Han China vs Ancient Rome

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Han China versus Ancient Rome
~200 BCE

As Orion's signature always say;

"Read the mofo thread before you mofo post."

This thread compares the ancient Roman Empire with Han Dynasty China, two superpowers around ~200 BCE. They share the similarities of being surrounded by whom they call "barbarians," and were considered regional powers, if not superpowers. Unlike the Romans, the Chinese did not start invasions of others. Rome however, forged a massive empire by blood.

Economy and Technology

I am not good in economy, so helping to discuss about this would be great. Rome was impressive, the Mediterranean was under Roman control. Big bonus to Roman wealth but what about China? Excluding Korea, there are no one for China to actually trade with. Rome generated wealth from conquered lands while Han China generates wealth from within the country but what is for sure is that China, for 18 centuries have always had the largest economy. China was metallurgically and technologically superior to the Romans, except that the Romans had toilets and sewer systems, the Chinese had to use wooden buckets.

Roman military technology was also advanced. They fielded siege weapons such as balistae and onagers. China could produce crossbows and good-quality iron weapons in the masses but could not match the Roman "artillery".


Both Han and Rome had strong armies that could march long distances and in history, they both end up as victors in wars against their enemies; Rome triumphed over the Carthaginians, Gauls and later Greeks while China was able to move north, across deserts and defeat the Xiongnu's. The Roman army fought mainly using infantries in immobile but steady formations composed of Roman citizens. To supplement the main core infantries, auxiliaries, non-Romans fought citizens with legionnaires to become Romans. The Romans did not use cavalries to a large extend. I am sure you all know about the Roman army so I do not have to elaborate on this.

-Infantry to infantry engagements.
-Uses heavy infantry supported by lighter auxiliaries.
-Few cavalry.

The Han Chinese's order of battle was completely different compared to the Romans. After engagements with the Xiongnus, Han Chinese adopted new tactics and developed effective missile weapons. Han China had strong cavalries and used crossbows produced in the masses. Serving in the army was compulsory to adult males and conscription was familiar to the Chinese. China's native terrain allows grand strategical moves and maneuvers of the cavalry, which was considered to be better than those of the Xiongnu's'.

-More soldiers, not slaves or men of the Persian Empire.
-Strong cavalry, almost equal in numbers compared to infantries.
-Also uses heavy infantry supported by lighter support soldiers such as crossbowmen.

Both armies are professional but China reigns supreme when it comes to manpower. In the battle of ChangPing fought between Qin and Zhao, during the Warring States Era. Both sides were able to field over 300,000 soldiers. During the Han dynasty, the population of China tripled so that proves Han China was able to field a much bigger army than Rome. Both Rome and Han China used heavy infantry extensively with smaller numbers of support troops, auxiliaries and skirmishers. Chinese crossbow would shower the enemy before moving the infantries. The Romans would hurl their pila before an engagement. Chinese cavalry would flank or surround enemies. The Romans would move in checker formations to further complicate matters, didn't they?

We all know that for the Romans, the battle at Carrhae was disastrous because of mounted-archers and their Parthian shot harassment, the Chinese had similar strategies which could be used on Roman infantry.
Roman shields could protect the barer from thrown spears and sling-ed stones but I doubt it could 100% protect the barer from a Chinese crossbow(not repeating ones).
Roman infantry formations was tighter than Chinese.
In terms of naval warfare, I would say that China wouldn't stand a chance in open sea, Chinese river ships would be rammed by Roman warships. In a river battle, China would claim victory due to Chinese navy tactics; arrows and boarding.
Most dominant armor in China that that was lamellar or scale armor while Romans had mail.

I did not start this thread because of the other threads that compares Ninjas with Pirates, Vikings with Samurais and Romans with the Greeks. I started this topic to see the what you people think about these two superpowers if they were to engage in a full-scale war, if Rome invaded China, or the other way around, who would end up in victory? While fighting a war, you cannot forget the economy!

