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Xiongnu army during the Han period


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#1 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 08 September 2005 - 11:10 PM

I'm not well-informed about Xiongnu army during Han dynasty, although I know they were predominantly cavalry-based.

I have a number of questions:

1. Are there any infantry in Xiongnu army?

2. Were Xiongnu cavalry during Han dynasty predominantly light cavalry or heavy cavalry?

3. What were the weapons used by the Xiongnu cavalry?

4. Was it true that Xiongnu invented the stirrups?

5. What was the size of Xiongnu army? Was it about 300,000 ? How were they organised?
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#2 thirdgumi

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Posted 09 September 2005 - 03:30 AM

I could only contribute a few answers.

The number 300,000 was recorded in the Shi Ji (史记), in the chapter of Xiong Nu Lie Zhuan (匈奴列傳), it said:

是時漢兵與項羽相距,中國罷於兵革,以故冒頓得自彊,控弦之士三十餘萬.

It said that Mo Du Chan Yu controled more than 300,000 archers. Sima Qian only said 300,000 "men who control bowstring", I presumed they were all horsearchers because of previous statements of Xiong Nu been all armored horsemen (read below).

Their numbers could differe from time to time, like after vicious campaigns of Han forces, their numbers would diminush.

There were insteresting records in Shi Ji about Xiong Nu:

兒能騎羊,引弓射鳥鼠;少長則射狐兔:用為食.士力能毌弓,盡為甲騎.

It said: - when in kid they could ride on sheeps, shot mice and birds with bow; when little older they could shot foxs and rabbits, for food. Adults could completely draw a bow, they were all armored horsemen. -

By this depiction of Sima Qian, it seems that all Xiong Nu forces were armored horsmen, we don't know what kind of armor they got though. Leather, bronze, iron? I'm more inclined to leather though, because there were a decree during Han Wu Di's reign which forbit the exportation of metals to Xiong Nu which implied they lacked metal or had no means to process metals.

This is about their weapons:

其長兵則弓矢,短兵則刀鋋.

It said: - Their long range weapons were bows and arrows, short range weapons were knives/sabers and short spears with iron handles. -

The short spears with iron handles was actually an explaination given by later historians, Sima Qian only mensioned the weapon only as 鋋 (chan).

About their organization, Shi Ji had the following lines:

置左右賢王,左右谷蠡王,左右大將,左右大都尉,左右大當戶,左右骨都侯.匈奴謂賢曰「屠耆」,故常以太子為左屠耆王.自如左右賢王以下至當戶,大者萬騎,小者數千,凡二十四長,立號曰「萬騎」.諸大臣皆世官.呼衍氏,蘭氏,其後有須卜氏,此三姓其貴種也.
...
而左右賢王﹑左右谷蠡王最為大,左右骨都侯輔政.諸二十四長亦各自置千長﹑百長﹑什長﹑裨小王﹑相﹑封都尉﹑當戶﹑且渠之屬.

It said, Xiong Nu set: - Left and Right kings of Virtuous, Left and Right Kings of Lu Li , Left and Right Grand generals, Left and Right Grand captains, Lef and Right Grand Dang Hu, Lef and Right marquises of Gu Du (officials not belong to the family of the ruler - explained in Hou Han Shu). The Xiong Nu's word for "virtuous" was called Tu Qi (or Zhu Qi - explained by later historians), so they usualy named the crown prince the Left king of Tu Qi. From Left and Right kings of Virtuous to Lef and Right Grand Dang Hu, the highest ranked ones got tens of thousands of horsemen and the lowest ranked ones got thousands, there were 24 officers called "Ten Thousands Cavalry" (I didn't get this part). All the officials were hereditary, the Hu Yan clan, the Lan clan, and later Xu Bo (or Xu Bu, not sure) clan, these family names belonged to noblility.

...

The Left and Right kings of Virtuous and the Left and Right Kings of Lu Li were the highst ranked, Lef and Right marquises of Gu Du helped to rule. The 24 officers also set for each one of them Qian Zhang (Leaders of thousand), Bai Zhang (Leaders of hundred), Shi Zhang (Leaders of ten), Pi Xiao Wang (assistant small kings), Xiang (ministers), Feng Du Wei (captains), Hu Dang (name of the rank), Ju Ju (or Qie Ju, name of the rank) as their subordinates.

