Xiōngnú ( Chinese 匈奴 , W.-G. Hsiung-nu ) is the Chinese name for a tribal association of equestrian nomads that existed between the 3rd century BC. BC and the late 1st century AD controlled large parts of eastern Central Asia . The Xiongnu Empire was the earliest and most durable steppe empire .
The Xiongnu were first mentioned in Chinese sources in 215 BC. Mentioned when the first emperor Shihuangdi launched an offensive against them. In this context, it should be noted that the term Xiongnu in the Chinese sources apparently did not refer to a well-defined, homogeneous association, but rather a collective term for heterogeneously composed groups in the steppe area of today's Mongolia.
For a long time, the Xiongnu were able to hold their own against the Han dynasty . At times, because military action was not always successful, Chinese emperors tried to appease the Xiongnu through payments and gifts in connection with marriage contracts (the so-called heqin policy). From an economic point of view, the Xiongnu basically required Chinese tribute payments, since their own way of life was not a sufficient material basis. In this sense, the Xiongnu were dependent on the economic prosperity of the Han Empire.
Eventually there were signs of disintegration inside the tribal union. The southern part of the Xiongnu surrendered to the Chinese in the middle of the 1st century AD and thus came under Chinese protectorate, the northern part of the Xiongnu came under increased Chinese pressure at the end of the 1st century and was finally taken over by the forces of the Han and theirs Allies destroyed; the last reports about them come from the middle of the 2nd century. The southern Xiongnu group settled on Chinese territory rose against the Jin dynasty in the early 4th century and established the short-lived Han Zhao dynasty and the later Zhao dynasty.
In Europe, the term Huns was sometimes used for the Xiongnu , as older research assumed a connection between these two groups. The ethnicity of the Xiongnu is controversial in research. In recent historical and archaeological research, the Huns and Xiongnu are generally no longer equated, which is also justified by the fact that the early nomadic peoples were tribal confederations made up of different ethnic and cultural groups and depending on the situation in rudimentary rulers organized, separated and reorganized (cf. on this, the formation of empires among early nomadic peoples ). In this context, the difference in time speaks against a connection between the Xiongnu and the Huns, and there is also no convincing archaeological evidence.
Based on the currently available findings, the ethnic allocation of the (probably heterogeneously composed) Xiongnu cannot be clarified beyond doubt. In addition to a linguistic assignment as Altaic ( Turkic , Mongolian ) or Iranian- speaking, it is suspected, especially in recent research, that the Xiongnu spoke several languages, including a Yenisite language ( Ketic ) or an extinct language that does not belong to any of the Eurasian linguistic families known today .
Name variants and differentiation from the "European Huns"
As far as we know today, there is much to suggest that the Xiongnu originate from what is now Mongolia and the neighboring Altai and Sajan Mountains . The different names Xiongnu and Huns are often used to illustrate different facts:
1.) The Chinese name Xiongnu is usually only used for the groups in the empire of Mao-tun and his successors, which perished in the late 1st century AD. Only those parts of the southern Xiongnu that have been settled in northern China since around 50 AD are still mentioned in Chinese sources after the middle of the 2nd century (see history section below).
2.) The term Huns , however, features in the research, the group of (probably Central Asian) strains to middle of the 4th century AD. Chr. North of the Caucasus lived and eventually 375/376 were advancing westwards and thus the so-called mass migration triggered . While the southern Xiongnu under Liu Cong operated in China in the early 4th century , the northern Xiongnu disappeared from the sources as early as the middle of the 2nd century. It is to this northern group that all speculations regarding the origin of the "European Huns" refer. The more recent research emphasizes that there is no evidence of a connection between Xiongnu and the heterogeneous groups in the west, referred to in late ancient sources as "Huns" (especially since other groups appeared in Central Asia during this period, see Iranian Huns ).
A minority of researchers, such as James Howard-Johnston and Étienne de La Vaissière , still hold on to the thesis that the Xiongnu and the Huns are at least partially identical. However, these researchers also emphasize that ultimately these are only hypotheses. Étienne de La Vaissière assumes that parts of the Xiongnu migrated to the west and other groups joined them, so that there is no complete, but a certain cultural continuity. Hyun Jin Kim also advocates a cultural and political heritage, but no “genetic connection” between the heterogeneously composed groups of Xiongnu and Huns.
