Modu, Modun, or Maodun (simplified Chinese: 冒顿单于; traditional
Chinese: 冒頓單于; pinyin: Màodùn Chányú Mongolian:
Модунь, Modun; Баатар, Baatar;Turkic: Baghatur c. 234
– c. 174 BC) was the fourth known
Xiongnu ruler and the founder
Xiongnu Empire. He became the
Xiongnu ruler after he ordered
the execution of his father
Touman in 209 BC.
Modu ruled from 209 BC to 174 BC. He was a military leader under his
father Touman, and later the
Chanyu and king of the Xiongnu, centred
in modern-day Mongolia.[better source needed] He secured
the throne and established a powerful
Xiongnu Empire by successfully
unifying the tribes of the Mongolian steppes in response to the crisis
of the loss of
Xiongnu pasture lands to invading Chinese Qin Dynasty
forces commanded by
Meng Tian in 215 BC. While Modu rode and then
furthered the wave of militarization and effectively centralized
Xiongnu power, the Qin quickly fell into disarray with the death of
the first emperor in 210, leaving Modu a free hand to expand his
Xiongnu Empire into one of the largest of his time. The eastern
border stretched as far as the Liao River, the western borders of the
empire reached the Pamir Mountains, whilst the northern border reached
Lake Baikal.[better source needed]
He was succeeded by his son Laoshang Chanyu.
2 Origins and rise to power
3 Rise of the
4 Later legends
6 See also
8 External links
Several scholars have suggested the reconstructed Middle Chinese
pronunciation of Mòdùn (冒頓) is IPA: [mək-twən]. His
name is also written as Motun in some sources. Ultimately, the Old
Chinese pronunciation might have represented the pronunciation of the
foreign word *baγtur, a relative of the later attested Central
Eurasian culture word baγatur ‘hero’. The etymology of this
word is uncertain, although the first syllable is very likely the
Iranian word *baγ ‘god, lord’, which is an element in the titles
of many later Central Eurasian people. Clauson claims the word to
be an original
Origins and rise to power
According to Sima Qian, Modu was a gifted child but his father Touman
wanted the son of another of his wives to succeed him. To eliminate
Modu as a competitor to his chosen heir,
Touman sent the young Modu to
Yuezhi people as a hostage; then he attacked the
Yuezhi in the
hopes that they would kill Modu as retribution. Modu was able to
escape this fate by stealing a fast horse and returned to the Xiongnu,
who welcomed him as a hero. In reward for this show of bravery, his
father appointed him the commander of 10,000 horsemen.
Due to his reputation for bravery, Modu began to gather a group of
extremely loyal warriors. To be sure of their loyalty, Modu ordered
the warriors to shoot his favourite horse. Those who refused were
executed. He later repeated this test of loyalty, but with one of
his favourite wives, and once again executed those who hesitated to
obey his order. After he was sure of the loyalty of his remaining
warriors, he ordered them to shoot at his father, killing him in a
shower of arrows. With none of his followers failing to shoot at his
command and the elimination of his father, Modu proclaimed himself
Chanyu of the Xiongnu.
After his self-proclaimed ascension to the title of Chanyu, Modu began
to eliminate those who would prove a threat to his newly acquired
power. Thus, he proceeded to execute his rival half-brother, his
step-mother, and other
Xiongnu officials who refused to support his
rule. After coming to power in 209 BC, Modu began to act on his
ambitions to become the sole ruler over the Central Asian steppes,
finding substantial success through both military strength and clever
Rise of the
Domain and influence of the
Xiongnu under Modu at the start of his
First he marched on the Donghu, the Xiongnu’s eastern neighbours,
and brought them under his rule in 208 BC. After his Donghu campaign
(the Donghu split into
Xianbei and Wuhuan); he defeated the Dingling
and other peoples living in Northern Mongolia, and finally he brought
Yuezhi under his rule in 203 BC. After these conquests, all
Xiongnu lords submitted to him.
With these victories, he was able to gain control of the important
trade routes, which later supplied the
Xiongnu with a large income. In
200 BC, Modu fought a three-year campaign with the Han
China, and decisively defeated the Han
Emperor Gao (personal name Liu
Bang); when Liu Bang advanced against him, Modu (with 40,000 soldiers)
lured the Han army into a trap, ambushed the emperor, reputedly with
Xiongnu cavalry, and encircled them for seven days at
the Battle of Baideng. The emperor was cut off from supplies and
reinforcements. The siege was only relieved when the Han royal
court sent spies to bribe Modu's wife. The result of this campaign
resulted in Han
China resorting to the humiliating "marriage alliance"
strategy with the
Xiongnu for the next seventy years. From the
Chinese perspective though, it was a case of a "poor 'partridge'
delivered over to the 'wild bird of Mongolia'."
