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III/36 “Nan-chao” a suggested revision

by Duncan Head


I recently did a redraft of the DBM “Nan-chao” list (Nanzhao, in the Pinyin spelling I prefer), prompted by Steve Neate’s January 2002 Slingshot article, and to incorporate new evidence. This article is scheduled for the July 2003 issue.


This new evidence was, first, a translation of the 9th-century Chinese Man shu, or “Description of the Southern Barbarians (see Luce & Oey in the bibliography). This provides the original account of Nanzhao military organisation which modern writers quote from.


Second, to add to the scroll-painting of leather-armoured Nanzhao soldiers which influenced the original published list (the Fanxiang juan) there is another painted scroll showing Nanzhao warriors. This is the Nanzhao tu zhuan, or Illustrated Story of Nanzhao, a scroll which bears dates corresponding to AD 899 and 946, but is probably a 12th-century copy of a 9th-century original - illustrated and analysed in Chapin & Soper’s article. Nanzhao infantry are shown in this scroll unarmoured and armed with shorter spears than those of the Fanxiang juan.


Impact of DBMM

This will need some changing for DBMM. Although I opted for Ax(X) for the unarmoured conscript spearmen under DBM, I don't think the DBMM Pk(F) is as appropriate for the same troops.


Whether the "armoured cavalry", that is the ones on armoured horses, should be Cv(S) under the different DBMM definition is also open to discussion.


The list:


(Bracketed numbers at the starts of lines represent notes, given under Commentary below.)

(1) NANZHAO AND DALI, 728 AD - 1253 AD


(2, 3, 4) Warm. Ag 3 until 928, 0 thereafter. H(S) or O, H(S), H(G), Rv, M, Wd, O, Rd, BUA

(5) Nominal list scale: One element = 250 men (normal scale)


(6) C-in-c - Reg Cv (S) @ 30 AP, or, if the King with yuyi bodyguard, Reg Bd (O) @ 27 AP 1

(7) Sub-general - Reg Cv (S) @ 30 AP 0-2


(8) Leather-armoured cavalry with bow or crossbow, and spear - Reg Cv (O) @ 8 AP 6-12

(9) Upgrade cavalry to “armoured cavalry” on armoured horses - Reg Cv (S) @ 10 AP 1/4 - 1/2

(10) Cavalry scouts with bow - Reg LH (F) @ 4 AP 0-2


(11) Yuyi bodyguards with axe or halberd - Reg Bd (O) @ 7 AP 0-1

(12) Fupai guards in leather armour with very long spears - up to half with large slung shields, Reg Pk (X) @ 4 AP, remainder Reg Pk (I) @ 3 AP 4-12


(13) Unarmoured spearmen - Reg Ax (X) @ 4 AP 16-32

(14) Unarmoured foot-archers - Reg Bw (I) @ 4 AP, or Reg Ps (O) @ 2 AP 6-12

(15) Upgrade foot-archers with leather armour or sheltering behind shields - Reg Bw (O) @ 5 AP Any

(16) Crossbowmen:

- Until 794 - Reg Bw (I) @ 4 AP, or Reg Bw (O) @ 5 AP 0-6

- After 794 - Reg Bw (O) @ 5 AP 6-12


(17) Elephants - Irr El (O) @ 16 AP 0-1


(18) Wangxiezi tribal advance guard cavalry - Irr LH (F) @ 4 AP, or Irr LH (O) @ 5 AP 0-2

(19) Other tribal cavalry - Irr Cv (O) @ 7 AP 0-4

(20) Tribal close-fighting infantry - Irr Wb (F) @ 3 AP 6-12

(21) Tribal archers and crossbowmen - Irr Bw (I) @ 3 AP or Irr Ps (O) @ 2 AP 2-6


(22) Rafts - Irr Bts (I) @ 1 AP {any infantry} 0-4


(23) Goose-carriages and cloud-bridges - Reg WWg (S) @ 14 AP 0-1


Only from 728 AD to 740 AD:

(24) Tang Chinese allies - List: Sui and Early Tang Chinese


Only from 754 AD to 793 AD:

Tibetan allies - List: Tibetan


    • Only from 760 AD to 902 AD:

(25) Pyu Burmese allies - List: Burmese


Only from 860 AD to 866 AD:

Vietnamese rebel allies - List: Early Vietnamese


Only after AD 1180:

(26) Proto-Thai allies- List: Siamese


    • Rules considerations

- Cavalry and light horse may dismount only when the rules provide that any mounted may do so. Except for LH (O), treat them all as bow-armed.


