In various times Mongols have been equated with the Scythians, the Magog and the Turkic peoples. Based on Chinese historical texts the ancestry of the Mongol peoples can be traced back to the Donghu, a nomadic confederation occupying eastern Mongolia and Manchuria. The identity of the Xiongnu is still debated today. Although some scholars maintain that they were proto-Mongols, the fact that Chinese histories trace certain Turkic tribes from the Xiongnu complicates the issue. 10] The Donghu, however, can be much more easily labeled proto-Mongol since the Chinese histories trace only Mongolic tribes and kingdoms (Xianbei and Wuhuan peoples) from them, although some historical texts claim a mixed Xiongnu-Donghu ancestry for some tribes (e. g. the Khitan). [11] The Donghu are mentioned by Sima Qian as already existing in Inner Mongolia north of the state of Yan in 699-632 BC. Mentions in the Lost Book of Zhou (Yizhoushu) and the Shanhaijing indicate the Donghu were also active during the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC).

The Mongolic-speaking Xianbei formed part of the Donghu confederation, but had earlier times of independence, as evidenced by a mention in the Guoyu (“??? ” section) which states that during the reign of King Cheng of Zhou (reigned 1042–1021 BC) the Xianbei came to participate at a meeting of Zhou subject-lords at Qiyang (?? ) (now Qishan County) but were only allowed to perform the fire ceremony under the supervision of Chu (? ), since they were not vassals by covenant (?? ).

The Xianbei chieftain was appointed joint guardian of the ritual torch along with Xiong Yi. These early Xianbei came from the nearby Zhukaigou culture (2200-1500BC) in the Ordos Desert where maternal DNA corresponds to Mongolic Daurs and Evenks (Tungusified Xianbei). The Zhukaigou Xianbei (part of the Ordos culture of Inner Mongolia and northern Shaanxi) had trade relations with the Shang dynasty (1600-1046BC). The Zhou clan lived near the Beidi (who included the Xianbei) for 14 generations before moving to the Central Plains in middle Shaanxi under Gugong Danfu).

Another closely connected core Mongolic Xianbei region was the Upper Xiajiadian culture (1000-600 BC) where the Donghu confederation was centered. After the Donghu were defeated by Modu Chanyu the Xianbei and Wuhuan survived as the main remnants of the confederation. Tadun Khan of the Wuhuan (died 207 AD) was the ancestor of the proto-Mongolic Kumo Xi. [12] In 49 AD the Mongolic Xianbei ruler Bianhe (Bayan Khan? ) raided and defeated the Xiongnu, killing 2000, after having received generous gifts from Emperor Guangwu of Han.

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The Xianbei reached their peak under Tanshihuai Khan (reigned 156-181) who expanded the vast, but short lived, Xianbei state. Xianbei Empire under Tanshihuai (141-181) Three prominent proto-Mongol groups split from the Xianbei, as recorded by the Chinese histories: the Nirun (claimed by some to be the Avars), the Khitan and the Shiwei (a sub-tribe called the “Shiwei Menggu” is held to be the origin of the Genghisid Mongols). [13] Besides these three Xianbei groups, there were other Xianbei groups with Mongolic affiliation such as the Murong, Duan and Tuoba.

Their culture was nomadic, their religion Shamanism or Buddhism and their military strength formidable. There is still no direct evidence that the Nirun spoke a Mongolic language, although most scholars agree that they were proto-Mongolic. [14] The Khitan, however, had two scripts of their own and many Mongolic words are found in their half-deciphered writings that are usually found with a parallel Chinese text (for example, nair=sun, sair=moon, tau=five, jau=hundred, m. r=horse, im. a=goat, n. q=dog, m. ng=silver, ju. un=summer, n. m. ur=autumn, u. ul=winter, heu. ur=spring, tau. l. a=rabbit, t. q. a=hen and m. g. o=snake). [15] There is no doubt regarding the Khitan being proto-Mongol. [16] Asia in 500 AD, showing the Nirun (Juan-Juan) Empire and its neighbors Geographically the Tuoba Xianbei ruled Inner Mongolia and northern China, the Nirun (Yujiulu Shelun was the first to use the title Khagan in 402) ruled Outer Mongolia, the Khitan were concentrated in Southern Manchuria north of Korea and the Shiwei were located to the north of the Khitan.

These tribes and kingdoms were soon overshadowed by the rise of the Gok-Turks in 555, the Uyghurs in 745 and the Yenisei Kirghizs in 840. The Tuoba were eventually absorbed into China. The Rouran fled west from the Gok-Turks and either disappeared into obscurity or, as some say, invaded Europe as the Avars under their Khan Bayan I. Some Rouran under Tatar Khan migrated east founding the Tatar tribes, who became part of the Shiwei. The Khitan, who were independent after their separation from the proto-Mongol Kumo Xi (of

Wuhuan origin) in 388 AD, continued as a minor power in Manchuria until one of them, Abaoji (872-926), established the Khitan Liao Dynasty (907-1125). The Khitan fled west after their defeat by the Tungusic Jurchens (later known as Manchus) and founded the Kara-Khitan or Western Liao dynasty (1125–1218) in eastern Kazakhstan. In 1218 Genghis Khan destroyed the Kara-Khitan Kingdom after which the Khitan passed into obscurity. The modern-day minority of Mongolic-speaking Daurs in China are their direct descendants based on DNA evidence. [17][18] The Shiwei included a tribe called the Shiwei Menggu. 19] Bodonchar Munkhag (Chagatai tradition dates ‘Buzanjar Munqaq’ to the rebellion of Abu Muslim or 747 AD. [20]) the founder of the House of Borjigin and the ancestor of Genghis Khan is held to be descended from the Shiwei Menggu. The early Shiwei paid tribute to the Tuoba Wei (386-534) and submitted to the Khitans. After the Khitans left Mongolia the Shiwei Mongols rose to prominence, when from the 1130s there were reciprocally hostile relations between the successive khans of the Khamag Mongol confederation (Khaidu, Khabul Khan and Ambaghai Khan) and the emperors of the Jin dynasty.

With the expansion of the Mongol Empire, the Mongols settled over almost all Eurasia and carried on military campaigns from the Adriatic Sea to Java and from Japan to Palestine. Mongols simultaneously became Padishahs of Persia, Emperors of China, Great Khans of Mongolia and one Mongol even became Sultan of Egypt (Al-Adil Kitbugha). The Mongols of the Golden Horde established themselves to govern Russia by 1240. [21] By 1279, the Mongols conquered the Song Dynasty and brought all of China under control of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. 21] With the breakup of the Empire, the dispersed Mongols quickly adopted the mostly Turkic cultures surrounding them and were assimilated, forming parts of Tatars (not confused with a tribe in ancient Mongolia), Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Yugurs and Moghuls; linguistic and cultural Persianization also began to be prominent in these territories. However, most of the Mongols returned to Mongolia, retaining their language and culture. After the fall of the Yuan Dynasty in 1368 the Mongols established their independent regime as Northern Yuan.

However, the Oirads or Western Mongols began to challenge the Eastern Mongols under the Borjigin monarchs in the late 14th century. Present-day Khalkha Mongols and Inner Mongolians are the most prominent of the remaining Eastern Mongols while the Kalmyks (formerly Oirats) in Europe are the main descendants of the Western Mongols. The Khalkha emerged during the reign of Dayan Khan (1464–1543) as one of the six tumens of the Eastern Mongols. They quickly became the dominant Mongol clan in Outer Mongolia.

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