The problem is that there are no clear archaeological findings and written sources only singularly showing the connection between the Huns and Xiongnu, especially since in Chinese sources the name Xiongnu (and equivalent names) were used for tribes that were clearly no longer the "old Xiongnu". There is evidence that the ethnic groups referred to by the Chinese as Xiongnu were known further west as the Huns. One of the old Sogdian letters found by Aurel Stein mentions the conquest and destruction of the Chinese capital Saraγ ( Luoyang ) by a group known as the Huns ( xwn ). The Iranist Walter Bruno Henning could identify this event with the conquest and destruction of Luoyang by the ruler of the southern Xiongnu Liu Cong in the year 311. However, this pure name reference is no evidence that the group known as the Huns, which appeared in the west around 375, are identical to the ancient Xiongnu. However, it is possible that these groups (as well as the aforementioned Iranian Huns) adopted the name as a prestigious name common in the Eurasian steppe, without being related to them.
The Xiongnu emerged from a merger of different Altai and Sajan peoples. Over several centuries, several Indo-European groups ( Saks , Sarmatians ) mixed on the one hand and Mongolian people from the Taiga and cattle breeders expelled from the Chinese fringes on the other. The Jie , one of the 19 tribes of the Xiongnu Confederation , for example, were recognized by their long noses and full beards (349 BC).
Since around the 9th century, the Bronze Age cattle breeding societies of southern Siberia, Baikalia and Mongolia have been replaced by societies that have typical characteristics of the Eurasian equestrian nomad cultures. The Chinese were these " barbarians ", together with other groups on the northern borders of China, under various collective terms, primarily Rong and Di known. The Di were described as fighting on foot in two campaigns (714 and 541 BC). The Xiongnu - according to popular tradition a "branch" of the tribes listed above - were predominantly to be regarded as equestrian nomads. But it is known from archaeological research that settled Xiongnu also lived in Transbaikalia (for example in the Ivolginsk ring wall settlement near Ulan-Ude ).
In the period from 350 to 290 BC Fortifications emerged on the northern borders of the Chinese sub-empires , the forerunners of the Great Wall . The Zhou King Wu-ling made his troops practice horse riding and archery and also took on the clothes of his enemies. In the 26th year of his reign, he destroyed the forest Xiongnu. From the year 318 BC The oldest document known today, which cannot be referred to in the area of legends, dates back to the 4th century BC: A border treaty between the Chinese and Xiongnu was signed.
There are quite detailed descriptions of the Xiongnu in the writings of the first great Chinese historian Sima Qian († 85 BC). Some of this is reminiscent of Herodotus' descriptions of Scythian properties. Sima Qian also emphasizes the special mobility of the Xiongnu warriors, their rapid attacks and the surprising retreats that take place as soon as the first swing is broken.
The ethnic and linguistic origin of the Xiongnu is controversial. On the basis of the limited linguistic material it is not possible to determine which family the Xiongnu language belongs to. There are hypotheses according to which the Xiongnu spoke Iranian , Turkic or Mongolian, and nevertheless had a language related to the Dingling . However, based on the currently available scientific findings with regard to the linguistic and ethnic components, this is still controversial. Some scholars believe that the Xiongnu spoke an Old Siberian language. Whether the majority of the Xiongnu somatically characterized by “ Mongolid ” characteristics is also controversial, because anthropologists have come to different conclusions.
Alexander Vovin suspects that the Xiongnu spoke mainly a Yenisan language . Hyun Jin Kim believes that the Xiongnu were multilingual and comprised larger Turkic and Iranian groups. According to other historians, it is likely that Tibetan Burman groups were also part of the Xiongnu.
In the 3rd century BC The Xiongnu founded a large empire under T'ou-man and his son Mao Tun (209–174 BC), which threatened Han China several times and at times brought it into an almost tributary relationship of dependency. In Sima Qian's time there was an agreement for annual supplies of silk, gold, grain and other materials to the Xiongnu Chanyu . This was also connected with the imperial heqin policy, which at the same time ensured that the Xiongnu became increasingly economically dependent on the Chinese services - if these failed to materialize, this caused difficulties for the Xiongnu.
The focus of the empire was Mongolia, especially the western Mongolian Gol Mod , which was located near the Changai Mountains , and the central Mongolian Ötüken'de Noyon-Uul (today's Noin Ula). The reign of the founder of the empire T'ou-man coincided roughly with the reign of the Chinese Emperor Shihuangdi .
