschrift für Max Vasmer, eds. M. Woltner and U.H. Bräuer (Berlin: Otto Harrassowitz, 1956), 404–419; 414.

(13.) The debate was begun in earnest by the controversial thesis of N. N. Kradin, “Nomadism, Evolution, and World-Systems: Pastoral Societies in Theories of Historical Development,” Journal of World-System Research 8 (2002): 368–388.

(14.) R. Tapper, “The Tribes in the Eighteenth- and Nineteenth- Century Iran,” in The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 7., eds. P. Avery et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 506–541; 525.

(15.) Kradin, “Nomadism, Evolution, and World-Systems,” 368–388. See also his 2011 article: N. Kradin, “Stateless Empire: The Structure of the Xiongnu Nomadic Super-Complex Chiefdom,” in Xiongnu Archaeology: Multidisciplinary Perspectives of the First Steppe Empire in Inner Asia, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 5., eds. U. Brosseder and B. K. Miller (Bonn: uni-bonn, 2011), 77–96; particularly 82, 94.

(16.) L. Krader, “The Origin of the State among the Nomads of Asia,” in The Early State, eds. J .M. Claessen and P. Skalnik (Mouton and The Hague: Mouton, 1978), 93–108; 108.

(17.) N. Di Cosmo, “Ethnogenesis, Coevolution and Political Morphology of the Earliest Steppe Empire: The Xiongnu Question Revisited,” in Xiongnu Archaeology: Multidisciplinary Perspectives of the First Steppe Empire in Inner Asia, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 5, eds. U. Brosseder and B. K. Miller (Bonn: uni-bonn, 2011), 35–48; 44–45.

(18.) For discussion on the “early state” or proto-state, see J. M. Claessen and P. Skalnik, “The Early State: Theories and Hypotheses,” in The Early State, eds. J. M. Claessen and P. Skalnik (The Hague: Mouton, 1978), 3–30; 22–23, and also W. Scheidel, “The Xiongnu and the Comparative Study of Empire,” in Xiongnu Archaeology: Multidisciplinary Perspectives of the First Steppe Empire in Inner Asia, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 5, eds. U. Brosseder and B. K. Miller (Bonn: uni-bonn, 2011), 111–120; 114.

(19.) Di Cosmo, “Ethnogenesis, Coevolution and Political Morphology,” 44–45.

(20.) Pulleyblank, “The Hsiung-nu,” 64.

(21.) R. de Crespigny, Northern Frontier: The Policies and Strategy of the Later Han Empire, Asian Studies Monographs, n.s. 4 (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1984), 178.

(22.) The supreme ruler and the equivalent of the Turco-Mongol Khagan. For discussion, see E. Kürsat-Ahlers, Zur frühen Staatenbildung von Steppenvölkern (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1994), 268–270.

(23.) Translation from B. Watson, Records of the Grand Historian of China (Shih chi), vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 163–164.

(24.) D. Christian, A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia, Vol. 1: Inner Eurasia from Prehistory to the Mongol Empire, The Blackwell History of the World (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 1998), 194.

(25.) A. M. Khazanov, Nomads and the Outside World (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 178; and A. Kollautz and H. Miyakawa, Geschichte und Kultur eines völkerwanderungszeitlichen Nomadenvolks: Die Jou-jan der Mongolei und die Awaren in Mitteleuropa, 2 vols. (Klagenfurt: Rudolf Habelt, 1970), 44.

(26.) M. Mori, “Reconsideration of the Hsiung-nu State: A Response to Professor O. Pritsak’s Criticism,” Acta Asiatica 24 (1973): 20–34; 30–31. See also de Crespigny, Northern Frontier, 177.

(27.) Brosseder and Miller, “State of Research,” 20.

(28.) N. Ishjamts, “Nomads in Eastern Central Asia,” in History of Civilizations of Central Asia, vol. 2., ed. J. Harmatta (Paris: Unesco, 1994), 151–169; 158; and Kollautz and Miyakawa, Geschichte und Kultur eines völkerwanderungszeitlichen Nomadenvolks, 44.

(29.) Ishjamts, “Nomads in Eastern Central Asia,” 158. See also Kradin, “Stateless Empire,” 93, where he argues that the Xiongnu originally possessed a tripartite administrative system that later evolved into a dual system.

(30.) T. Barfield, “The Hsiung-nu Imperial Confederacy: Organization and Foreign Policy,” Journal of Asian Studies 41.1 (1981): 45–61; 48–49.

(31.) Y. S. Yü, “The Hsiung-nu,” in The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, ed. D. Sinor (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 118–150; 127–128. See also P. B. Golden, “Migration, Ethnogenesis,” in The Cambridge History of Inner Asia: The Chinggisid Age, eds. A. J. Frank and P. B. Golden (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 109–119; 110.

(32.) Kürsat-Ahlers, Zur frühen Staatenbildung, 289–290, argues for a Xiongnu bureaucracy in the form of a military organization.

(33.) Christian, A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia, 194.

(34.) Yü, “The Hsiung-nu,” 124.

(35.) Kollautz and Miyakawa, Geschichte und Kultur eines völkerwanderungszeitlichen Nomadenvolks, 45. For Xiongnu elite governance and “feudalism,” see Yü, “The Hsiung-nu,” 135–136.

(36.) Pulleyblank, “The Hsiung-nu,” 70.

(37.) Di Cosmo, “Ethnogenesis, Coevolution and Political Morphology,” 47–48.

(38.) Barfield, “The Hsiung-nu Imperial Confederacy,” 59.