- (27) Yuyi may only be used when the C-in-c represents the King, and must be in the C-in-c’s command. Therefore, they may not be used with Vietnamese allies.

- Normally-compulsory tribal troops need not be used in allied contingents drawn from this list; but if any tribal troops are used, both normally-compulsory types must be used.

- WWg (S) may only be used if the enemy have PF.



1. From AD 902 onwards, the Nanzhao kingdom changed its name several times, as new dynasties came to power. The Dali kingdom (937-1253, with a brief interruption) was by far the longest-lived of these.


2. In the published list I opted for a Tropical climate. But it has been pointed out to me that it is only the far south of Yunnan that is really tropical, and the more northerly, higher regions that formed the centre of the Nanzhao kingdom can sometimes get quite cold. The Cultural Atlas of China rates this region as “warm temperate” (Blunden & Elvin, p.28), so a Warm climate seems best.


3. While the Nanzhao kingdom proper was aggressive and expansionist for much of its history, the later Dali regime never seems to have attacked anyone. The last offensive operation I know of was an attack on Chinese Sichuan in 914, by the Dachanghe (or Ta-ch’ang-ho) kingdom (902-928). I have therefore put the change of aggression level at the fall of that dynasty.


4. Either a steep hill or an orchard is compulsory when defending, the latter option perhaps representing battles in the more heavily populated Dali plain, the former the hillier outlying regions. Making two area features compulsory, as in the published list, can lead to very crowded battlefields. I have changed the compulsory wood to an orchard to represent the groves of che trees, locally used instead of mulberry for rearing silkworms, that were to be found all over the country.


5. The published DBM lists vary greatly in their nominal scale, depending on the size of historical armies that they represent. Specifying this scale is an idea I’ve borrowed from Luke Ueda-Sarson’s alternative DBM lists - see http://www.ne.jp/asahi/luke/ueda-sarson/AlternativeDBMLists.html


Nanzhao armies are variously cited as 20,000, 50,000, or 60,000 strong (the latter including local allies). However Nanzhao also complained that a Tibetan demand for 10,000 troops in 794 was too many, and agreed to provide 5,000, suggesting that figures at the lower end of the scale are more realistic. That suggests a men:element scale close to the 256:1 suggested in the rules.


6. Generals and the bulk of the army are classed as regular: troops were recruited by universal conscription and, though they provided their own weapons and provisions, they were regularly trained and inspected, and commanded by a professional, literate officer-corps who enforced firm discipline. Nanzhao was quite a militaristic state, with most rank and position awarded on the basis of military merit.


7. The troops were divided into three armies according to an 8th-century inscription, four armies named after the points of the compass according to the 9th-century Man shu. These armies seem to take their names from their responsibility for frontier defence in their respective directions, so I don’t think they justify allowing four regular commands; the fourfold organisation was probably not reflected in field armies. The four armies were distinguished by the colours of their flags - perhaps those colours that Chinese traditional symbolism associated with the corresponding directions: black for the army of the north, white for the west, red for the south, and blue or green for the east.


8. Cavalry seem to have been very important in the Nanzhao army. A royal decree extolling the good fortune of the kingdom mentions that “our cavalry is strong”, without apparently needing to enumerate the rest of the kingdom’s forces, while a 9th-century campaign in Cambodia is described in terms of the Nanzhao cavalry reaching the sea, as if the force was all-cavalry, or at least the other components were not worthy of mention (Chapin p.16; Stott p.205 Backus p.129.


A guide to the proportion of the army made up by cavalry can be derived from the already-mentioned account of a Chinese embassy to Nanzhao, in 794, given in Man shu. At each stage of the march the embassy was greeted by a parade of the local troops. For example, one garrison “sent out a company of 200 infantry and a company of 100 cavalry to line both sides of the road and stand in rows; also a company of 60 armoured cavalry to lead the van, and 500 infantry with spears to bring up the rear”. The figures total 3,170 infantry and 720 cavalry, suggesting that cavalry might form about 15-20% of the army. (More cavalry and 1,000 infantry spearmen were present at the king’s court, but are not included in this calculation as the cavalry strength is not given.)


