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Han vs. Rome: Military Comparisons


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#1366 Borjigin Ayurbarwada

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Posted 24 June 2010 - 02:05 PM

For your "refutation", which isn't any, please see here. As for your tedious repetitions with which you are trying to convince yourself of your outdated views, an admin might need to step in to clean-up the thread.



I think the admins might well need to step in to clean up the repetitive garbage this mockery of recent scholarship call "commonly accepted facts" all because he is totally oblivious to studies done abroad outside of his little narrowly confined perspective and knowledge of sources all because they do not suit his preferred conclusion, which all too clearly was driven by his subconsious agenda. And ironically, he even have the stupidity and arrogance to call my posts outdated when most of his posts in regard to Sinology had been those that were circulating between the 50s-80s. Well I'm glad the last round of time wasting is over, or is it? And so to bed. :happy2:

Edited by Borjigin Ayurbarwada, 24 June 2010 - 02:29 PM.


#1367 Hannibal27

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Posted 24 June 2010 - 03:28 PM

So far I have read this entire thread thoroughly and removed approximately 13+ pages of posts from it since my last post here.

Perhaps we could cooperate for a common goal instead of trying to confirm our own conclusions.

Tibet Libre - I think Borjigin Ayurbarwada has made a reasonable point regarding your resources being dated, which you may want to question.

Borjigin Ayurbarwada - You have made great contributions to this thread but I think you could better serve it by leading without attitude.

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#1368 Tibet Libre

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Posted 24 June 2010 - 04:17 PM

Tibet Libre - I think Borjigin Ayurbarwada has made a reasonable point regarding your resources being dated, which you may want to question.


Certainly, I am delighted to do that. Borjigin's claim is receptive to objective scrutiny which, as shown below, renders it completely unsubstantiated. In fact, 7 out of my 8 main sources are from the 1990s or the 2000s:

- Scheidel, Walter; Friesen, Steven J.: ''The Size of the Economy and the Distribution of Income in the Roman Empire'', ''The Journal of Roman Studies'', Vol. 99 (2009), pp. 6191
- GDP in Pre-Modern Agrarian Economies (1-1820 AD). A Revision of the Estimates, by: Elio Lo Cascio, Paolo Malanima, 391-420, in: Rivista di storia economica, Nr. 3, dicembre 2009
- Maddison, Angus: "Contours of the World Economy, 12030 AD. Essays in Macro-Economic History", Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 9780199227211, p. 382, table A.7.
- Craddock, Paul T.: "Mining and Metallurgy", in: Oleson, John Peter (ed.): ''The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World'', Oxford University Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-19-518731-1, pp. 93120 (108)
- Sungmin Hong; Jean-Pierre Candelone; Clair C. Patterson; Claude F. Boutron: "Greenland Ice Evidence of Hemispheric Lead Pollution Two Millennia Ago by Greek and Roman Civilizations", Science, Vol. 265, No. 5180. (1994), pp. 1841
- Sungmin Hong; Jean-Pierre Candelone; Clair C. Patterson; Claude F. Boutron: "History of Ancient Copper Smelting Pollution During Roman and Medieval Times Recorded in Greenland Ice", Science, Vol. 272, No. 5259. (1996), p. 247
- Raymond Goldsmith: "An Estimate of the Size and Structure of the National Product of the Early Roman Empire", Review of Income and Wealth, Vol. 30, No. 3 (1984), 280

The problem, it seems, rather stems from a certain inability on the part of the user to accept recent scholarship which runs contrary to his inflated notion of Han China's economic importance in comparison to Rome's.

