Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Barriers to Invading Ancient China

For thousand of years the culture of China has survived to form one of the most enduring civilizations in World History. One of the many reasons for this success has been the barriers to large invading armies that surround China. These can be divided into two groups, major natural barriers and man made barriers.
Seas- Japan, Yellow, East China South China
Mountains- Himalayas, Altan
 Rivers- Huang, Yangtze
Jungles of South East Asia
 Deserts- Gobi, Taklimakan
Man made:
The Great Wall and the Grand Canal
Barriers are just that, difficult terrain for an enemy army to cross. Determined armies can succeed in crossing them but at such a cost in men and materials that can be deemed to high for all but the most determined foes.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Major Dynasties of China

For thousands of years China has been ruled by a vast amout of dynasties.  While some ruled for centuries and others for decades, all have had an impact upon the histopry and culture of this ancient society.  Below are listed the major dynasties, there were others and all have detailed histories that exceed the limited nature of this posting.


ca. 1650-1027 B.C.E.
First Dynasty, known for skilled work with bronze tools and art. Chinese writing created, ancestor worship becomes the central religion.
Inventions: Silk refining
1027-256 B.C.E.
Feudal system of government introduced; seen as a golden age of peace by Confucius and later philosophers. Rulers “Mandate of Heaven” first appears.
Inventions: Crossbow (450)
Warring States Period          
481-221 B.C.E.
Huge armies controlled by warlords divide China; as a counter, Confucius creates his philosophy of respect/ancestor worship/kindness/obedience.
Inventions: Sun Tzu writes the Art of War, first military textbook
Qin (Ch’in)
221-207 B.C.E.
                                    Pronounced Chin, First Emperor, unites China, completes the
Great Wall, repression of knowledge/philosophy, creates imperial plan of rule; although
the shortest dynasty, so firm is Qin’s legacy of imperial control that China is forever named for
the 1st Emperor: Qin Shi Huang-di.
Inventions: Wheelbarrow (220), Unifies the written language, measurements & money of China
207 B.C.–220 C.E.
Creates Civil Service, state run factories control manufacture of luxury, commercial and military goods.
Inventions: Horse Collar (150 BC), Writing paper, blast furnace (100 AD),
cast iron, cast iron plow, fishing reel (200)
Period of Disunity
Jin Dynasty 265-316 fails to unify China, foreign invasions and civil strife abound, as a counter point, peaceful Buddhism becomes popular.
Inventions: Rudder (400), matches (577)
Reunites northern and southern China, digs the Great Canal between the Yangzi and Yellow Rivers, repairs the Great Wall.
Cultural renaissance, improve civil service exams to reward merit, China again becomes a regional and world power, Lao Zi creates Daoism, a religion of natural harmony.
Inventions: Gunpowder, Brandy  (650), woodblock printing (760), paper money (760)
Five Dynasties
Northern China ruled by foreigners, southern China divides into petty kingdoms, Liang, Tang, Jin, Han & Zhou.
A reunited China reaches its highest level of civilization to date, first “industrial revolution” with iron factories, Song were strong patrons of the arts and sciences with many advances seen in the latter.
Inventions: Bicycle chain (976), movable type (1041),
mechanical clock (1088), compass (1100), medical encyclopedia (1111), Windmill
Yuan (Mongols)
Foreign dynasty of “Barbarian” Mongols, Kublia Khan fails in two attempts to conquer Japan, Beijing becomes capital, entire Silk Road is under Mongol (Pax Mongolica) control increasing trade and allowing Europeans (Marco Polo) to visit China.
Inventions: Guns (1288)
Last Chinese dynasty, Admiral Zheng He explores from China to Madagascar with a fleet of a 100+ junks, unimpressed with the rest of the world, the Ming close their borders, forbid further exploration and make it a crime to leave China.
Qing (Manchu)
Foreign dynasty from Manchuria, in constant fear of Chinese revolt, the Qing cling to the past traditions, for the first time Chinese technology falls drastically behind Western/European, by the 1800’s European military might ellipses Chinese, twice conquering Beijing and looting the Forbidden City, forcing the Qing to make massive humiliating political/economic concessions to Western powers including the Westernized Asian nation of Japan. The last emperor is deposed in 1912.
Chinese Republic
  Never a true republic, China was largely controlled by local warlords, communists, puppet governments and Japanese troops.
People’s Republic of China
After decades of conflicts including civil strife, Japanese invasion, World War II, and open civil war, the Chinese Communist Party takes total control of China with its own form of “dynasty.” 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Mandate of Heaven-the right to Rule the Middle Kingdom