The cavalry were conscripted from those families rich enough to provide horses. Man shu mentions leather armour for the cavalry - “For the armour and equipment of the cavalry, they mostly use rhinoceros hide, though they combine it also with oxhide”- and describes their training in archery, spearmanship, and possibly swordsmanship (in some of the training exercises it is not clear what weapon is to be used). While Luce & Oey’s rendering of the Man shu text translates the first test of a cavalryman’s skill as simply to shoot and hit a target, without specifying the weapon, Stott glosses this as “with a bow and arrow”. Whether this is just a guess or the wording of the original excludes the use of a crossbow, I am not clear: but in the 13th century, shortly after the Dali kingdom fell to the Mongols, Marco Polo says of the local cavalry that “They ride long like Frenchmen, and wear buffalo-hide armour (cuir de bufal; some editions say boiled leather, cuir bouilli), and carry lances and shields and crossbows, and all their crossbow-bolts are poisoned.” Perhaps it proved to difficult to train all the kingdom’s cavalry as competent mounted archers - a type of soldier widely believed to be born rather than made - and the crossbow replaced the bow in later armies; or perhaps crossbows were indeed already in use in the 9th century. (Steve Neate said in Slingshot that “The Tang supplied the Nan-chao with crossbows for both infantry and cavalry…”: but this seems to be an unwarranted assumption. The Nanzhao negotiations for a Tang alliance in the 790s did claim that they “did not have adequate armour or crossbows to use in the fight against Tibet”, and Chinese advisers were sent to improve weapons manufacture; but the sources do not seem to specify which arm of service the crossbows were intended for.) Note also that cavalry shields, listed by Polo, are not mentioned in the 9th-century Man shu either.


In DBM terms, any of the combinations suggested by this evidence - spear and bow, spear and crossbow, or any of these weapons on its own - fits a classification as “ordinary cavalry” - unless the “spear” is to be treated as a “lance”, in which case the lance and bow combination turns the cavalry into Superior. It is true that Polo does use the word “lance”, but I believe that in the mediaeval French in which his work was written, the term can be used for lighter weapons of both infantry and cavalry as well as the heavy knightly lance. I suspect, from Luce & Oey’s translation of Man shu as saying “spear”, that the Chinese original uses a general term like mao rather than something more definite, like shuo, which would mean specifically a long cavalry lance. Therefore, I have opted for Ordinary cavalry as the basic classification for this list.


9. As I have noted, some of the cavalry who greeted the Chinese embassy of 794 were distinguished as “armoured cavalry”. In total, the various garrisons turned out 270 “armoured cavalry”, and 330 other cavalry. (There are also 120 “horses to lead the van” replacing the armoured cavalry in two garrisons, and 300 troops simply described as “infantry and cavalry”, not further differentiated.) That suggests that almost half the cavalry would have been “armoured”. What was the difference between “armoured” and other cavalry?


The obvious interpretation at first sight would be that the “other” cavalry simply didn’t wear any armour. To support this, the only horseman depicted in the Nanzhao tu zhuan scroll is, like the infantry therein, completely unarmoured; he is armed only with a bow. Yet I suspect that this is not the case. Both other passages of Man shu and the 13th-century testimony of Polo suggest that leather armour was standard cavalry equipment. The “armoured” cavalry may, therefore, have worn heavier or more extensive armour than the rest: I suggest that they were probably distinguished by the use of horse-armour. Man shu records that when the Chinese embassy reached the Nanzhao court, the King presented them with gifts including “a horse wholly furnished with armour” - so horse-barding was certainly known to the Nanzhao, as indeed it was to groups even further to the south in China. In descriptions of Chinese armies, tiema “iron horse” and tieji “iron cavalry” seem to be synonyms for “cataphract” cavalry, cavalry on armoured horses (Dien p.37); so some similar term may be being used here, also implying the use of horse-armour.


(What might at first appear to be conclusive evidence in support of my suggestion that horse-armour was common in the Nanzhao army is provided by a group of elaborately-armoured spearmen on armoured horses shown in the Nanzhao tu zhuan. But I do not give this greater prominence because these figures are heavenly warriors descending to earth in a cloud; and the style in which they are portrayed is that of the 12th-century copyist, not the 9th-century original. The elaborate armour of the soldiers and their horses is very like Song Chinese portrayals. Even the knotted tails of the horses differ from the unbound tail shown on the native horse-archers in the same scroll. It is perfectly possible that cavalry on armoured horses were already portrayed on the original scroll, and that the copyist has merely elaborated on a plainer original; but it does not seem very safe to make this assumption. See Chapin & Soper figures 3 & 17, and p.41.)


