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Battle between the Xiongnu (Hun) and the Han Dynasty

Victory Over the Hun: Famous Lost Account of Han Dynasty Triumph Found Carved onto Mongolian Mountain

Archaeologists claim to have rediscovered a triumphant account of China’s ancient military which had been inscribed in cliff face. According to the experts, the inscription narrates how the Han dynasty conquered the nomadic Huns.

Famous Inscription Rediscovered

South China Morning Post reports that an inscription carved into a cliff face in Mongolia back in 89AD has been rediscovered by a team of archaeologists from Mongolia’s Genghis Khan University and China’s Inner Mongolia University during a joint expedition that ended on August 1. Known as the “Inscription on the Ceremonial Mounding at Mount Yanran,” the engraving was the creation of historian Ban Gu in the Khangai Mountains of central Mongolia.

Researchers take rubbings of the ancient text ‘Inscription on the Ceremonial Mounding at Mount Yanran’ from the Mongolian cliff face.

Researchers take rubbings of the ancient text ‘Inscription on the Ceremonial Mounding at Mount Yanran’ from the Mongolian cliff face. Source: Handout ( SCMP)

Works and Days of Ban Gu

Ban Gu (32-92) was an ancient Chinese historian and poet best known for his part in compiling the Book of Han, the second of China's 24 dynastic histories. He also wrote a number of fu, a major literary form, part prose and part poetry, which is particularly associated with the Han era. In 89, Dou Xian led an army of 30, 000 men on an expedition against the Northern Xiongnu in modern Mongolia and Ban Gu accompanied Dou Xian on this campaign. Dou Xian’s army defeated the Xiongnu at the Jiluo Mountains. To celebrate the victory, Dou Xian had a stele carved at the Yanran Mountains. Ban Gu wrote the text of the inscription titled “Inscription for the ceremonial Mounding at the Yanran Mountains.”

A close-up of a section of the carving (in the process of taking a rubbing, which researchers say tells the story of China’s ancient military might. Photo:

A close-up of a section of the carving (in the process of taking a rubbing, which researchers say tells the story of China’s ancient military might. Photo: Handout ( SCMP)

Although Dou Xian was received with honor for his successful Xiongnu expedition, in 92, Emperor He suspected him of plotting a revolt against the throne, had him arrested and sent to his estate, where he was forced to commit suicide. As a member of Dou Xian’s entourage, Ban Gu was arrested as well and died at the age of sixty in the capital prison.

New Find Could Provide Insight into Ancient Chinese History

The archaeologists stated in a press release that the rediscovery of the inscription may possibly shed new light on a very important era of ancient Chinese history, when the Han dynasty was at its peak and destroyed the nomadic Huns. Lead archaeologist Professor Chimeddorji from Inner Mongolia University told South China Morning Post that his team managed to define the discovery after carrying out meticulous research at the site, “We took photos and rubbings of the inscription to determine what the fragments of text meant,” he said. And added, “Then we compared each character engraved on the cliff face with the text in historical records, and saw that 220 out of the 260-odd words we found matched the text exactly. From our results, we could figure out that it was the work of Ban Gu.”

Ban Gu was a famous historian in China. This representation is from a 1921 book.

Ban Gu was a famous historian in China. This representation is from a 1921 book. ( Public Domain )

Chimeddorji is being optimistic that the new find will add to current evidence and help historians to understand better the ancient Sino-Mongolian relations. “First of all, it confirms the accuracy of Han dynasty historical records relating to Ban Gu’s text,” Chimeddorji told South China Morning Post . And continued, “We can now pinpoint the exact location of the ancient Mount Yanran and the movements of the Huns. And from this, we can find the corresponding locations of other landmarks recorded in Chinese historical texts, and do deeper research into how the Han actually defeated the Huns.”

Early empire of Han Dynasty 100 BC (Chinese)

Early empire of Han Dynasty 100 BC (Chinese) ( CC BY 3.0 )

Dou Xian’s Victory and its Long-Lasting Impact

Dou Xian’s triumph over the Huns had a great impact on Chinese history as it ended centuries of conflict between the two civilizations and forced the Huns to leave the Mongolian Plateau. Despite Ban Gu’s account being lost over the centuries, his work never lost its influence throughout Chinese culture and tradition. The Yanran Mountains became a symbol of power and archaeologists kept searching for Ban Gu’s legendary inscription for nearly a thousand years.

Chimeddorji told South China Morning Post that a team of Mongolian archaeologists claimed to find Ban’s inscription back in 1990, but the many teams of researchers from Mongolia and around the world who tried to retrace their steps, failed miserably. However, he proudly stated that his team eventually managed to rediscover the famous inscription after planning their exploration trip carefully for more than three years. He also said that the ambitious joint project was also the first to include native Chinese speakers, which helped his team to decipher and corroborate the text properly.

Ultimately, Gu Ruma, deputy director of the Centre for Mongolian Studies at Inner Mongolia University, told South China Morning Post that the expedition team is currently writing a paper on their discovery and will present it at the Mongolian Historical Studies Society’s annual conference on August 25.

Top image: Battle between the Xiongnu (Hun) and the Han Dynasty ( Henan Museum )

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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