I don't know if my translations are correct, someone help me here?
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Therefor, its existence is a crime, and the punishment is death - thirdgumi

#3 Borjigin Ayurbarwada

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Posted 09 September 2005 - 02:31 PM

"Han Wu Di's reign which forbit the exportation of metals to Xiong Nu which implied they lacked metal or had no means to process metals."

Xiongnu could make their own iron, its just a difference in quality

#4 ChiangAP

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Posted 09 September 2005 - 05:04 PM

I'm not well-informed about Xiongnu army during Han dynasty, although I know they were predominantly cavalry-based.

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And what happened to the Xiongnu after they had been defeated by the Han dynasty? It seems that they reappear in Europe under the name of Huns. They had a horrible reputation (all European schoolchildren learn about their king Attila, "the scourge of God". They were finally defeated by the Roman and Frank armies led by general Aetius at Champs Catalauniques (East of France).
This is what we learn about the Hun army:

The Hun Military Like other steppe people, Hun warriors fought exclusively as cavalry, and their warriors relied on the mobility of their horses and the penetration power of their composite bows. Like other steppe people, the Huns were natural warriors, having shot a bow and ridden on a horse for their entire life. On the battlefield, the Huns would fire a shower of arrows, inflicting casualties in long range.

When the enemies tried to close in, they would gallop away while turning their bodies and firing their bows at the enemy. Many Europeans, barbarians especially, were unused to such hit and run tactics, and thus were at a disadvantage. The proficiency of Hun warriors made them a popular choice as mercenaries. The Hun mercenary force was decisive in victory of the East Romans over the West Romans in the battle of Sisca in 388.

Nobles usually wore armor, most likely scale armor, while regulars wore little or none. Shields and helmets were commonly issued to all warriors alike. Besides their famed composite bow, the Huns also occasionally carried swords, lances, and other irregular weapons such as lassos.

The Hun army has always been exaggerated in size to promote their ferocity. Accounts claim the size of Attila's army at Catalaunian plains being at 200,000. A more realistic and reasonable size would be around 30,000. Accounts also describe that the Huns eventually switched from being a cavalry army to an infantry army. The "infantry" Hun army was not because they had dismounted, but because of other barbarians infantry that the Huns incorporated into their army. At Catalaunian Plains, at least half of Attila's army was other barbarians, namely Germans and Ostrogoths. Finally, there is the matter of siegecraft. In a siege during Attila's Italian campaign, it was noted that the Huns themselves failed to storm the walls while the "other barbarians" in his army did. From this, we can imply that the Hun siegecraft was only as good as the other barbarians that they incorporated into their army. But the consistent success and the numerous cities that Attila did capture make this a point to ponder

#5 Sephodwyrm

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Posted 10 September 2005 - 03:33 AM

The "knives" you showed us kenneth...are actually currency.
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#6 thirdgumi

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Posted 11 September 2005 - 05:08 AM

It is a shame the Hun strengths are not included in this text...

I believe in Shi Ji, there are mensioned the strengths of Xiong Nu, I will take a look at it when I get some free time.
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Therefor, its existence is a crime, and the punishment is death - thirdgumi

#7 Kenneth

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Posted 11 September 2005 - 07:39 PM

The "knives" you showed us kenneth...are actually currency.

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Incorrect. Did you read the text along with the pictures?
Look a little closer Seph. The central knifes are currency from the warring states period but not the others.
The form of this cash comes from the 'Steppes style' knife....of which the others are pocket knifes and NOT cash. The money reflects something which had value, as did the 'spade' money of the period.
The person I obtained these from is a coin collector of Chinese currency primarily and there is no confusion. The 'knife' money comes in distinctive types for different states (as well as gold for Chu, different 'spade' and circular money, and jade/stone/pottery cowrie imitations and cowries which the Chinese character for money comes from) I have some other examples of early cash, including 2 bone/horn cowrie imitations and Qin Ban Liang. They are actually the cheaper types from the time period for a collector.
The text book in the background is of Ordos knives. for comaprison They come in many variations and are not cash but claerly what the cash mimics.
If you handle them the difference is clear in the casting, weight and proportions. Money is thin and uniform. The knives have bevels from repeated sharpenings. They are a well known artefactual type of the period.