After his Chinese campaign, Modu forced the
Yuezhi and the
become vassals of the Xiongnu.
Despite the violent circumstances by which Modu came to power, the
Xiongnu leadership passed on with relatively few problems for 150
years after the beginning of his rule.
As Nicola di Cosmo summarizes the sequence of events, the Qin invasion
of the Ordos (the area within the bend of the Yellow River) came at
the same time as a leadership crisis within the loose Xiongnu
confederation. Modu took advantage of
Xiongnu militarization process
that came in response to the Qin invasion, and ably created a newly
centralized political structure that made possible his empire. But he
was aided by the rapid fall of Qin and the fact that the Han initially
set up independent "kingdoms," whose leaders, like King Xin of the
Hann kingdom, were as likely to ally with
Xiongnu and attack Han as
the other way around. Han weakness meant that it supplied Modu and his
successors with a steady flow of luxury and staple tribute they could
pass down to the aristocracy supporting them. Without that tribute,
Xiongnu empire might not have been able to expand and hold its
Christopher I. Beckwith has pointed out that the story of the young
Modu resembles a widespread class of folk tales in which a young hero
is abandoned, goes on a quest, proves his worth, gains a group of
trusted companions, returns to his home country, slays a powerful
figure and becomes a king.
The name of Maodun has been associated with Oghuz Khagan, an epic
ancestor of the Turkic people. The reason for that is a striking
similarity of the
Oghuz Khagan biography in the Turko manuscripts
(Rashid al-Din, Hondemir, Abulgazi) with the Maodun biography in the
Chinese sources (feud between the father and son and murder of the
former, the direction and sequence of conquests, etc.), which was
first noticed by N.Ya. Bichurin (Compilation of reports,
Another suggestion connects it with the name of the Magyar (Mad'ar)
royal tribe of the
Hungarians (匈牙利) and with their distant
relatives the Mators, now extinct. He has been linked with the
Dulo known from the Nominalia of the Bulgarian khans and this, in
the form *Duh-klah Tuqi, with the Hungarian/Magyar Gyula (D'ula)
clan. It has been suggested that his name, as Bixtun or Beztur,
appears in the genealogy as the ancestor of Attila the Hun, in the
Chronica Hungarorum of Johannes de Thurocz.
Turkish Land Forces
Turkish Land Forces claims the beginning of his reign in 209 BC as
its symbolic founding date.
Modun Resources, was Australia-listed coal company operating in
Mongolia, named after Modu Chanyu.[non-primary source needed]
^ Hyun Jin Kim (2015). The Huns. Routledge.
^ a b c d e Di Cosmo, Nicola (2002). Ancient
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^ a b c Beckwith 2009, p. 387
^ Clauson, Gerard: An etymological dictionary of
pre-thirteenth-century Turkish, Clarendon Press (Oxford), 1972. Entry:
^ Grousset, Rene (1970). The Empire of the Steppes. Rutgers University
Press. p. 27. ISBN 0-8135-1304-9.
^ Nicola di Cosmo, Ancient
China and its Enemies: the Rise of Nomadic
Power in East Asian History (Cambridge UP, 2002), 205
^ Christopher I. Beckwith, Empires of the Silk Road, 2009, Chapter
^ Bichurin N.Ya., "Compilation of reports on peoples inhabiting
Central Asia in ancient times", vol. 1, Sankt Petersburg, 1851, pp.
^ Taskin V.S., "Materials on history of Sünnu", transl., 1968, Vol.
1, p. 129
^ E. Helismki – Die Matorische Sprache, 1997, Studia Uralo-Altaica
41, pg. 64.
^ O. Pritsak: Die bulgarische Fürstenliste und die Sprache der
Proto-Bulgaren, Wiesbaden, 1955.
^ O. Pritsak, 1955.
^ Friedrich Hirth (1900). "Die Ahnentafel Attila's nach Johannes von
Thurócz" (PDF). Bulletin de l'Académie Impériale des Sciences de
St.-Pétersbourg. Retrieved 29 December 2016.
^ "History of Turkish Land Forces". Archived from the original on 19
April 2014. Retrieved 24 February 2016. </ref Nihal Atsız,
"Türk Karaordusunun Kuruluşu Meselesi", Ötüken, Sayı: 4 (1973)
^ "Modun Shanyu". Archived from the original on 29 April 2015.
Retrieved 24 February 2016.
Beckwith, Christopher I. (16 March 2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A
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Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691135894. Retrieved 30 May
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Baidu Entry on Batur Tengriqut
All Empires: The
China Knowledge site
Essay on the Xiongnu