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The Xiongnu was a federation of tribes of nomadic people who inhabited the Eastern Eurasian Steppe from the 3rd century to the 1st century BC. The Xiongnu was considered the most prominent group of nomads during the Han Dynasty, and this group of tribes lived in an unusually long time compared to other nomadic tribes.
See the fact file below for more information on the Xiongnu or alternatively, you can download our 24-page Xiongnu worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- The Xiongnu’s founder, Modu Chanyu, ruled from 234 BC – c. 174 BC
- Its people were pastoral nomads who moved from place to place to find pasture for their flocks and herds.
- They inhabited different parts of northern and northwestern China.
- Some Pre-Han sources identify the Xiongnu people as Hu people or the Five Barbarians.
- There were also theories that they were proto-Mongols, but no evidence has been discovered to prove that.
XIONGNU WAY OF LIFE
- The Xiongnu people’s source of living was their livestock, which is the main reason they moved from place to place.
- Horses were essential for the Xiongnu both during the time wars and peace.
- They mostly pastured horses, sheep, and oxen. They also had small numbers of camels, wild horses, and mules.
- Once settled, every family was given an allotted portion of land. They did not have written contracts for this, but they valued oral contracts.
- During wars, they prepared by engaging in martial exercises. They were skilled in using bows and arrows on horseback. They did not attack empires or tried to bring a kingdom down. They were more interested in raiding and most often defended their territories from empires trying to disperse them.
XIONGNU TRADITIONS AND LAWS
- The Xiongnu established their own traditions and laws. Some were unique, while the neighboring Chinese empires influenced the other tradition and laws.
- A Xiongnu man could have multiple wives. In the event of his death, the son married his widowed mother. The deceased’s brother could also marry the widow if there was not a son. They did not transmit their names to their descendants.
- The Xiongnu people used coffins and cases to bury their dead. These cases also contained gold, silver, and clothing. It was customary for the wives and servants of a deceased great chief to also be killed and buried with him.
- Punishments were served for those who killed and broke the laws. When one drew a sword against another, the aggressor would get a death sentence. The same punishment was given for other greater crimes.
- Highway robbery would deprive the accused of his family’s possession.
- Other small crimes were punishable by an instrument called the rack.
- The Xiongnu worshipped the sun, moon, earth, stars, and their ancestors. They held special ceremonies where they would drink a horse’s blood.
- They based their battles on the phases of the moon. They engaged in battle during the full moon but withdrew when the moon was waning.
- If someone brought home the body of a slain man, the deceased’s possessions and properties would be theirs to keep.
- The Xiongnu were skilled in attacking by surrounding their enemies and then ambushing them.
- The Xiongnu could be easily dispersed by calamity, and they would simply find another place to live. However, they stayed and fought if their neighboring empires were trying to make them leave.
XIONGNU’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE HAN EMPIRE
- The Warring State Period provided these nomadic people an opportunity to claim the northern and northwestern part of China. However, when the Qin Dynasty reigned, they were forced to flee to the Mongolian Plateau. They were also part of the reason why Emperor Qin started to build a wall, which is now called The Great Wall of China.
- When Emperor Qin died and the country was transitioning to the Han Dynasty, the Xiongnu was reorganized by Modu Chanyu, and he created an empire. They conquered other nomadic regions, and they were recognized as the most prominent nomads.
- Between the Han Dynasty and the Xiongnu, the latter held the balance of power. The Xiongnu almost caused the dethronement of the first Han emperor, Emperor Gaozu.
- When Emperor Gaozu led an army against the Xiongnu, they ended up being ambushed by the Xiongnu. However, the emperor managed to escape after seven days.
- Realizing the impossibility of defeating the nomadic leader, Emperor Gaozu sent Liu Jing to negotiate peace with him. A marriage alliance was arranged in 198 BC. However, the incursions continued making the marriage alliance ineffective.
THE HAN – XIONGNU WAR
- In 133 BC, a significant war escalated between the Xiongnu and the Han Empire, now known as the Han–Xiongnu War. It became a series of wars that lasted until 89 AD.
- It started with the Battle of Mayi, an abortive ambush operation by the Han Dynasty against the Xiongnu forces.
- Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty was the first emperor to become aggressive in dispersing the Xiongnu tribes, and he made an effort to expand the Han Empire’s territories.
- These were mostly led by two generals that Emperor Wu trusted, General Wei Qing and Huo Qubing.
- The Battle of Hexi, led by General Huo Qubing in 121 BC, meant to purge the Xiongnu from the Hexi Corridor.
- The two generals led the campaign in the northern and southern parts of the Gobi Desert, the latter being called the Battle of Mobei, in 123 BC and 119 BC. Both battles were successful in dispersing some Xiongnu tribes.
- Han also insisted on taking control of the western region. The Xiongnu were defeated due to being outnumbered by Han forces
DECLINE OF XIONGNU
- When civil war broke out from 60 BC to 53 BC, the Xiongnu’s decline was inevitable.
- Although they suffered loss against the Han Empire, the civil war sealed its collapse.
- Many of the Xiongnu nomads moved to the south and infiltrated themselves into the Chinese empire.
- Some theories suggest that some nomads from the Xiongnu fled west and later materialized as the Huns, which eventually helped bring down the Roman Empire.
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Xiongnu across 24 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Xiongnu worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Xiongnu which was a federation of tribes of nomadic people who inhabited the Eastern Eurasian Steppe from the 3rd century to the 1st century BC. The Xiongnu was considered the most prominent group of nomads during the Han Dynasty, and this group of tribes lived in an unusually long time compared to other nomadic tribes.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Xiongnu Facts
- Modu Chanyu
- Laws of Xiongnu
- Xiongnu’s Enemies
- The Xiongnu Inquiry
- Han versus Xiongnu
- Chanyu Hunt
- Fact or Bluff
- A Xiongnu Life
- Xiongnu Battles
- The Modern Times Nomads
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Link will appear as Xiongnu Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, August 3, 2020
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