Han Dynasty Military


Faded Han Soldier Pottery. Weapon missing.
Photo by: Wikipedia Creative Commons

No empire can ever be successful if it cannot defend itself and its subjects from enemies. The Han dynasty was not an exception to this rule. Several enemies threatened China during the Han era and it was the responsibility of the Han dynasty military to keep the empire and its people safe. Early threats to the Han dynasty came from nomadic confederations like the Xiongnu in the North.

Armies during the early Han period were generally recruited through conscription or the obligatory recruitment of people for military services. Once a male commoner turns twenty-three, he is required to undergo a year of training and another year of service as a non-professional soldier. The minimum age for conscription was later reduced to twenty. Training could be done in the infantry, cavalry, or the navy branch of the armed forces. Once the trainee becomes a soldier in active service he can be assigned in one of the three posts during that period; in a king’s court, on the frontier or under the Minister of the guards.

The system for conscription for the Han dynasty military however was altered during the Eastern Han period. Avoiding the conscription was possible as long as one could pay the commutable tax. The army therefore was comprised largely of volunteers. Even the Eastern Han court preferred a military force recruited through a volunteer army.


Western Han Crossbow
Photo by: Wikipedia Creative Commons

The military forces of the Han dynasty was said to have used the most advance forms of weaponry during that time. Swords were a favored weapon and the improvement in iron casting and working during the Han period made it possible for them to produce stronger swords. Improvements were also made to the traditional crossbow making it more accurate and powerful. The army began to adapt stirrups to gain greater balance riding horses.


Han Dynasty iron ji and knife
Photo by: Wikipedia Creative Commons

Because of the power of the Han dynasty military, they were able to rid China of many enemies and even enabled the kingdom to spread its influence over larger areas across Asia. This also opened the gates for trading. The Chinese have then maintained strong military forces throughout most of their imperial history, a tradition that was solidified during the Han dynasty.

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