Now that you have "read the mofo thread," please mofo post and share your opinions.

ok, I imported a post from another forum, because i thought it was interesting enough. so who would win?
China, to the bank... Unless the Romans got very lucky on their choice of ground, ie. small mountain pass Chinese forced to come through to get to battlefield where the Romans could pick them off. Otherwise, Chinese have BULK.
I'd probably go with the Romans, as long as they have a skilled general leading them. The Han Chinese have the firepower and could potentially field more men, but only a fool relies soley on strengh at arms.
Rome had infrastructure. A lot of China's domestic wealth was generated because of the localities and prefectures being able to support themselves. Rome's infrastructure is what allowed them to make money off of trade. China had a comparatively limited infrastructure. Wherever Rome went, she built roads and aqueducts. China subdued and said "let there be peace." Rome had to subdue her neighbors culturally. China, not so much. So Rome's infrastructure was as important to their very existence as it is to fielding an army.

I think it would be much more plausible to have Rome invade China than the other way around. I don't think Rome would win, and if they did, it would be a small victory with only some small gains. They would never be able to overrun China the way the Mongols did. Though China could probably field the army to conquer Rome, they wouldn't be able to supply the long march to the Roman frontier to even begin thinking about it. So....

Rome invades China: China wins.
China invades Rome: quid pro quo, not happening.
I think rome could invade china and win, it will be very slow and anti climatic.

They have to clear the land inch by inch killing potential conscripts. slowly sieging cities and occupying the land. The have to put their foot to china's throat and push down slowly. stolen technology would help as well.

And if rome is able to use the land get the tactical advantage in battles and keep their forces together they can whittle down china's numbers slowly.

I place a couple coins in the pot for rome...
Is it possible the Empires could have met and fought, if the the Romans pushed East and Han China pushed West, in Persia or present day Afganistan?

Possible, yes, at the edge of the plausibility envelope (give the Romans a huge victory over the Parthians and you are there). But sustaining actual war over the distances involved faces so many obstacles that it is pretty much inconceivable.
For the Romans to expand east the Parthian Empire has to go, suffer from some internal collapse. But a Roman push into Parthia would not trigger war with China, unless both decide to contest Transoxiana.

The problem is the Roman army never had very good overland logistics. The Roman Empire was largely built on the Mediterranean coast, relying on maritime transportation to move food. The Han Empire OTOH had plenty of experience with long distance campaigns and had the logistical technology (ie horse collar) to do so. In this scenario, the Han would be closer to home as well. The Romans never figured out how to beat the Parthian horse archers, how are they going to beat the Chinese who used similar tactics but with far greater firepower?

A Roman army with typical Roman logistics deep in a fragmented but still hostile Parthia would end up like Xenophon's Ten Thousand.

In the second scenario of the Chinese going on the offensive, I see no reason they would try pushing through Parthia. Since Transoxiana was already under Han control, more likely they would expand northwest to the Black Sea. Historically Chinese expeditions had visited that region. If the Chinese fought the Romans for the control of the Black Sea coast the Romans will likely win as their maritime logistics would far surpass the caravan logistics capacity of the Han.

In both cases, the defender has the advantage. Of course the unknowable would be how much support both sides can expect from local allies.


This is a very stupid question.

Rome can't invade Han China

Han China can't invade Rome

Jesus, on other forums this would turn into the equivalent of penis size competition between civilizations
Rome could invade China but the Romans would be assimilated to the Chinese population because China has a larger population than Roman Empire. China invades Rome is inplausible.
I'd probably go with the Romans, as long as they have a skilled general leading them. The Han Chinese have the firepower and could potentially field more men, but only a fool relies soley on strengh at arms.

I agree. The Chinese may have numerical superiority, but the Romans have alot of staying power. There were several instances during the Punic Wars where the Romans lost whole armies and still fielded full strenghth legions at the start of the next campaigning season.


I agree. The Chinese may have numerical superiority, but the Romans have alot of staying power. There were several instances during the Punic Wars where the Romans lost whole armies and still fielded full strenghth legions at the start of the next campaigning season.
I don't think you understand the difference between a war of attrition in Italy and invading China


I'm making the assumption the Roman Empire has expanded to the point where this campaign is logistically possible.
Then you are fundamentally changing the characteristics of the Roman Empire since they need to expand pretty damn far, which is really changing the context of the discussion on historical rome vs historical China.

And even then I still don't think you are making the distinction between a war of attrition in your heartland and invading another state.

A Talas style battle might be plausible at most.