The main rivals of the Xiongnu in the founding of the empire of Mao-tun were the nomadic tribes of the Yuezhi in today's Gansu , who were considered mercenaries of the Chinese and may be identical to the Tocharians . Around 177 BC BC they and their neighbors were defeated for the first time, which Mao-tun politely informed the Han emperor :
“The great Tan-hu (Chanyu) of Hung-no (Xiongnu), whom heaven has elevated to the throne, reverently inquires of the emperor whether he is free from grief. [...] Then he threw down Lö-lan, O-Sun ( Wusun ) and Ho-k'ut with 26 nearby empires, these are thus all made into Hung-no, and the peoples who draw bows are now one single family united. "
Uniform laws and penalties applied in certain areas . Mao-tun also introduced a quickly deployable military following ( Ordu ) and a strong central administration with several ranks was created, which was expanded under Mao-tun's son Ki-ok (Laosheng, r. 174-161 BC). The latter also introduced a form of levy ( taxes ).
3 phases of founding an empire
The establishment of the Xiongnu empire, the first “steppe empire” of Central Asia, was to serve as a model for subsequent Turkish and Mongolian nomadic empires. It went through three phases.
Phase 1: the crisis
The start of the founding of the empire was provided by a crisis that required action. After the Warring States' era , 221 BC followed. The unification of China under Emperor Shihuangdi , who pursued an aggressive policy of conquest against the Xiongnu. He sent General Meng Tian with a large army to conquer the entire "territory south of the Yellow River ". This then became the first and massive conquest of nomadic territory by China. The Yellow River runs around the Ordos Plateau , which in turn was one of the best grazing lands of the Xiongnu and an important base for their attacks on China.
Phase 2: The militarization
This phase occurred around ten years after the founding of the empire during the reign of Mao-tun. As can be seen from the writings of Sima Qian, Mao-tun's father Touman, the ruler of the Xiongnu, wanted Mao-tun (his eldest son) killed so that one of his younger sons could succeed him. The retaliatory Mao-tun carefully trained the cavalry under his command . He had whistling arrows made. Whatever the whistling arrow he had aimed at, his cavalry was supposed to rain arrows. Over time, his cavalry became professional. In this way he had his father Touman, his stepmother, his younger brother and others killed who would not bow to him. As a result, Mao-tun had trained a cavalry that was not loyal and devoted to the tribe, but to them, and thus fulfilled one of the basic requirements for establishing an empire in the steppes. Otherwise, according to Sima Qian, the soldier potential of the nomad society would have remained unorganized and unguided.
Phase 3: The centralization
Centralization was like a revolution. The transition from the decentralized egalitarian pattern to the centralized hierarchical system that distinguished between clans and concentrated power at the top came suddenly. The trigger for this process was the appearance of a ruler whose rule was recognized as legitimized by heaven across all tribes (Mao-tun).
Peak of power
The Chinese of the Han period described the Xiongnu as combative, powerful people with an underdeveloped culture , but the craft of war was extremely highly developed among them . Horse riding and the art of archery were particularly emphasized by the Chinese.
Mao-t'un died in 174 BC. Chr. And his son Ki-ok (also: Laoshang) took over the successor. Under Ki-ok's government, the Xiongnu threatened in 166 BC. China's capital Chang'an . Around 160 BC They attacked their archenemies, the Yuezhi , and finally defeated them. Ki-ok was killed in this campaign. In the period between 141 and 128 BC For their part, the Yuezhi settled in Bactria , where the Saks who were carried away (part of the Scythians ) stayed. The emigration of the Yuezhi and the Saks meant that the Xiongnu became the undisputed power in Mongolia and probably also in all of East Turkestan .
This migration can be regarded as of world historical importance, since the Yuezhi destroyed the last Greek kingdom in Bactria (that of Heliocles ) and the Saks in turn conquered parts of northern India. As a result of these events, the whole area became more conscious of the Chinese than before.
After repeated clashes, Han China defeated the Xiongnu under Emperor Wudi and pushed them back to their original home country: 119 BC. The Xiongnu suffered a heavy defeat under Mao-dun's grandson Yizhixie (126–114 BC) at the later Ulan Bator in Mongolia, as the Chanyu did not trust the Chinese under the general Huo Qubing to cross the Gobi without danger. However, the Chinese horse breeding perished in this war, so that the Xiongnu remained in control of the steppe (105 BC they achieved another success).