#1369 mohistManiac

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Posted 24 June 2010 - 05:44 PM

There was an inherent weakness in all of the projectile weapons used by the Romans and that was because they chose to use the ballista style launching mechanism which used torsion fibers and when wet simply wouldn't function. The proverbial adage certainly rings true for the Roman's legions as it would have for the Han dynasty military: Sun Tzu said EARTH comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.
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#1370 Borjigin Ayurbarwada

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Posted 24 June 2010 - 07:30 PM

Certainly, I am delighted to do that. Borjigin's claim is receptive to objective scrutiny which, as shown below, renders it completely unsubstantiated. In fact, 7 out of my 8 main sources are from the 1990s or the 2000s:

- Scheidel, Walter; Friesen, Steven J.: ''The Size of the Economy and the Distribution of Income in the Roman Empire'', ''The Journal of Roman Studies'', Vol. 99 (2009), pp. 61–91
- GDP in Pre-Modern Agrarian Economies (1-1820 AD). A Revision of the Estimates, by: Elio Lo Cascio, Paolo Malanima, 391-420, in: Rivista di storia economica, Nr. 3, dicembre 2009
- Maddison, Angus: "Contours of the World Economy, 1–2030 AD. Essays in Macro-Economic History", Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 978–0–19–922721–1, p. 382, table A.7.
- Craddock, Paul T.: "Mining and Metallurgy", in: Oleson, John Peter (ed.): ''The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World'', Oxford University Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-19-518731-1, pp. 93–120 (108)
- Sungmin Hong; Jean-Pierre Candelone; Clair C. Patterson; Claude F. Boutron: "Greenland Ice Evidence of Hemispheric Lead Pollution Two Millennia Ago by Greek and Roman Civilizations", Science, Vol. 265, No. 5180. (1994), pp. 1841
- Sungmin Hong; Jean-Pierre Candelone; Clair C. Patterson; Claude F. Boutron: "History of Ancient Copper Smelting Pollution During Roman and Medieval Times Recorded in Greenland Ice", Science, Vol. 272, No. 5259. (1996), p. 247
- Raymond Goldsmith: "An Estimate of the Size and Structure of the National Product of the Early Roman Empire", Review of Income and Wealth, Vol. 30, No. 3 (1984), 280

The problem, it seems, rather stems from a certain inability on the part of the user to accept recent scholarship which runs contrary to his inflated notion of Han China's economic importance in comparison to Rome's.

Tibet Libre, you appear to lack common sense when it comes to your selection and interpretation of sources, which is awfully undisciplined to say the least. Just because your book's publishing date dates to after 1990, doesn't mean the sources which they drew their information from was. Are you really that oblivious to this simple fact?

Furthermore, just because your books commented on a subject, doesn't mean the author in question are authoritative in regard to that topic. Really, these are basic common sense and it surprises me that someone who is quoting extensively from these books would fail to catch that.


Not a single one of your major claims for comparisons are up to date. The sources you used for Chinese population cited from Scheidel's book comes from a 1977 published work by Durand. Your information in regard to Chinese GDP comes from Maddison, who based his figures on the works of Perken and Rozman, works that are outdated by at least 20 years and lacked an in depth analysis of the matter. For those of the Han, Maddison has no reliable data whatsoever. Yet you purposely and tendentiously chose his estimates over far more exhaustive studies by Wu Hui on the Han period, as well as by the much more updated studies done in the past 10 years by Deng Zhen, Wang Xinping, and Guo Song Yi.

I don't blame you if language is a barrier for you since some of the most updated studies are published in Chinese, a language you don't know, instead of English. Ignorance is not a sin, but refusing to accept superior sources when given is just a sign of an incompetent scholar with an unfounded ego. The problem with your data precisely lies in its lack of comparitive neutrality. You are using new data for the Roman Empire but using material that were either utterly inexhaustive, or circulating among old generation Sinologists since the 60s and 70s for virtually all of your Chinese data, rendering all comparisons on your part worthless. Even worse, you refuse to accept newer and more complete sources when provided. This repetitive behavior from you is getting tiresome and disgusting.

Some of those other figures you brought up(such as Gold and iron) simply cannot be calculated to even within several hundred percent degree of precision with the available sources, and are too controversial and hence unreliable in comparitive studies of any sort. I'm sorry, but if you are even trying to be objective you need to do better.