If I am wrong in the identification of the “armoured cavalry” as riding armoured horses, distinguishing the two classes of Nanzhao cavalry as Ordinary and Superior respectively may not fit the letter of the DBM classifications. (To be Cavalry (Superior) under DBM, troops must either ride armoured horses, mix lancers and bowmen in the same formation, or be armed with both lance and bow for each man.) But I would suggest that it fits the spirit: if the “armoured” cavalry merely wore slightly heavier armour, or something of the sort, they might still class as Ordinary by the letter of the rules, but allowing this would remove a distinction perceived by a contemporary observer as important. Classing the “other” cavalry as Inferior and the “armoured” as Ordinary, perhaps justifiable by the letter of the rules if we assume that the “others” wore no armour at all (which, as I have said, I do not think likely), would seem to under-rate the cavalry since it was apparently the army’s main arm. Classing the “others” as light cavalry horse-archers, again because of an assumed lack of armour, would be worse still - not only do I think that the lack of armour is unlikely, the resulting cavalry force would bear an unconvincing resemblance to a steppe nomad army.


10. In the original list I allowed up to four elements of light cavalry “scouts”. They were purely hypothetical, I fear. The unarmoured horse-archer on the Nanzhao tu zhuan scroll gives a slightly firmer justification for thinking that a few Nanzhao cavalry might have turned out in light order for scouting and similar tasks - though as horse-archers, not the spearmen implied by the published list’s classification. As I have said above, I do not think it likely that this unarmoured state was normal battle equipment for the bulk of the cavalry, and the Nanzhao tu zhuan warriors have turned out to do violence to a passing Buddhist monk, not a task that necessarily requires them to be depicted in full battle gear. The fact that one of them rides an ox is further evidence that not everything shown need relate to actual battle equipment!


11. The Yuyi were the inner bodyguard of the Nanzhao King, recruited not from the ordinary conscripts but from young men of the upper classes. They were in permanent attendance on the King - so probably did not go to war very often, as the Nanzhao kings seem to have emulated Chinese emperors in rarely commanding their armies in the field, at least after the initial establishment of the state. The Yuyi had no fixed number, but were commanded by eight officers - the only men allowed to carry swords in the King’s presence. Their classification as Blades is on the assumption that they are probably the “young men holding battle-axes and halberds” who escorted the King to greet the embassy of 794. (Axes and halberds do not appear in other lists of Nanzhao weapons, so were presumably not typical of the army.)


12. These are the troops who in the published list form the majority of the army’s infantry. Though the classification has been challenged, I still think it is the best available; but it is now clear that these troops are guardsmen, not the ordinary soldiers.


The original classification was based on a 12th-century painting of the Nanzhao court, the Fanxiang juan. This painting, by Zhang Shengwen, depicts the court of the Dali kingdom, the last dynasty to rule the former Nanzhao state in Yunnan. It is most conveniently seen on the cover of Backus, The Nan-chao Kingdom…. It includes a group of soldiers who are all dressed in the leather armour described for Nanzhao soldiers in other sources. Most of them carry long polearms. These are over twice the height of the soldiers carrying them; if we assume the men about 1.68m, or 5’ 6”, tall - which seems not unreasonable for mediaeval Chinese - then the weapons are about 3.7 metres, or just over twelve feet, long overall. Around half of the polearms have narrow spearheads, the others have broader heads with a cutting edge, like the blade of a European glaive or like the polearms common in later Chinese art - but smaller than the blades of those weapons. These men don’t have shields, but the painting also shows a standard-bearer who does carry a long shield, slung over his shoulder by a shoulder-strap to leave both hands free to hold his flagpole. The shape of the shield, flat-bottomed and round-topped with notched sides, is a traditional style in Chinese armies, but Chinese examples are much smaller; the size of this shield is unique for one of its shape, and so is its method of carriage, by a shoulder-strap. Although it is only shown carried by this standard-bearer it would be equally suitable for use with a long spear carried in both hands.


Unfortunately, I had - and still have - no detailed accounts of Nanzhao infantry in battle, so classifying them by their battlefield behaviour, which we’d all like to do, is in this case simply impossible. Given the DBM classifications, I still don’t see any way to treat these men other than as “inferior pikemen”, a classification that explicitly includes long spears shorter than “true” pikes but held pike-style in both hands. The possibility that in battle the front rank pikemen might use shields like that of the standard-bearer, slung from a shoulder-strap, allows the option of “exceptional pikemen”. This suggests a resemblance to earlier Yunnanese warriors, those of the Dian (Tien) and Kunming kingdoms contemporary to the Chinese Han dynasty. Many of their warriors are shown in Dian bronze battle-scenes wielding spears in two hands, and protected by shields of a similar shape to the Nanzhao example (if smaller), either slung from a baldric or carried by an attendant. A comparison more familiar to many readers might be that the suggested arrangement of long spear and large slung shield would look remarkably like the Mycenaean infantry seen on the Lion Hunt dagger and elsewhere, with long spears held in both hands and body-shields slung from their shoulders.