Around 60 BC The rule of the Xiongnu disintegrated into 5 hordes through a series of fraternal struggles promoted by China. A temporary agreement was reached again under Hu-han-yeh (58–31 BC). Hu-han-ye went to the court of the Han Emperor of China, submitted and so triumphed over his rivals. With Chinese help, he consolidated his power in Mongolia (51 BC). However, a horde under Chih-chih (the Chi-Chi Huns) remained independent and moved westward. She settled in the neighborhood of the Alans at Tschüi , where Chih-chih 36 BC. Was killed by the Chinese in the battle of Zhizhi .
The (eastern) Xiongnu empire was renewed under Hu-han-yeh's son Hudur-shi-dagao (18–45 / 46), who supported the late Han against Wang Mang . After this brief recovery, Reich 48 broke into two parts. Hudur's son Pu-nu was not recognized as Chanyu by all the Xiongnu tribes. 48 eight tribes under their leader Khukhenye (also known as Pi) rebelled against Pu-nu (ruled 45 / 46–83) and submitted to the Emperor of China. They were resettled in the Ordos region ( southern Xiongnu ). In the war between the two cousins, the remaining (i.e. not moving west) Xiongnu split up into a northern and a southern part of the people.
The Han incited the neighboring tribes (South Xiongnu, Xianbei , Wuhuan , Wusun , Dingling ) on the northern Xiongnu and won. The Han Chinese general Ban Chao conquered Central Asia during the reign of Emperor Han Mingdi . The Chinese worked more and more together with the Xianbei.
In 87 the Xianbei killed the Chanyu Yu-liu. In 89 and 91, two Chinese generals won great victories in the Chi-la Mountains and the Altai. They drove the defeated Chanyu of the northern Xiongnu to the Ili and installed his brother Youzhujian, who was defeated and killed by the Xianbei in 93. This began the dominance of the Xianbei in the steppe. The rule of the northern Xiongnu in Mongolia came to an end around 155; afterwards they are no longer mentioned in the sources. The rule of the Xianbei ushered in a power vacuum in Mongolia for about 250 years.
The South Xiongnu, settled to the south of the Great Wall (specifically in Shanxi ), penetrated ever further south under Hu-chu-ch'üan (195–216) as allies of the declining Han dynasty. Around 260 another tribal confederation, the largely Turkish Tabgatsch (Tuoba), came to power in the north of Shansi.
In 304 the Sinized Xiongnu leader Liu Yuan proclaimed himself the new king and founded the Han Zhao dynasty. Under his successor Liu Cong , the " Attila of China" († 318), the South Xiongnu conquered the capitals of Jin China (311 Luoyang and 316 Chang'an ). The Han Zhao empire collapsed as early as 329 due to attacks by another Xiongnu group led by a certain Shi Le . The crisis of the sixteen empires followed in China .
In 1957 a huge burial place of the Hunnic Xiongnu was found by chance in Gol Mod , the former army and main camp of the Xiongnu-Chanyu, including the grave of the twentieth Chanyu, who died in 37 AD. This grave was uncovered between 2001 and 2002 by a French-Mongolian research community. Among other things, it was found that the Xiongnu had an advanced culture and were not the "cultureless people" they are usually portrayed as. Although the grave was looted by “ Avar tribes” shortly after its completion , 250 objects were still found there; For example, fine goldsmith's work and Chinese snake ornaments, which replaced the dragon and animal symbolism of the steppe peoples, and which showed the relationship of the Xiongnu to China, as a Chinese mirror was also enclosed with the grave.
Another important burial ground of the Xiongnu was discovered in Noin Ula (older: Noyon Uul) as early as 1912. The first excavations in Noin Ula began in 1924 under the leadership of SA Kondratjew and SA Teplouchow, both of whom were previously participants in the Tibet-Mongolian expedition.
Archeology assigns the Xiongnu a from around 200 BC. In a wide area from Transbaikalia to Inner Mongolia , which replaced the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age plate burial culture . As bone finds show, the population had both European and Mongolian elements. Important sites are the Ivolginsk ring wall settlement on the Selenga and Noin Ula in Mongolia. The finds show connections to China as well as to the upper reaches of the Yenisei , to the Tes level and to the Tashtyk culture .
The ceramics of the Xiongu were already made on the potter's wheel and are quite uniform in the wide area of distribution. There are tall, slender vessels with a narrow neck, conical bowls and deep bowls with a vertical top and an extended, wide rim. The ceramic shows smooth stripe patterns, incised ribbons and various stripe patterns as ornamentation.