Edited by Borjigin Ayurbarwada, 31 August 2010 - 10:53 PM.


#1371 mohistManiac

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Posted 27 June 2010 - 04:35 AM

I doubt it has been brought up because it sounds pretty darn crazy but I suppose it could just work. Rome would be at a disadvantage because the Han China would bring to bear the armies of the civilizations that had tributary relations with the Han China such as the Baiyue or Minyue, Nanyue which had modern day Vietnam as part of its territory, the Silla in Korea, the Wa in Japan, the Xiongnu in Mongolia and possibly others. As you can see this would vastly improve the strategic effort of the Han China in terms of total military might and budget concerns and bring to bear vastly greater tactical solutions on the battlefield resulting from combined effort. From the apparent victories of the Huns against the Roman legions we could surmise that a combined tactical force of superior cavalry and missile attacks would fare even better against inferior cavalry and torsion fiber based missile weapons which are quite useless in damp weather especially rain.
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#1372 Intranetusa

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Posted 27 June 2010 - 06:05 PM

In the long-term, the real problem for the Imperium constituted the semi-sedentary European barbarian peoples which settled around the fringes of its empire and which were pushed by the advance of the Huns and the Avars permanently across the Danube and Rhine into Roman territory: the Germanic peoples and the Slavs.

The nomadic Huns and Avars themselves were not such an unsurmountable problem, since both were decisively beaten witin 75 years of their arrival in Europe, actually much quicker than the Chinese managed to do so with their northern nomadic enemies.


Comparing the Xiongnu and the Huns is like comparing a boulder with a pebble. The Xiongnu confederation was one of the largest steppe confederations at the time, composed of many different tribes and kingdoms of steppe people.

The Huns are believed to be the defeated remnants of one of these tribes. Furthermore, the Huns were nothing more than a disorganized rabble who only wanted loot and pressure the Romans into giving them tribute. They had long since abandoned their cavalry roots and began relying heavily on barbarian infantry.

The Romans too were weakened and far from their height of the 2nd century.

So this comparison is pointless.
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#1373 Intranetusa

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Posted 27 June 2010 - 06:21 PM

Tibet liberation,

The problem here is you are cherry picking sources to make the Han look weak and the Romans look strong.

The Madison source clearly says the both the Roman GDP and Han Empire GDP were about equal at around 22-27 million units. Yet you decide to use this estimate for the Han Empire (which is the lowest estimate) and then decide to cherry pick the highest estimate for the Romans using a completely different source.

And your statements about iron production is entirely bogus, because:
1. Different sources vary widely on the total amount of production.
2. Iron tonnage production isn't very well known or studied for BOTH the Han Empire or the Roman Empire.
3. Besides small specific regions, neither empires accurately recorded anything related to iron production. The iron industry of the Weald and Iron for the Eagles which is what the estimate is based off mainly discusses iron production in Britain, not the entire empire.

Edited by Intranetusa, 27 June 2010 - 06:47 PM.

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#1374 Borjigin Ayurbarwada

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Posted 28 June 2010 - 03:07 AM

It must be said that Sim and Ridge's calculated figure of 80,000 tons of iron per year for the Roman Empire is largely a speculation projected from the estimate of British iron production and it is probably an absolute high end estimate.(Scholars gave different estimates of iron production in Weald alone, ranging from 250 tons to over 800 tons a year) Furthermore, even for Britain, archeologists still disagree whether some of the sites discovered were from Roman periods, and even here estimates still rests largely on assumptions of how much these private iron industries produced, a fact that cannot be completely varified by archeology.
We know from Strabo that Britain is one of the area with a high level of iron production and exported it to the other parts of the empire; "
Britain bears grain, cattle, gold, silver and iron, these things accordingly, are exported from the island."