I don’t see any alternative to classing these men as pikemen under DBM:


- They can’t be “Spears” because they don’t have the wall of large shields that is essential to that classification in DBM, and because their weapons seem much too long to be used in one hand - much longer than those of mediaeval Chinese infantry.


- They can’t be “Blades” unlike Song or Ming Chinese infantry with shorter polearms because their weapons, over twice as long as the soldier is tall, seem simply too long and unwieldy to be used in the cut-thrust-and-parry style required. While some of them do have glaive-like blades, these blades are much smaller than the blades on the shorter but similarly-shaped Chinese polearms: they are not the same weapon.


- They do carry a pike - at least as “true” a pike as those of 14th-century Scots or Flemings, for example.


It is true that there is no evidence that they formed deep phalanxes like Macedonian or Swiss pikes. I could riposte that there is no evidence that they fought in shallow formations, either; but, while true, that would be a bit facetious. The odds are that they normally fought in conventional formations, no more than the ten ranks favoured by their decimal organisation, and very likely shallower than that. Of course, you’re not obliged to form your DBM pikemen up four ranks deep - if you class some of the pikemen as exceptional, assuming that the front ranks carried the standard-bearer’s large slung shield, they can only fight three elements deep anyway, which is a close approximation to ten ranks. You may say that pikes, whether (I) or (X/I) won’t do very well in shallow formations - but as I shall suggest, it’s not clear that Nanzhao spearmen were all that good anyway.


Man shu says that the best recruits from the villages were designated luojuzi, the flower of the armies. The junior officers, captains of 100-man companies, were selected from the luojuzi; so were the bodyguards of the king and the twelve “great generals”, who were called fupai, “shield-bearers”. Man shu states that the luojuzi wore leather armour - “They wear on the head red helmets. They wear on the back rhinoceros-hide” - but this armour is only ever mentioned for cavalry and the luojuzi (Man shu VII and IX - Luce & Oey, pp.72, 82) not for the ordinary infantry, so it seems very likely that the leather-armoured infantry of the Fanxiang juan represent fupai, perhaps those of the king himself. (Laufer (1914) quotes some excellent descriptions of Nanzhao leather armour from later mediaeval Chinese writers, but these do not say how widely used the armour was.)


Man shu notes that there was no fixed number for the fupai. An observation that the officers “for each direction” commanded 500 or 1,000 men may perhaps refer to the fupai guards of generals in charge of the four “directional” armies, as it is far too small to be the full strength of one of those armies; however, it may refer to something else entirely, perhaps to lower-ranking officers in charge of frontier security. This uncertainty, plus doubt about how many of the twelve “great generals” might be found in any one army, makes it difficult to be sure how many elements of these troops to allow.


13. These are the infantry of the Nanzhao tu zhuan, mentioned above, unarmoured, armed with sword and a moderate-length spear, and apparently unshielded.


Nanzhao infantry are shown in this scroll unarmoured and armed with shorter spears. These weapons are not much more than man-height: again assuming a spearman about 1.68m, or 5’ 6”, tall, the spears are about 2.25 metres, or seven feet and a few inches. Most of the warriors are standing about with their spears upright, but one is running forward, wielding his spear overarm in one hand. Not only do these men wear no armour at all - again, they don’t have shields.


The warriors in the Nanzhao tu zhuan represent Nanzhao armed villagers in legendary incidents connected with the early history of the kingdom; and since the original of this manuscript was made in the Nanzhao kingdom in the 9th century, there is good reason to accept that they are accurate depictions of Nanzhao’s rank-and-file soldiers, who were conscripted from the general population. (Man shu IX - Luce & Oey p.82 - for an account of the recruitment, training and mustering of conscript soldiers: “If war breaks out, there is no difference between civil and military”.) Since they are not shown in battle, however, it is possible that they are not fully equipped for war. But it does look like these men, unarmoured and armed with shorter spears, formed the bulk of Nanzhao’s infantry, while the leather-armoured pikemen of the Fanxiang juan reflect guardsmen.