The Xiongnu had advanced armament, especially composite bows and iron scale armor. In addition to weapons, various utensils, tools, horse harness and costume jewelry were made of iron. The latter include belt buckles, belt plates with figurative representations and strap tongues.
Contrary to ancient Chinese traditions, the Xiongnu were by no means predominantly nomads. In Baikal in particular, numerous protourbane settlements, very often fortified by walls, are known. Pit houses ( Polusemljanki ) and ground-level post structures have been found in them.
The economy consisted of both animal husbandry, especially dogs, sheep, goats, cattle and pigs, as well as agriculture.
The last finds that can be assigned to the Xiongnu date from around 100 AD. Until the 5th century, the northern area remained largely empty, in Inner and Outer Mongolia finds of the Xianbei can then be found, which clearly relate to the Xiongnu culture.
- See U. Brosseder, BK Miller: State of Research and Future Direction of Xiongnu Studies. In: U. Brosseder, BK Miller (Ed.): Xiongnu Archeology: Multidisciplinary Perspectives of the First Steppe Empire in Inner Asia. Bonn 2011, pp. 19–33, here p. 30 f.
- Cf. Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer: Little History of China. Munich 2008, p. 48; Kai Vogelsang : History of China. 3rd revised and updated edition, Stuttgart 2013, p. 145.
- See Thomas Barfield: Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China. Cambridge (MA) / Oxford 1989, pp. 45ff.
- See, inter alia, Di Cosmo, Ancient China and its Enemies , pp. 163 ff., With further literature. See also Timo Stickler: The Huns . Munich 2007, p. 21 ff.
- HW Bailey: Etymology of Xiongnu names by the late HW Bailey . 1985 ( archive.org [accessed September 6, 2018]).
- Étienne de La Vaissière: The Steppe World and the Rise of the Huns. In: Michael Maas (Ed.): The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila. Cambridge 2014, p. 175 ff.
- Hyun Jin Kim: The Huns. New York 2016, p. 6ff.
- See Michael Schmauder: The Huns. An equestrian people in Europe. Darmstadt 2009, p. 52.
- Walter Bruno Henning: The Date of the Sogdian Ancient Letters. In: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 12, 1948, pp. 601-615.
- See Timo Stickler: The Huns. Munich 2007, p. 24 ff.
- Wolfgang-Ekkehard Scharlipp: The early Turks in Central Asia. Darmstadt 1998, p. 6.
- Ursula Brosseder: On the archeology of the Xiongnu . In: Attila and the Huns ; ed. from the Historisches Museum der Pfalz Speyer. Stuttgart 2007, p. 63
- Timo Stickler: The Huns . Munich 2007, p. 21 f.
Carter V. Findley: Dünya Tarihinde Türkler , p. 31: "... the predominantly Turkish tribal union of the Xiongnu ...".
Weiers: Turks, Proto-Mongols and Proto-Tibetans in the east . Online publication, www.zentralasienforschung.de: “Nothing certain is known about the linguistic and ethnic relationships of this people, but various indications suggest that they were related in some respects to the Turks.”
David Bivar: Die Nomadenreich und die Spread of Buddhism . In: Fischer Weltgeschichte , Zentralasien , Volume 16, ed. by Gavin Hambly. Frankfurt am Main 1966, p. 49
- Hyun Jin Kim: The Huns, Rome and the Birth of Europe. Cambridge 2013, p. 176.
- Cf. Ursula Brosseder: On the archeology of the Xiongnu. In: Attila and the Huns ; ed. from the Historisches Museum der Pfalz Speyer. Stuttgart 2007, p. 63
- Bodo Anke, László Révész, Tivadar Vida: Horsemen in the early Middle Ages. Huns - Avars - Hungary . Stuttgart 2008, p. 15
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- Hyun Jin Kim: The Xiongnu . In: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History Online - Quote: 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. [...] Other scholars have argued in favor of a Turkic, Mongolic, or even Iranian ruling elite.
- Jingyi Gao:確定 夏 國 及 凱特 人 的 語言 為 屬於 漢語 族 和 葉尼塞 語系 共同 詞源[Xia and Ket Identified by Sinitic and Yeniseian Shared Etymologies]. In: Central Asiatic Journal 60, 2017, pp. 51–58. doi: 10.13173 / centasiaj.60.1-2.0051. JSTOR 10.13173 / centasiaj.60.1-2.0051.
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- Film documentation about an archaeological project on Xiongnu L.I.S.A. video in ten episodes