We must realize that British iron production in around 1700 is roughly between 15,000-30,000 tons, which is 10 times higher than the amount estimated for Roman British iron production(2,250 tons). Yet Hartwell estimates early 18th century Europe to produce around 140,000 -180,000 tons of iron annually, which is only twice higher than the 80,000 tons given for the Roman Empire by Sim and Ridge. Roman Britain's population was around 2-4 million out of a population of 60-70 million people for the entire Roman Empire(unless of course Sim and Ridge assumes the high count of over 100 million people for the Roman Empire, which was very likely), over 3/4 of which are in Europe, while Britain's population in 1700 is around 5-6 million, out of near 120 million people in all of Europe. This means that Roman Britain probably had a higher percentage of Europe's population than 18th century Britain did yet produced a much lower percentage of iron. With roughly the same level of technology everywhere in Europe in both periods, its difficult to imagine that Roman Britain would only produce around 1/40 the amount of iron in the Roman Empire, while Britain in 1700 could produce near 1/6 of Europe's iron even though Roman Britain had a higher percentage of Europe's population compared to 18th century Britain. Clearly, the gap lies more with the different standard of estimates between the historian in question rather than any varifiable facts.

By comparing Sim and Ridge's esimate with Wagner's(and we must also take into consideration that Wagner's speculations also only pertains to the Western Han and not that of the Eastern Han, where iron production increased both per capita, due to increased use of water bellows, and in total, from more iron foundaries and population increases)we are saying that Roman Britain produced half as much iron as the entire Han Empire! This is despite the fact that over 100 major large scale iron foundry locations were found in Han times, each worked by at least hundreds of workers(some up to over 10,000) and each utilizing blast furnaces compared to only 113 small private bloomery furnace workshops found in Roman Weald, where the majority of Roman iron industries in Britain lay, manned by only a handful of unskilled workers.

By comparing the above qualitatively, we should see that Han iron industry should be at least tens of magnitudes higher than British iron production, but that was clearly not reflected in Tibet Libre's selective comparison of sources.

This is why qualitative analysis is far more reliable than quantitative analysis of any sort, if the later can be done at all, even to within ten times the amount of accuracy, for this early period.

According to Donald Wagner, the private production in Rome, although numerous, produced very small scales of iron and were usually in low quality:

"While there did exist large state ironworks run by the Roman army, most iron production occurred in thousands of tiny units scattered in villages throughout the Empire. There would have been no way at all of enforcing a monopoly, and it is also difficult to imagine what advantage the Roman state might have derived from such a monopoly.

The difference lay in the technology of iron production. Bloomery smelting, the only iron-smelting process known in Europe until Medieval times, lends itself well to small-scale production. It was used in early China to some (unknown) extent, but by the 3rd century B.C. it appears that most iron was being produced in blast furnaces, which provide very large economies of scale.

...In the Roman Empire, though iron production was rarely concentrated, there were other industries whose technology did encourage large-scale production. Rostovtzeff (1957, pp. 349­352) notices a trend in the Imperial period away from 'house-economy' toward large-scale 'capitalist' industry and then back toward a smaller scale of industrial production. This course of development is loosely analogous to that seen in Han China, with the rise of blast furnace iron production, the establishment of large ironworks under the monopoly, and the later rise of illegal iron production, very likely on a smaller scale than the monopoly ironworks. Any detailed comparison is of course rendered pointless by two important differences in Han China: a technology which provides extremely large economies of scale and a powerful interventionist government.

Rostovtzeff, writing in the 1920's, discusses several possible explanations for the 'failure' of large-scale industry to develop further in Roman Europe. He concludes that a major factor was a failure of demand...The quotations above from the debate in Han China include arguments which are common today. Small-scale production can have important political, social, and ecological advantages; large-scale production can be technically superior, producing a better product, and can be more efficient in its consumption of scarce resources. "


In conclusion, Tibet Libre's quantitative datas have virtually no value in a comparative analysis of any sort because of the utter scarcity of information in regard to both periods. Yet, whatever the total output was, the Han appears to have led in the scale of production of iron through a qualitative analysis, and even if one cannot conclusively prove the fact, it seems that Han iron production were much better organized, concentrated, had a larger quantity of skilled labor, and produced greater amount of high quality iron. In another word, the Han iron industry was much more industrialized and "capitalized" since it was bounded by a large organization that gathered a large human resource of skilled labor for larger levels of production than the unorganized, scattered, small household-sized bloomery workshops that characterized the Roman iron industry.