So how do we classify these ordinary spear-armed infantry under DBM? Their spears are short enough to be held in one hand, as required for the Spearmen class, but we have no evidence at all that they carried the shields required for that class. Man shu mentions archers standing behind shields, and the guards units of the generals are called shield-bearers, and Marco Polo in the 13th century mentions shields when listing the cavalry equipment of the region: but no-one mentions or illustrates shields for the infantry spearmen. Do we throw up our hands and say “Oh well, the scroll doesn’t actually show them in battle, maybe they really had shields like their Chinese or Tibetan or South-East Asian neighbours, so let’s call them spearmen”? Or do we scour DBM for a classification for trained regular infantry with thrusting-spears but no shields?


One other hint. While we don’t have any detailed battle descriptions, Man shu describes the way that Nanzhao forces deployed for inspections, and notes that this was the same way they typically deployed for battle. In front were the officers; behind them, archers standing “below their shields”; behind them, the cavalry. Infantry spearmen aren’t mentioned at all. A second passage of the same work describes the journey of a Chinese embassy to the Nanzhao court. At each town, local officials paraded the troops to escort the envoys. Every time, we hear of cavalry, infantry of unspecified type, and then a large body of spear-armed infantry “to bring up the rear”. Finally, theroyal decree mentioned above extolling the good fortune of the kingdom claims that “our cavalry is strong”: infantry don’t rate a mention. Unmentioned in two passages, consistently relegated to the rear in another; it certainly looks as if the infantry spearmen were not much relied on in the Nanzhao army. The existing DBM classification seems to have got it right in one sense: it makes the spearmen mediocre, and that’s precisely what they should be.


So, in DBM terns, the options for these shieldless spearmen would seem to be:


- “Exceptional auxilia”, like Japanese ashigaru with yari, or Naram-Suen’s Akkadian guardsmen after they’ve discarded their shields to climb hills. The spears are a bit too short to make an ideal fit for that class, though, and it would give an ability to resist cavalry which is not attested by our sparse evidence. In favour of this classification, the class is defined as “lacking effective shields”, which gives scope for a few shielded individuals within an unshielded majority, or for the possibility that shields were carried, but weren’t “effective” enough to be mentioned. Exceptional auxilia would also be effective against “warband” types, fierce charging infantry, which would represent some of Nanzhao’s local tribal opponents


- “Inferior auxilia”? The definition of Auxilia puts much stress on javelins (though, in fact these are not compulsory for regular inferior auxilia by a strict reading of the definition), but at least the Inferior grade is specifically tailored for shieldless troops. But Inferiors can destroy skirmishers - psiloi - which Exceptionals cannot, and this suggests that the Inferior classification is best suited to troops with some sort of missile weapon, which our troops lack. Their behaviour tucked away behind the rest of the army is characteristic of “filler” in DBM games, though, a role for which inferior auxilia are well suited. But the classification also has an air of incompetence about it, and all we know of the Nanzhao spearmen is that they were not normally deployed to the fore, not that they were incompetent.


- “Blades”, perhaps? They do carry swords as well as their spears, and some figures in the Nanzhao tu zhuan are armed only with their swords. I do not however take this as an indication that the swords are their primary weapon - for which there seems to be no other evidence - but as another indication that full battle-gear is not in all cases being used here. The spears seem to be thrusting rather than throwing weapons, which would argue that they are the main weapon. Of course a few types of troops with thrusting spear do get to be Blades, later samurai for instance, but this is unusual enough that I think it requires some positive evidence of a suitable fighting style. In addition, massed blades - even Inferior - would inevitably be seen as the main arm of decision of the army, at least against suitable opponents, and I see no indication that this was the case.


- Or even “Hordes”? These fit the “huddle behind the line” image even better than inferior auxilia, but I think that to class the Nanzhao spearmen as Hordes would be too harsh. For one thing, I believe that the army merits regular status, and I see no reason to single out the spearmen as the only irregular part. And again, as I said above, we do not really know that these men were incompetent, let alone quite as useless as Horde implies.


I found it very difficult to reach a decision on which of the DBM classifications was the least bad fit for these troops, and have changed my mind more than once; and indeed those whose opinions I sought were also divided. On balance, I think that Exceptional auxilia, a classification that is at least intended for shieldless men with thrusting-spears, probably does least violence to the evidence. This is also the interpretation advocated, amongst those who saw the draft of this article, by two whose knowledge of the nuances of DBM I hold in very great respect. At 4AP per element, it is true that regular exceptional auxilia are widely thought to be not very cost-effective in an equal -points game; but that is not a consideration that I believe should be very important in compiling an army list. I’ll stick with what seems to fit the historical evidence best - or least badly.