click on thumbnail to see the details at full size.
The central 'coins' has some wierd archiac Chinese characters on one on the left and the right side one is different northern state I forget...but it was one regarded as semi-barbarian in east Zhou. The right side one is broken at the end.
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Edit Dec 2005;
Yun has moved the earlier post commented on above so to make sense of these comments I add them here minus the reference to the origin of the 'Huns' and leaving in the comments on the military and material culture of Xiongnu;


Wen di was submitted this report by Chao Cuo (as quoted in 'weapons of ancient China' pp222-223;)

In his analysis of strong and weak points of the Huns and the Han dynasty.....he believe the strong points {of the Han} could be shown in the following ways; "Throw the chariots into the battle on the plains without any obstacles, where tey can charge freely, and throw the Huns into confusion; use our powerful crossbows and long shafted halberds so that we can hit the Huns at ditances they can not hit back {if Hun spears were short and crossbows fire 260m this is true!). The Huns will not be able to resist a general offensive by our heavily armoured soldiers carrying long sharp & short weapons if we coordinated these soldiers with mobile crossbow units seending sally after sally of arrows, which the Huns LEATHER SHIELDS could not withstand.
When dismounted to fight on foot the Huns could not stand the onset of double edged swords {interestingly this is not the ring-hilt Dao that is a feature of Han swords} and halberds {ge/Ji}, becuase they are used to fighting on horseback.
These are the strong points of the armed forces of the Han dynasty."

Judging by the time of this submission and whose ear it was designed for I believe it may paint a grander picture for the Han than Han/Hun warfare really was...even later than this Jingdi was trying non-military means to control the Xiongnu and Wudis grand expeditions. East Han had expeditions also which were described in contemporary commentary as effective as 'fishing in the Yangtse without a net''.
The Xiongu could enter a battle when it suited them and vanish into the plains when it didnt. To draw out Han supply lines and be able to extract themselves from bad situations meant the Xiongnu would survive all the Han attempts to supress them (raiding even resumed within Wudis lifetime) and remain a group that woudl trouble those that followed the West and then Eastern Han.
It is a shame the Hun strengths are not included in this text...but it is on the Chinese weapons of course.
There are texts in John Piscopo's bibliographies that have ancient weapons of the Ordos region that would be useful.
One thing worth noting is the adoption from the steppes nomads dress for Chinese cavalry (i.e trousers), the popularity of 'ordos style' belt plaques and motif in East Zhou and Han art....and the so-called 'Steppes stlye or Xiongu style knife' which was adopted from here also by the Chinese. Even from Shang some influence is shown is artefactual types and the 'knife money' cash of the the late Warring States period shows how the utility of these knives had now to Chinese been recognised as a commodity.
The Huns advantages could be theorised as mobility, toughness, skill/archery from horseback, foraging/the ability of each man to potentially survive in the steppes if the army dispersed.
Here's some of the knives and in the middle the Chinese money from 2 states..on the left is Yan states 'Ming' cash that has archiac characters of Sun/Moon on reverse.
Posted Image
The image is too dark but dont have the camera on me to retake this old image.
The knife on the bottom left has a pattern in the handle and the end has broken off where there may have been a horned animal head. It had 3 fixtures for end docaration instead of the usual ring end.

Edited by Kenneth, 15 December 2005 - 11:04 PM.

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#8 thirdgumi

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 06:44 AM

Ok, I found the advantages of Xiong Nu presented by Chao Cuo, it was not in Shi Ji, but rather in Han Shu, the biography of Yuan Ang and Chao Cuo, it said:

上下山阪,出入溪澗,中國之馬弗與也;險道傾仄,且馳且射,中國之騎弗與也;風雨罷勞,飢渴不困,中國之人弗與也:此匈奴之長技也.

It said: - Climbing and descending hillsides, crossing rivulets and ravines, Chinese horses couldn't compare with theirs; in narrow grounds, riding and shooting at the same time, Chinese cavalry couldn't compare to them; when exposed to winds and rains, hunger and thirsty, Chinese people couldn't compare with them. These are the advantages of Xiong Nu. -

I don't know if my interpretation is correct though. :P
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Therefor, its existence is a crime, and the punishment is death - thirdgumi

#9 thirdgumi

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Posted 18 September 2005 - 09:41 AM

No problem Kenneth, always a pleasure.
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Therefor, its existence is a crime, and the punishment is death - thirdgumi

#10 shurite7

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Posted 18 September 2005 - 07:08 PM

Xioangnu...is it one word or two...Xiong Nu? I've seen both ways which leads me to ask this. What does Xiong mean? From what I understand the word nu is a crossbow. Would this not mean Xiong nu are people with a crossbow? I realize this isn't correct but thought I would ask.
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#11 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 18 September 2005 - 09:56 PM

Xioangnu...is it one word or two...Xiong Nu? I've seen both ways which leads me to ask this. What does Xiong mean? From what I understand the word nu is a crossbow. Would this not mean Xiong nu are people with a crossbow? I realize this isn't correct but thought I would ask.