Edited by Borjigin Ayurbarwada, 05 January 2011 - 09:07 AM.

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#1375 brightness

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Posted 28 June 2010 - 07:22 PM

I doubt it has been brought up because it sounds pretty darn crazy but I suppose it could just work. Rome would be at a disadvantage because the Han China would bring to bear the armies of the civilizations that had tributary relations with the Han China such as the Baiyue or Minyue, Nanyue which had modern day Vietnam as part of its territory, the Silla in Korea, the Wa in Japan, the Xiongnu in Mongolia and possibly others. As you can see this would vastly improve the strategic effort of the Han China in terms of total military might and budget concerns and bring to bear vastly greater tactical solutions on the battlefield resulting from combined effort. From the apparent victories of the Huns against the Roman legions we could surmise that a combined tactical force of superior cavalry and missile attacks would fare even better against inferior cavalry and torsion fiber based missile weapons which are quite useless in damp weather especially rain.


It's quite improbabe for either Han or Rome to launch a sufficiently large military expedition to reach the other and fight the other successfully. Hun invasion of Rome took place in the 5th century AD/CE, not the 2nd century BC like XiongNu encountered Han. The sedantary cultures were doing much better vis the nomads in the 2nd century BC than they were in the 5th century AD/CE. There are questions whether the two nomadic tribes were the same one anyway. Both China and Rome were under severe nomadic pressure in the 5th century; neither faired especially well. If anything, the East Roman Empire did endure for another 1000 years.

#1376 Intranetusa

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Posted 28 June 2010 - 09:34 PM

Roman vs Han will probably end up as a proxy war.

If you can magically transport two armies together, you'd basically have superior infantry vs superior cavalry/missiles.
I'd call it a tie and it comes down to leadership and luck.

Edited by Intranetusa, 29 June 2010 - 12:10 AM.

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#1377 mohistManiac

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Posted 28 June 2010 - 11:18 PM

It's quite improbabe for either Han or Rome to launch a sufficiently large military expedition to reach the other and fight the other successfully. Hun invasion of Rome took place in the 5th century AD/CE, not the 2nd century BC like XiongNu encountered Han. The sedantary cultures were doing much better vis the nomads in the 2nd century BC than they were in the 5th century AD/CE. There are questions whether the two nomadic tribes were the same one anyway. Both China and Rome were under severe nomadic pressure in the 5th century; neither faired especially well. If anything, the East Roman Empire did endure for another 1000 years.


Yes but you can already see the evidence that the Romans did not take well to an invasion by a largely guerilla style tactical force. The Roman Empire would have not been so lucky if they had to face the Xiongnu. The main point is while the Roman Empire could be pitted against the Han China in militaristic terms it is largely forgotten that the Han China had allies of its own. It is hard to see just how such collaborative effort might be managed between different eastern cultures except through perhaps special events like the Battle of Myeongnyang where the forces of Ming helped the Joseon navy against Japanese navy.
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#1378 Intranetusa

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Posted 29 June 2010 - 12:14 AM

It's quite improbabe for either Han or Rome to launch a sufficiently large military expedition to reach the other and fight the other successfully. Hun invasion of Rome took place in the 5th century AD/CE, not the 2nd century BC like XiongNu encountered Han. The sedantary cultures were doing much better vis the nomads in the 2nd century BC than they were in the 5th century AD/CE. There are questions whether the two nomadic tribes were the same one anyway. Both China and Rome were under severe nomadic pressure in the 5th century; neither faired especially well. If anything, the East Roman Empire did endure for another 1000 years.