I did consider allowing an option to upgrade all to Inferior Spears, which would assume - on no good evidence at all except for comparison with neighbouring armies - that they carried shields in battle. On balance I have decided not to allow this, for two reasons - two other than the lack of evidence, that is. First, I fear it would lead to reliance on a wall of spears which does not fit our - admittedly limited - evidence for the army’s tactical doctrine. Second, both Sp (I) and Ax (X) cost 4AP, and if given a choice between the two I think almost everyone would plump for the shielded spearmen, although they are the alternative unsupported by evidence, as they are generally more effective all-rounders on the table.


(Shields, if they were indeed carried, might have been a smaller version of the fupai standard-bearer’s shield, or one of the long styles carried by Tang Chinese infantry, or the round shields carried in modern times by the Yi (or Lolo), who are descended from some of the peoples of the Nanzhao kingdom and continued their distinctive armour tradition.)


Adding up the detachments of troops who greeted the Chinese embassy of 794 produces 2,300 infantry with spears and 870 other infantry, presumably archers and crossbowmen. All but one of the groups of spearmen are 500 strong, suggesting how the 100-man companies were brigaded into higher units. (There are also 300 men simply described as “infantry and cavalry”, while a further 1,000 infantry spearmen were present at the king’s court.) These 2,300 spearmen may have included some fupai troops, or may have all been ordinary conscripts.


14. One of the Nanzhao tu zhuan infantry is an unarmoured archer. The 870 unspecified infantry of 794 were presumably mostly or entirely archers, since it was precisely at this time that Nanzhao complained they did not have adequate crossbows.


15. Man shu lists “the archers, below their shields” when describing the review order that mirrored battle formations. Archers were, therefore, expected to shelter behind some sort of shield, probably a standing shield like a pavise or mantlet. One of the armoured figures of the Fanxiang juan seems to be an archer.


16. Either in the 793-4 negotiations for an alliance, or perhaps later after the alliance had been completed, the Nanzhao king informed China that his army did not have adequate armour or crossbows for fighting against the Tibetans. Even then the implication does not seem to be that they had no crossbows at all, just not enough - or perhaps that the ones they had were not good enough. In response, the Chinese sent craftsmen, and the quality of Nanzhao arms production improved considerably (Backus, p.101). Nanzhao swords and spears already enjoyed a high reputation.


17. When the Nanzhao king met the embassy of 794, “they caparisoned twelve head of elephants, which led the van”. It is quite possible that these, like the elephants occasionally presented to Chinese courts by foreign tributaries, had no military function at all, but were purely part of the court ceremonial. But given the other military elements of the royal entourage, and Nanzhao’s contacts with elephant-using South-East Asian armies, it is also quite possible that they were war-elephants.


18. Among the various subject tribes that formed part of the Nanzhao army, the Wangxiezi (or Wang-hsieh-tzu) were noted for their horsemanship, and were always used as the advance guard of the army (Stott p.216, citing Man Shu XIX, which I have not seen). A “light horse” classification seems appropriate for the role. I know nothing of their armament, but the LH (O) option at least gives a home to any figures painted up for the “LH (O) scouts” of the published list.


19. Some of the Yunnanese tribes subdued by Nanzhao seem to have relied very much on their cavalry. The Tang Chinese defeat in 652 of the Little Bonong (or Po-nung) tribe, who dwelt quite close to what would become the Nanzhao heartland, was accomplished in a great cavalry battle (Backus pp.21-22).


20. Many different tribes fought in the Nanzhao army. Man shu lists fifty-four tribal names within the boundaries of the kingdom. Various tribes listed as participating in the invasion of Vietnam in the 860s are described as “all fierce and unrelenting fighters” in one Chinese report. We may take “all” as something of an exaggeration, since the list includes the Pyu of Burma, who were known in other Chinese sources as peaceable people with a horror of killing! But other tribes, notably groups in the southern part of the Nanzhao sphere who can probably be identified as ancestors of the Thai-speakers - such as the Mang Man, Jinqi Man and Xiumian Man - were indeed renowned as fierce fighters(Stott p.206; Backus pp. 51, 138). Which tribal groups were trained in Nanzhao style and conscripted into regular units, and which were left to fight in their own style, is uncertain, but it seems likely that many of the southerners at least fought in their own way. “Fast warband” is the standard DBM designation for southern Chinese tribes and the more fierce South-East Asians, and while further research may well prove that it is not the best way of classifying all of them, it seems appropriate for now.


