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(Chinese: 匈奴; pinyin: Xiōngnú; Wade–Giles: Hsiung-nu, Middle Chinese: Guangyun: [xi̯woŋ˥˩nu˩]) were ancient nomadic-based people that formed a state or confederation north of the agriculture-based empire of the Han Dynasty. Most of the 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, Yeniseian,Tocharian, and Uralic. The name Xiongnu may be cognate to the name Huns, but the evidence for this is controversial.
Chinese sources from the 3rd century BC report them as having created an empire under Modu Chanyu, the supreme leader after 209 BC. This empire stretched beyond the borders of modern-day Mongolia. After defeating the previously dominant Yuezhi in the 2nd century BC, Xiongnu became a dominant power on the steppes of eastern Asia. They were active in 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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