For the 5th century, it was weakened Rome vs weakened Steppe nomads.

As for the 2nd century BCE, Rome would have fared better against the nomads since it was pre-Marian reforms and they had a more balanced force as opposed to the mostly heavy infantry of post-Marian armies. But unless they did what the Han did - restructure their military strategy, create all-cavalry contingents, and adopt nomadic tactics, they wouldn't fare too well in the long run. Late Imperial Roman military reforms that saw a decrease in infantry and increase in cavalry are examples reforms as responses to pressure from heavy cavalry millitaries such as the Sassanids...

Edited by Intranetusa, 29 June 2010 - 12:15 AM.

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#1379 Zhao Yun '87

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Posted 29 June 2010 - 11:07 PM

Has anyone ever thought that a battle between the Roman armies and Han armies could have been similar to Greece vs. Persia? Smaller numbers of better armored, better trained troops versus large quantities of troops with wider variation in army organization. I find it very similar. Yes, I know people will argue that the Chinese had good armor too and had well trained troops, but if you look at it objectively it was nowhere near in large numbers. Their troops mainly had leather corselets and caps. A large factor of armor is also their smaller shield. I personally would like to think that Han would fare well, but in a pitched battle I'm pretty sure history would have repeated itself.

Another thing I thought about after mohist brought up the Chinese allies is that the Romans had allies as well. In fact, I'm fairly sure the Gauls and Germans would have had a much higher effect on the Chinese than the Chinese auxiliaries would have had on the Romans. Even if they could handle their wild style of fighting the main problem would be the Gauls and Germans appearance and way of acting. I'm sure everyone here knows morale is a huge factor in war and the barbarians of the West were disturbing enough to shake battle hardened Romans just by their appearance and behavior, and they lived right next to them. One can only imagine the effect it would have on the Chinese who would be new to them. In addition to the fact that they are frightening and they hadn't had any contact prior, the barbarians, especially the Germans, were very tall. I'm sure everyone knows that until recently the average Chinese was not very tall at all, which would add to their fear.

#1380 mohistManiac

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Posted 30 June 2010 - 01:19 AM

Has anyone ever thought that a battle between the Roman armies and Han armies could have been similar to Greece vs. Persia? Smaller numbers of better armored, better trained troops versus large quantities of troops with wider variation in army organization. I find it very similar. Yes, I know people will argue that the Chinese had good armor too and had well trained troops, but if you look at it objectively it was nowhere near in large numbers. Their troops mainly had leather corselets and caps. A large factor of armor is also their smaller shield. I personally would like to think that Han would fare well, but in a pitched battle I'm pretty sure history would have repeated itself.

Another thing I thought about after mohist brought up the Chinese allies is that the Romans had allies as well. In fact, I'm fairly sure the Gauls and Germans would have had a much higher effect on the Chinese than the Chinese auxiliaries would have had on the Romans. Even if they could handle their wild style of fighting the main problem would be the Gauls and Germans appearance and way of acting. I'm sure everyone here knows morale is a huge factor in war and the barbarians of the West were disturbing enough to shake battle hardened Romans just by their appearance and behavior, and they lived right next to them. One can only imagine the effect it would have on the Chinese who would be new to them. In addition to the fact that they are frightening and they hadn't had any contact prior, the barbarians, especially the Germans, were very tall. I'm sure everyone knows that until recently the average Chinese was not very tall at all, which would add to their fear.


Yes this is interesting to consider the team player aspect of warfare and there have been times when smaller numbers can outdo larger numbers. I am reminded how Alexander the Great conquered all the way to India. As for the fear factor thing it depends on who is doing the fearing. An infantry man carrying the same sort of weapons would probably have a difficult time engaging in battle with a German thug warrior but the Han China infantrymen were equipped with ge and crossbows, not sure about how shield tactics worked. It reminds me of when Indiana Jones shot the poor man brandishing his scimitar in one of the installments.
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