The Mandate of Heaven is the divine (God ('s) given) right to rule the Middle Kingdom given to the Emperor, it is given based on four principles:
  1. The right to rule is granted by Heaven (realm of the Jade Emperor).
  2. There is only one Heaven therefore there can be only one ruler.
  3. The right to rule is based on the high virtue (Confucian principles of quality of his leadership) of the ruler.
  4. The right to rule can be passed down to family members of the dynasty but is not limited to one dynasty. (poor quality rulers/dynasties can lose the Mandate of Heaven and be replaced. The mere fact that a leader has been overthrown is itself proof that he has lost the Mandate of Heaven.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hannibal of Carthage

In 247 BCE, the year before the start of the 1st Punic War a son was born to Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca, the proud father named his young boy...Hannibal.  In the wake of Carthages' loss to Rome in the 1st Punic War, Hamilcar with his young son, set the ground work preparing for the next war by establishing Carthaginian control over much of the rich province of Spain. At the age of twenty-six,  Hannibal took control of the Carthagian forces in Spain and readied for war with Rome. In 219 BCE, he judged the time was ripe and lured the Romans into war by attacking and looting one of their client city states-Saguntum. The decisive conflict between Roma and Carthage for supremacy of the Mediterranean had begun-the 2nd Punic War.

From 218-209 BCE, Hannibal's brilliant tactics out maneuvered the Romans and brought the Republic nearly to its knees.  His passage through the Alps and massive defeats of the famed Roman Legions at the battles of  Trebia, Lake Trasimene and Cannea (where the Roman Army of over 85,000 was virtually annihilated) are still studied by historians and military experts today.  Yet with all his victories the Romans continued to thwart Hannibal's goal of total victory.  New armies were raised, improved tactic were installed (including the "Fabian Strategy" where attrition not pitched battles wore the forces of the enemy down), better generals were chosen and the war was taken to the shores of Africa by the Romans.

In his last great battle, at Zama in 202 BCE, Hannibal was finally defeated by a Roman General, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. Forced to abandon the Carthage he loved, Hannibal fled to the perceived safety of the Eastern Kingdoms, but the long arm of Rome followed him and circa 183 BCE, one of the greatest military leaders in history died by his own hands rather than be taken prisoner by his hated enemies the Romans.  He had failed to save Carthage (which would be totally destroyed by Rome in 146 BCE), but through his greatness he earned immortality for himself and the memory of his once great nation.

The Cataphract-Heavy Armored Cavalry

The cataphract was the Ancient Worlds "tank." Heavily armored and armed, the cataphract was the ultimate shock force of well formed and trained armies, as only these could afford large units of these tremendously expensive cavalrymen. They were used the greatest and most effectively in the armies of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire and Persian Empire in the centuries before the formation of the European knights. For centuries, cataphracts ruled the battlefields of the East while Western Europe was in the throws of the Dark Ages.

Greek Fire


The greatest secret weapon of Eastern Roman Empire was Greek Fire, a ship born terror weapon that ignited on contact and burned on water. Fired from a brass tube, the flaming liquid was as devastating to morale as it was to the wooden ships of the era. It is thought to have been invented by a Jewish Syrian Engineer named Callinicus (Kallinikos) in the mid 7th century. To keep it from enemy hands, the secret formula was known to a very small number of people (around three) . This is also the reason the formula is unknown today for by the mid 13th century, some tragic event killed all those with the knowledge before it could be passed on.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Barbarians then Countries Now

For centuries the Roman Legions fought waves of "Barbarian" invaders from the East that attacked the Roman Empire looking for loot, as well as new lands to settle and claim for their own.  In the end, the Western Roman Empire was completely overrun by the Barbarian tribes and the face of  Europe was changed forever. While many of the barbarian tribes have faded from history their names have come down through time in the form of countries and territories whose modern names remind us of those who brought the Western Roman Empire to her knees.  Here are a few of the most recognizable of theses once infamous (to the Romans) barbarian tribes:

Helvetii- Confederation Helvetica (Switzerland)
Ottoman Turks-Turkey
Bavarii-Bavaria (Germany)
Burgandians-Burgundy (France)
Lombards- Lombardy (Italy)
Jutes-Jutland (Denmark) 
Saxons-Saxony (Germany)

And while not a country, one barbarian tribal name comes down to the present day a a word synonymous with wanton destruction for the fun of the doing the destruction, the dreaded Vandals have become the term vandalism.