RomanArmyTalk

Full Version: Han Chinese defeat Roman legionaires 36 BC?
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Pages: 1 2 3
Is this true?

"The crossbow was used until the Sino-Japanese War of 1898. According to Joseph Needham and Sidney Shapiro, Han Dynasty soldiers were able to defeat well-armed Roman legionnaires (possibly captured or recruited as mercenaries by the Huns) in the battle of Sogdinia in 36 BC.

The Shiji mentions the First Emperor using a repeating crossbow to shoot a whale. However, only the single-shot variety has been discovered."

Johnny
The only possible way that I can think of that Romans made it that far east was if they were prisoners from Carrhae, maybe. In that case, maybe they were paroled or some such? It's an interesting statement; can we have a source for it?

-Matt
well, heres what wikipedia has to say on the subject:

"36 BCE
Battle of Sogdiana, supposedly a small Roman contingent (may have been a part of Antony's army) was defeated by an expedition force of Han China in the battle near moder Bukhara, the only military encounter between the two great empires if the event happened to be true."


well, keep in mind that Bukhara, where Sogdinan supposedly took place is in Uzbekistan. Hmm...pretty darn expeditious Roman military contigent. My doubt of the reliability of this information is compounded by the fact whoever wrote the above article misspelled the word "modern". :?

I suppose it could have happened...but unlikely. If any Western power had ever fought China, it would probably would have been Alexander, as he got the farthest East, but the ancient historians never mention him running into Chinese.
We've been over this question before on old RAT. Did you try a search?
I believe the conclusion was much as the above: it is very, very tentative.
H.H. Dubs has shown in A Roman City in Ancient China (1957), that there are indications that at least some of the Roman survivors of Carrhae offered mercenary service to one Jzh-jzh, the leader of a nomad tribe known from Chinese sources. When he was defeated, these soldiers, which had shown great military prowess and discipline (a.o. acting as testudo, which is described in a Chinese source), accompanied the Chinese general to the east. A census list of 1-2 CE mentions a town Li-jien ('Roman city') in the commandery Chang-i.

To Dubs' book I can add that (according to the National Geographic) at the moment, a Chinese town claims to be Li-jien, and has erected a statue to symbolize friendly relations between east and west. I suspect that the city tries to attract western tourists, but on the other hand: contacts between east and west did exist. Centuries later, Ammianus Marcellinus devoted, in his twenty-third book, a digression to the topography of Asia, which includes some information on the land of the Seres (Chinese) that is not completely wrong.
Quote:well, keep in mind that Bukhara, where Sogdinan supposedly took place is in Uzbekistan. Hmm...pretty darn expeditious Roman military contigent.

It would be just as ambitious for the Han! Remember Asia is HUGE. Uzbekistan is father away from the territories of the Han than it is from the Mediterranean.

There were byzantine interactions with the Chinese, and spies were sent to procure the secret of silk, but such contacts were remote trade contacts that took YEARS to accomplish, so I am doubtful we have any contact before that.

Travis
I've read such episode in Mario Brusagli's ATTILA, being those Roman soldiers ex prisoners from the Parthians, and because of a Parthian costume to keep captured enemy military organization and structure within the prisoners to increase its humiliation and to keep some order.
It also says that these legionaries could come from both Crassus or Marc Antony's defeated armies, then transferred to the far east of Persia (to stay afar from the temptation to scape back to Roman territory) and then, under a Hsiung-nu raid (scaping from the Han) freed and entered as the Chi-chi bodyguard getting back their military dignity and position.

Johnny, are you preparing a picture of this episode? WOW!!!
Quote:Centuries later, Ammianus Marcellinus devoted, in his twenty-third book, a digression to the topography of Asia, which includes some information on the land of the Seres (Chinese) that is not completely wrong.

I guess I should weigh in on this since it relates to my dissertation. Ammianus' details are not all wrong, but it is obvious that he is relying on second-hand information and his scale is completely off. This is no big critique of Ammianus work, which is generally good when compared to his era, because no ancient author has any real idea of just how BIG Asia was. China was clearly known from an early period, but it seems that there is no real concept as to its size and distance. Cosmas Indicopleustes (Constantine of Antioch) has this same problem, China is mentioned but it is reduced in scale and distance. A lot of this is worldview. The Mediterranean is called the medi-terranean, because it was the center of the world. To admit that that there was this land mass to the east of the mediterranean that was 4 or 5 times BIGGER than the whole length of the mediterranean would have been unthinkable, even though there was scads of anecdotal evidence that it was true and lots of incidental trade contact.