Xiong Nu in chinese character is 匈奴. "Xiong" actually has no meaning, it is a transliteration of the "Xiong 匈 " tribe. "Xiong" is a unique character that refers only to "Xiong Nu". "Nu 奴" means slave. The "Nu" that refers to crossbow is 弩 and is different from the "Nu 奴" that refers to slave. "Xiong Nu" literally means "Slave of the Xiong people".

Note that many chinese characters can have the same romanization but are apparently different characters having different meaning, whch probably explains why complete romanization and phasing out of chinese writing is virtually impossible.
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"夫君子之行:靜以修身,儉以養德;非淡泊無以明志,非寧靜無以致遠。" - 諸葛亮

One should seek serenity to cultivate the body, thriftiness to cultivate the morals. If you are not simple and frugal, your ambition will not sparkle. If you are not calm and cool, you will not reach far. - Zhugeliang

#12 thirdgumi

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Posted 18 September 2005 - 10:11 PM

Xiong Nu in Chinese probably has no meaning, it probably was a phonetic translation.
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Therefor, its existence is a crime, and the punishment is death - thirdgumi

#13 shurite7

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 12:14 AM

Xiong Nu in chinese character is 匈奴. "Xiong" actually has no meaning, it is a transliteration of the "Xiong 匈 " tribe. "Xiong" is a unique character that refers only to "Xiong Nu". "Nu 奴" means slave. The "Nu" that refers to crossbow is 弩 and is different from the "Nu 奴" that refers to slave. "Xiong Nu" literally means "Slave of the Xiong people".

Note that many chinese characters can have the same romanization but are apparently different characters having different meaning, whch probably explains why complete romanization and phasing out of chinese writing is virtually impossible.


General Zhaoyun,

Thank you very much. Unfortunetely my computer does not display character's so I can't see the difference.

"Slave of the Xiong people"...who were the slaves?

Cheers
zai jian

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#14 tiantian

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Posted 21 September 2005 - 12:20 AM

Hi, I have a question about the Xiong Nu's first conquering of China.

I know that in 201 BC they trapped Liu Bang and his forces inside a walled city for seven days and the fight finally ended in 198 BC when the Chinese signed a peace treaty giving all these gifts and such to the Xiong Nu as well as a Chinese princess. Then the Xiong Nu agreed not to attack China anymore.

Was this the first "outside" force that was able to "conquer" China after it's unification during the Qin?

#15 thirdgumi

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Posted 24 September 2005 - 10:51 AM

I know that in 201 BC they trapped Liu Bang and his forces inside a walled city for seven days and the fight finally ended in 198 BC when the Chinese signed a peace treaty giving all these gifts and such to the Xiong Nu as well as a Chinese princess. Then the Xiong Nu agreed not to attack China anymore.

Was this the first "outside" force that was able to "conquer" China after it's unification during the Qin?

Xiong Nu probably had the power to do so, but never actualy conquered.

Some more interesting things about Xiong Nu recorded in Shi Ji:

舉事而候星月,月盛壯則攻戰,月虧則退兵.

It said: before Xiong Nu went to war they consulted the stars and the moon, if the moon was bright (not sure if I interpreted it correctly, help me here) then they would attack, if the moon was dark (again not sure if I interpreted it correctly, help me here) then they would retreat.

And there are more interesting things, I will translate them later:

其攻戰,斬首虜賜一卮酒,而所得鹵獲因以予之,得人以為奴婢.故其戰,人人自為趣利,善為誘兵以冒敵.故其見敵則逐利,如鳥之集;其困敗,則瓦解雲散矣.戰而扶輿死者,盡得死者家財.


Human is evil by nature - Xun Zi

Therefor, its existence is a crime, and the punishment is death - thirdgumi




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