From their earliest historical records, the Chinese spoke of the nomads in modern-day Mongolia and referred to them as Huns, or primitive tribes, and others as Xiongnu, or northern slaves, who regularly raided and looted its northern kingdoms. When the Qin Dynasty emerged in 221 BCE to unify the sedentary Chinese, one of the first moves by Emperor Qin Shi Huangda – most famous as the creator of the Terracotta was to merge a smaller series of wall’s into major new defense line, the predecessor of today’s Great Wall of China. The nomads fought back by creating the first powerful Central Asian state of Hunnu under the legendary ModuShanyu, who murdered his own father to usurp the throne in 209 BCE. Also known as Xiongnu, these Turkic-speaking nomads from the southwest of today’s Mongolia created a vast empire stretching from Manchuria and Lake Baikal in the east and north to today’s Inner Mongolia and northwestern China.

Recognizing that only a massive transformation would invite his independent-minded nomads, ModuShanyu introduced a decimal system of military organization that would serve the Mongolians well for centuries. Each tumen of 10,000 men was subdivided into units of 1000 , 100 and 10 with each leader accountable to the leader above. Each soldier answered to everyone in his unit. With an army of 240,000 men, this iron discipline allowed him to conquer other nomadic tribes and eventually force the collapse of the Qin Dynasty and its replacement by the Han with whom Modu signed a peace treaty, including the provision of Chinese princess – not for the last time in forthcoming history. But before long, the agreement collapsed over who would control the trade routes now known as the “Silk Road”, which by then had become China’s link with the rest of the world.

With its capital in the Orhon Valley, the Hunnu Empire lasted for another 100 years after Modu’s death in 147BCE, dominating Central Asia and leaving behind a rich legacy of royal cemeteries and city-fortresses in the Mongolian heartland. They show a mixed sedentary and nomadic society and high level of prosperity. Archaeologist have excavated and studied a vast city, including a cemetery, at Tamiryn Ulaan Khoshuu along the Tamir River, a tributary of the Orhon. But best known is large burial site of Noyon-Uul north of Ulaanbaatar, where archeologists first discovered evidence of trade along the Silk Road. In 2007, a joint Mongolian- South Korean team discovered bronze and iron artifacts, a gold necklace and solver spoon in tomb complex at DuulgaUul in Hentii aimag east of the capital. Remains of other city-fortresses from this period also exist around the country, although often complicated by later construction, such as the Herlen Bars complex along Herlen River in eastern Dornod aimag.

Finally crushed and then split, the southern Hunnu became vassals and joined the Han Chinese in attacking their northern relatives around the year 90 CE. The defeated northerners eventually fled westward to present- day Hungary, from where in the fourth century CE they terrorized Rome and Constantinople under the infamous Attila the Hun.

Resource: Carl Robinson "Mongolia Nomad Empire of Eternal Blue Sky"