That being said, just to play Devil's advocate, for years people said that Cosmas' account of Taprobane (Sri Lanka) was either fantasy or cobbled together from other accounts. I think the tide is turning on this and many details about the court and capitol of Tabrobane are confirmed by secondary sources from China, suggesting Cosmas really was there.

So perhaps we shouldn't dismiss local tradition too readily.

Travis
Maybe that's where the Italians got noodles! Confusedhock:
Dubs is really pushing the evidence (such as it is) in A Roman City in Ancient China. There is no direct evidence to indicate captive Roman soldiers were transferred to the far east and imo it's just over-interpreting the sources and wishful thinking.
Ye gads, it's the "Romans in China" thing again! Pops up once or twice a year on some list or board, and every time it's the same ridiculous twaddle.

THERE IS NO EVIDENCE. Nada. Zip. Zilch. There are all kinds of theories and hunches and vague stories.

They claim the town name means "Romans", but another article says it means "strangers", a word which MIGHT have been applied to Romans! (Assuming the original name of the town wasn't something else entirely that simply sounded like the current name...) Kinda like saying that Akron had to have been founded by Argentine prisoners smuggled to Ohio by the British after the Falklands war. After all, there are people living there with Hispanic names...

There are claims of Roman buildings, but NO evidence has been presented to show that the old stone ruins have anything to do with Roman architecture. There are claims of Roman pottery, none proven. There are vague stories of rituals involving animal parts--yeah, like only the Romans have ever done that.

There is a description of an ancient battle in which one contingent held their shields over their heads. This doesn't make them Roman--EVERY culture I've ever heard of has done this at some point or other, even modern riot cops. There is a description of these troops fortifying a position with a double wooden palisade, which is claimed to be a distinctly Roman feature, but is in fact very UNcharacteristic of Roman fortifications!

I'm kind of surprised no one has pointed out that Peking is rectangular...

Show me EVIDENCE that these guys were survivors from Carrhea or whatever, and I will cheerfully eat my words. Until then, it's pure fantasy.

Sorry about that! Valete,

Matthew
Quote: I'm kind of surprised no one has pointed out that Peking is rectangular...

Show me EVIDENCE that these guys were survivors from Carrhea or whatever, and I will cheerfully eat my words. Until then, it's pure fantasy.

Sorry about that! Valete,

Matthew

(now let's push Matt over the edge shall we?)

Any evidence that these "Romans in China" wore leather vambraces? :wink:

Basically I agree. All evidence for contact is much later.
Quote:THERE IS NO EVIDENCE. Nada. Zip. Zilch. There are all kinds of theories and hunches and vague stories.

I like this story because it's such a tantalizing possibility Big Grin

Quote:Basically I agree. All evidence for contact is much later.

Me too, but there may have been contact as early as the 3rd century when Shapur captured the Roman army and enslaved them. Perhaps some were sold into Chinese slavery.
Quote:
Travis:scoohwfq Wrote:Basically I agree. All evidence for contact is much later.

Me too, but there may have been contact as early as the 3rd century when Shapur captured the Roman army and enslaved them. Perhaps some were sold into Chinese slavery.


Oh I don't doubt that there was a lot of incidental contact. I have no doubt that Romans could have been in the Chinese court at a very early date, but those numbers would have been few, and their impact very limited. I always remember two examples from my World Civ class as and undergrad.

One, several bronze bowls have been found in woodland and moundbuilder burial sites in the Ohio river valley. The bowls have been tentatively identified as Chinese.

Elsewhere, there have been Roman Amphora found in west african harbors as far south as the Ivory coast.

Both were transfered hand to hand as trade items until they found their final location. Both are amazing examples of the extent of human contact and trade, but in the end, are ultimately insignificant. Buddhism never made it to the Ohio river valley. And Roman law never made it to Subsaharan Africa.

Information and people have always traveled far as well, but the numbers and ammounts were always small, and did not represent any significant change in cultural movements.

This is why arguments over who "discovered" America are silly. Yes vikings, Chinese and even Egyptians! may have made it here, but in the end their appearance did little to change the landscape. Only two groups can claim to have discovered it, the original settlers c. 20,000-16,000 BCE and Columbus and the European explorers because only their discoveries resulted in return visits, settlements and vast social and cultural changes and not accidental contacts.
Quote:Ye gads, it's the "Romans in China" thing again! Pops up once or twice a year on some list or board, and every time it's the same ridiculous twaddle.

Thanks Matt - you saved me the effort of writing much the same response. I'd always thought this whole idea sounded pretty fanciful, so on coming across it stated as fact on several online fora, I went to see what it was based on.

I nearly died laughing.

Of all the crackpot theories about the Romans, this one has to be about the most cracked there is.
Pages: 1 2 3