21. Nanzhao’s subject troops included some tribes so expert with the bow that they could hit bats flying among the bamboo forests (Stott p.216, quoting Man shu XVII, which again I have not seen).


22. Rafts were used to cross a river in Sichuan in 869, for a surprise attack on the defending Chinese army’s headquarters(Backus p.148). Nonetheless, river-warfare is not prominent in Nanzhao history.


23. Goose-carriages and cloud-bridges were used to scale the walls at the siege of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, in 869 (Backus p.150). The “cloud-bridges” were probably related to the “cloud ladder” of other Chinese sources, a sophisticated articulated siege-ladder the more developed versions of which had a covered compartment for archers and crossbowmen to give covering fire (see for instance Turnbull, plate D and pp.39-40). The “goose-carriage” is more obscure.


There is some inconsistency in the published DBM lists as to what armies get allowed WWg (S) siege machines. Several Assyrian armies are allowed them, perhaps because of the engines’ prominence in the pictorial record. But many other armies have just as good a claim. If siege -engines are to be allowed at all, it seems best to allow them to any army which used them. Restricting their use to games in which the enemy have deployed permanent fortifications should keep them out of most competition-style games.


I am slightly surprised not to have come across any references to the Nanzhao armies using projectile artillery, either in sieges or in the field, nor to fortified camps.


24. The second Chinese-Nanzhao alliance of 794-829 is still covered by a Nanzhao contingent the Later Tang Chinese list, which seems more appropriate to the nature of combined operations in that period.


25. In the published list I allowed Pyu allies in 760-830 and 860-866, since Nanzhao is supposed to have destroyed the Pyu kingdom about 832, thus presumably eliminating any Pyu army that could provide an allied contingent; yet Pyu troops are listed in the Vietnam campaigns of the 860s. But some works merely speak of Nanzhao “defeating” Pyu in the 830s, so it seems at least as likely that a Pyu kingdom, or one or more Pyu successor-states, remained in existence under Nanzhao overlordship. I assume their vassalage did not survive the fall of Nanzhao’s original dynasty in 902.


26. According to genealogies and chronicles, the independent Thai-speaking state of Chiang Hung (or Cheli in Chinese) was formed in the far south of Yunnan in 1180, with the support or at least acquiescence of the Dali kingdom - the Dali king is said to have installed the first Chiang Hung ruler (Wyatt p35). Indeed, earlier allied contingents from the Yonok statelet, formed much earlier in the very north of modern Thailand (Wyatt pp30-31), are not impossible but not directly attested.


I am aware that the current DBM Siamese list in Book 4 does not start this early, and indeed that it may or may not be accurate for this period. But it’s all there is at the moment, and rewriting Thai lists is not my current objective!


27. The yuyi were always in attendance on the King, so would only be present when he led the army. Nanzhao kings rarely did this. However, I can’t say with certainty that they never did, and although it is clear that the king did not command the Vietnam expeditions, I don’t feel that I can exclude any other allies on these grounds. It is possible that the elephants could be similarly restricted, if they were indeed attached to the court, but again the evidence seems to be insufficient.




Backus, Charles, The Nan-chao Kingdom and T’ang China’s Southwestern Frontier (Cambridge University Press, 1981)

Blunden, Caroline, and Mark Elvin, Cultural Atlas of China (Phaidon, London, 1983)


Chapin, Helen B, and Alexander C Soper, “A Long Roll of Buddhist Images”, Artibus Asiae 32 and 33 (1971)


Dien, Albert E, “The Stirrup and its Effect on Chinese Military History”, Ars Orientalis XVI (1986)


Laufer, Berthold, Chinese Clay Figures, Part 1: Prolegomena on the History of Defensive Armor (Field Museum of Natural History Publication 177, Anthropological Series vol. XIII no.2, 1914)


Luce, Gordon H (trans.), G P Oey (ed.), The Man Shu (Book of the Southern Barbarians) (Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 1961)


Neate, Steven, “Nan-chao….KAPOW!”, in Slingshot 220 (January 2002), p42


Stott, Wilfrid, “The Expansion of the Nan-chao Kingdom”, T’oung-pao, series II, vol. 50 (1963)


Turnbull, Stephen, Siege Weapons of the Far East (1): AD 300-1300 (Osprey, London, 2001)


Wyatt, David K, Thailand: A Short History (Yale University Press, 1984)


Yule, Sir Henry, revised by Henri Cordier, The Book of Ser Marco Polo (John Murray, London, 3rd edition 1929, 2 volumes)

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