(39.) Ibid., 54–55; T. Barfield, The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1989), 9; see also Barfield, “Steppe Empires, China, and the Silk Route: Nomads as a Force in International Trade and Politics,” in Nomads in the Sedentary World, eds. A. M. Khazanov and A. Wink (Padstow, Cornwall: Psychology Press, 2001), 234–249.

(40.) N. Di Cosmo, Ancient China and Its Enemies: The Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 170; and C. I. Beckwith, Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 329–330.

(41.) P. Turchin, “A Theory for Formation of Large Empires,” Journal of Global History 4 (2009): 191–217.

(42.) See Honeychurch and Amartuvshin, “States on Horseback.” Although it cannot be denied that Chinese influence on Xiongnu material culture was quite significant, see P. B. Konovalov, The Burial Vault of a Xiongnu Prince at Sudzha (Ilmovaia pad,” Transbaikalia), Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 3 (Bonn: uni-bonn, 2008), 48. See also pp. 51–52 for discussion on Xiongnu ethnogenesis.

(43.) For excellent summaries of Xiongnu history, see Barfield, The Perilous Frontier, 32–84; and Yü, “The Hsiung-nu,” 118–150.

(44.) See Di Cosmo, “Aristocratic Elites in the Xiongnu Empire,” 27, for discussion of this passage.

(45.) For a superb analysis of the heqin policy and early Xiongnu–Han interrelations, see J. Markley, Peace and Peril: Sima Qian’s Portrayal of Han–Xiongnu Relations, Silk Road Studies 13 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2016). See also T. Chin, “Defamiliarizing the Foreigner Sima Qian’s Ethnography and Han–Xiongnu Marriage Diplomacy,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 70.2 (2010): 311–354.

(46.) For more details on these events, see H. J. Kim, The Huns (Oxford and New York: Routledge, 2015), 19–25.

(47.) B. K. Miller, “The Southern Xiongnu in Northern China: Navigating and Negotiating the Middle Ground,” in Complexity of Interaction along the Eurasian Steppe Zone in the First Millennium CE, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 7, eds. J. Bemmann and M. Schmauder (Bonn: uni-bonn, 2015), 127–198; 147.

(48.) For the later history of the Southern Xiongnu and the nature of their relations with the Han Empire, see Miller, “The Southern Xiongnu,” 151–168.

(49.) E. de La Vaissière, “Huns et Xiongnu,” Central Asiatic Journal 49.1 (2005): 3–26; 11–15.

(50.) Pulleyblank, “The Hsiung-nu,” 60–61, via a detailed examination of phonetic evidence, concludes that there is no alternative but to agree that the European Huns had exactly the same name as the Xiongnu. De Crespigny, Northern Frontier, 174, agrees. See also C. P. Atwood, “Huns and Xiongnu: New Thoughts on an Old Problem,” in Dubitando: Studies in History and Culture in Honor of Donald Ostrowski, eds. B. J. Boeck, R. E Martin, and D. Rowland, 27–52 (Bloomington, IN: Slavica, 2012), who, via a radically different interpretation of the available phonetic evidence, nevertheless arrives at the same conclusion, that the Huns are the Xiongnu. See also D. C. Wright, “The Hsiung-nu-Hun Equation Revisited,” Eurasian Studies Yearbook 69 (1997): 77–112; and J. E. Hill, Through the Jade Gate to Rome: A Study of the Silk Routes during the Later Han Dynasty 1st to 2nd Centuries ce: An Annotated Translation of the Chronicle on the “Western Regions” from the Hou Hanshu (Lexington, KY.: Book Surge, 2009), 73–74, for further information on phonetic and other evidence in favor of Xiongnu–Hun identification.

(51.) L. Hambis, “Le Probleme des Huns,” Recherches historiques 220 (1958): 249–270; 262; Maenchen-Helfen, The World of the Huns, 330–331; La Vassière, “Huns et Xiongnu,” 17; Bona, Das Hunnenreich, 140; and M. Érdy, “Hun and Xiong-nu Type Cauldron Finds Throughout Eurasia,” Eurasian Studies Yearbook 67 (1995): 5–94. There is no absolute consensus, however.

(52.) La Vaissière, “Huns et Xiongnu,” 21.

(53.) See E. G. Pulleyblank, “The Nomads in China and Central Asia in the Post-Han Period,” in Philologiae et Historiae Turcicae Fundamenta 1, ed. H. R. Roemer (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 2000), 76–94; 91–92.

(54.) U. Brosseder, “A Study on the Complexity and Dynamics of Interaction and Exchange in Late Iron Age Eurasia,” in Complexity of Interaction along the Eurasian Steppe Zone in the First Millennium CE, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 7, eds. J. Bemmann and M. Schmauder (Bonn: uni-bonn, 2015), 199–332; especially 272 ff.

(55.) Ibid., 272–273.

(56.) Ibid., 277.

(57.) For discussion on this identification, see Benjamin, The Yuezhi, 97–100; and Hill, Through the Jade Gate to Rome, 537.

(58.) M. J. Olbrycht, “Arsacid Iran and the Nomads of Central Asia—Ways of Cultural Transfer,” in Complexity of Interaction along the Eurasian Steppe Zone in the First Millennium CE, Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 7, eds. J. Bemmann and M. Schmauder (Bonn: uni-bonn, 2015), 333–390; 334.

(59.) On the five Yabghus, see F. Grenet, “Nouvelles données sur la localisation des cinq yabghus des Yuezhi: L’arrière plan politique de l’itinéraire des marchands de Maès Titianos,” Journal Asiatique 294.2 (2006 [2007]): 325–341.