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|Born||c. 234 BCE|
Modu Chanyu (simplified Chinese: 冒顿单于; traditional Chinese: 冒頓單于; pinyin: Mòdú Chányú, Mongolian: Модунь, Modun; Баатар, Baatar, Turkish: Mete Han, Tatar: Мөде_хан, sometimes also transcribed Mete and Maodun) was born c. 234 BCE was the fourth known emperor and founder of the Xiongnu Empire after he killed his father in 209 BCE. Modu ruled from 209 BCE to 174 BCE. He was a military leader under his father Touman, and later the Chanyu and king of the Xiongnu, centered in modern day Mongolia.
Once he had secured the throne, he established a powerful Xiongnu Empire by successfully unifying the tribes of the Mongolian steppes and hence posed an imminent threat to the Chinese Qin Dynasty. His Xiongnu Empire was 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.
He was succeeded by his son Laoshang.
Several scholars have suggested that the reconstructed Middle Chinese pronunciation of mòdùn (冒頓 is /mək-twən/. Ultimately, the Old Chinese pronunciation might have represented the pronunciation of the foreign word baγtur, related to the Central Asian word baγatur (meaning "hero"). Also known as Motun by some sources. It lives in the modern Hungarian language with original meaning in form of bátor, or in older form batur, also in Turkmen language in form of "Batyr" and "Bahadyr".  The etymology of the word is unknown, though the first syllable may be the Iranian word baγ (meaning "god" or "lord"), an element in many later Central Asian titles. The original origin may not be Iranian, as suggested by Clauson, who claims it an original Xiongnu name/title.
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 the 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, where he returned 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 each of the warriors to shoot Modu’s favorite horse. Those who refused were executed. Afterwards, he did this again but with one of his favorite wives and once again executed those who hesitated to do so. 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 strategy.
The rise of the Xiongnu Empire
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 the 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 Dynasty of China, and decisively defeated the Han ruler Gaodi(Whose name is Liu Bang) (by shrewdly trapping him and his forces), forcing him to pay humiliating yearly tributes to the Xiongnu: when Emperor Gao of Han Dynasty launched a military offensive against him, Modu (with 40,000 soldiers) lured the Han army into a trap and ambushed the emperor reputedly with 300,000 elite Xiongnu cavalry, and encircled them for seven days at 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 Xiongnu for the next seventy years.
Despite the violent circumstances by which Modu came to power, the Xiongnu leadership passed on with relatively few problems for 150 years after the beginnings of his rule.
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 Oguz Kagan, an epic ancestor of the Turkic people. The reason for that is a striking similarity of the Oguz-Kagan biography in the Turko-Persian 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 (Collection of information, pp. 56–57)".
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 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.
- Bambooweb Dictionary: Huns
- Batur Tengriqut
- Beckwith (2009), p. 387, n. 8.
- Clauson, Gerard: An etymological dictionary of pre-thirteenth-century Turkish, Clarendon Press (Oxford), 1972. Entry: Bagatur
- Barfield, Thomas (1989). The Perilous Frontier. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell. ISBN 1-55786-043-2.
- Di Cosmo, Nicola (2002). Ancient China and its Enemies: The Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-77064-5.
- Christopher I. Beckwith, Empires of the Silk Road,2009, Chapter One
- Bichurin N.Ya., "Collection of information on peoples in Central Asia in ancient times", vol. 1, Sankt Petersburg, 1851, pp. 56–57
- 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.
|Modu Chanyu of the Xiongnu Empire