Author Topic: Fengyi Shan 168 AD  (Read 2176 times)

Duncan Head

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Fengyi Shan 168 AD
« on: October 25, 2013, 05:49:23 PM »
Fengyi Shan, 168 AD

Eastern Han China (Duan Jiong) vs Xianlian Qiang (unknown)

Background
Part of a series of campaigns to subdue the various "barbarian" Qiang tribes.

The Qiang were a group of tribes to the west of the Han empire. They are believed to have spoken Tibeto-Burman languages; the modern Qiang people of north-western Sichuan are a remnant. In the Eastern Han period the Chinese divided them into Western Qiang, living in Gansu and neighbouring regions on the Han frontiers, and Eastern Qiang who lived in Shaanxi in closer contact with Chinese communities and the Imperial administration. The Qiang rebelled against mistreatment by Imperial officials and Chinese landowners on several occasions in the second century. The western groups were largely subdued but the general Duan Jiong urged severe measures against the Eastern Qiang, of whom the Xianlian were the chief tribe.

Numbers: Han, about 10,000, perhaps one-third cavalry. Qiang, unspecified but possibly larger.

Sources: Hou Han shu ("HHS"; the History of the Later Han) compiled by Fan Ye in the 5th century.

HHS Chapter 65 contains the biography of Duan Jiong, which is available translated in Gregory Young, Three Generals of Later Han (Faculty of Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra 1984). The extract quoted here is pp.72-74 of the translation, p.2148-9 of the Chinese text.

HHS Chapter 117, the account of the Western Qiang, contains background information. This is available in a translation by Rachel Meakin from her www.qianghistory.co.uk website, along with other Han documents on the Qiang.

The same battle account is given in Sima Guang's 11th-century compilation history, the Zizhi tongjian (chapter 56). This is translated by Rafe de Crespigny in Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling (ANU, Canberra, 1989; an online pdf version 2003 is available from https://digitalcollections.anu.edu.au/html/1885/42048/HuanLing_index.html).

Hou Han shu 65 (extract):
"Now, if I am given 5,000 cavalry, 10,000 footsoldiers, and 3,000 carts, three winters and two summers will be enough to crush the Qiang finally, and settle them for good. ... "

In the spring of the first year of Jianning
[168], Duan Jiong led more than 10,000 troops, carrying fifteen days of supplies, in a march from Pengyang directly to Gaoping. He engaged the various Xianlian tribes in a battle at Fengyi Mountain.

The rebel force was strong, and Duan Jiong's men were afraid. Duan Jiong arranged his troops with long javelins and sharp swords in the centre, protected by three ranks of spearmen, and flanked by strong crossbows. There were light cavalry on each wing. He exhorted his officers and men:

"We have left our homes thousands of miles behind. If we advance, there is victory; to retreat is certain death for all. Give your utmost and we shall share a glorious name!"

Then Duan Jiong gave a great cry, and his men joined in the charge. He galloped his cavalry in a sudden attack from the flanks. The Qiang were thrown into complete disarray, and Duan Jiong took more than eight thousand heads. He also captured 280,000 head of cattle, horses, and sheep.

At this time the Empress Dowager née Dou controlled the court. She sent down an edict saying:

"For years, the Xianlian Eastern Qiang have caused harm. Duan Jiong explained the situation, and wanted to sweep them away. He made forced marches day and night over frost and snow, braving the shot and arrows himself to encourage his men. ...."


Commentary:
We have only a very brief description of this battle, and the main point of interest is the Han deployment.

Note that Duan Jiong originally asked for 15,000 men, one-third of them cavalry. He fought this battle with about 10,000. The proportion of mounted is not specified; it may have been similar, but alternatively if numbers were lower than planned because of men dropping out on the forced marches, he might well have lost a higher proportion of infantry.

Qiang numbers are not given, though the army is described as "strong" relative to the 10,000 Chinese. The reported Qiang casualties – at 8,000, almost as many as there were men in the Han army – also suggest that they originally outnumbered the Chinese. Nor does the account distinguish between enemy infantry and cavalry. This is something of a perennial problem with Qiang armies. There are some mentions of forces in the low thousands consisting entirely of cavalry, but is not clear whether the larger forces that fought battles like this were also predominantly cavalry, or made up their numbers with masses of levied tribal infantry.

A couple of hundred years earlier, around 60 BC, Han shu 69 reports the Western Han general Zhao Chongguo saying "Today Yangyu of the Xianlian Qiang commands 4,000 cavalry and Jiangong has 5,000 cavalry and they are using the rocks and trees on the mountains for defence positions, waiting for a good moment to invade"; if they were to consolidate their alliance with the Han Qiang (not the same Han character as in "Han China") and Kai Qiang groups, there would be "more than 20,000 crack troops". After the conclusion of his campaigns, Zhao reported "The Qiang originally had an army of around 50,000...". The Han and Kai tribes did not in the end join the Xianlian, so perhaps Zhao was talking about a 50,000-strong Xianlian army including the 9,000 cavalry of the two named chiefs, so about 20% cavalry. On the other hand if he did include the military potential of the uncommitted Han and Kai in the "original" 50,000, the cavalry component would have been the combined total of 20,000 "crack troops", or about 40% cavalry. (Thanks to Nik Gaukroger, who first pointed to these passages on the Yahoo Groups dbmmlist).

It seems unlikely that Duan Jiong's 10,000 men could defeat 50,000 Qiang, so the manpower of the Xianlian may have been reduced from the earlier era, or they may not have been able to assemble all their strength against Duan Jiong's daring march. But a cavalry proportion somewhere between 20 and 40% may still be valid.

Qiang equipment and weapons are not discussed either, except for the reference to arrows and other missiles ("shot"). Earlier, the Han shu describes the weapons of the Chuo tribe of the Qiang as "bows, spears, short knives (fudao), swords (jian) and armour".

Duan Jiong's formation is interesting. Javelins are not a typical weapon in Chinese armies, but figurines of soldiers poised to throw spears become common in Chinese tombs in the later Han period and the subsequent Three Kingdoms era. Some of these appear from their facial features and hairstyles to be non-Chinese, and some may even be based on Qiang in Chinese service. Duan Jiong's centre here, with javelinmen behind three ranks of spearmen, is reminiscent of Arrian's legionary deployment against the Alans.

Rather than deploying his crossbowmen behind his close-fighting infantry as described in some earlier Chinese sources, Duan Jiong puts them on the flanks, like Narses' archers at Taginae. This may have been a common Eastern Han deployment: in 192 Yuan Shao used a similar formation of close-combat infantry flanked by crossbowmen against Gongsun Zan's cavalry:

"Shao ordered Chu Yi to take command of eight hundred good soldiers and go up first. A thousand strong crossbows supported them from two sides. Zan thought little of these few soldiers, and set loose his cavalry to put them to flight. Yi's men hid below their shields and made no move. Then, when the enemy were still ten or twenty yards away, at once and together they rose up, shouted to shake the ground, and completely defeated Zan's army."
(from Zizhi tongjian translated in de Crespigny, The Last of the Han (ANU 1969), p.88).
  • Duncan Head

Duncan Head

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Re: Fengyi Shan 168 AD
« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2013, 05:56:28 PM »
This one got a bit longer than I originally expected.
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Andreas Johansson

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Re: Fengyi Shan 168 AD
« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2013, 08:01:12 PM »
One wonders how many ranks of javelin-and-sword-men there were - the wording suggests seems to suggest they, not the spearmen, were thought of as the chief component.

Only light cavalry are mentioned in the description of the deployment, which is slightly odd - why specify if there's only one sort of cavalry present? But then the writer (or translator) seems to like adjectives: sharp swords, long javelins, strong crossbows.
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Duncan Head

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Re: Fengyi Shan 168 AD
« Reply #3 on: October 25, 2013, 08:24:37 PM »
I have also wondered about the ranks of javelinmen. Chinese troops are often formed into either five or ten ranks. "A pair and a trio make a five", says a commentator on Sunzi quoted in the Griffith edition; so a pair of javelins behind a trio of spears would therefore be possible, but as you say the implication is that the javelins were the main force.

As for the "light cavalry", it is not necessarily meant in contrast to "heavy cavalry". It might just mean "fast cavalry" and be as much stylistic as literal.
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aligern

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Re: Fengyi Shan 168 AD
« Reply #4 on: October 25, 2013, 09:13:07 PM »
Is it possible that the men with long javelins and sharp swords are something special, rather than the majority troop type.Could they be like the menalautoi in tenth century Byzantine formations, a special unit for a specific purpose such as dealing with cavalry? Perhaps they could they  there to issue out when the opposing cavalry had charged and been turned back. Perhaps, as in your Arrian suggestion they were to throw overhead at stalled charging cavalry.
Long javelins are going to be heavy and penetrating, more likely to bring down a horse than a lighter, longer range weapon.

Of course when you are in epithet land literary appropriateness may matter more than a realistic description of function.
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