Journal article Open Access

The Origins of Roman Li-chien

Ethan Gruber

In the 1950's, sinologist Homer H. Dubs postulated, based on a western Chinese cave painting depicted solders in a \"fish-scale\" formation, that Roman legionaries captured after Crassus' defeat at the hands of the Parthians at Carrhae were transported to the eastern fringe of the Parthian empire, past the Oxus River, where they eventually became mercenaries for a Hun warlord, Jzh-Jzh. These mercenaries were purportedly captured by the Chinese and settled on the frontier of western China, where many residents now claim to be descendants of \"Romans\" (which is the word for westerners). There are many, many flaws in the theory, and this paper analyzes all of the evidence that Dubs and his colleague, William W. Tarn, present. The fish-scale formation was implied to be the Roman testudo, but could very well have been a phalanx formation passed down from the Greek-Bactrians. Additionally, the Chinese annals reports that Jzh-Jzh's supposedly Roman troops were outside of a double palisade wall, which Tarn suggests is a uniquely Roman form of fortifications. This is incorrect. Double palisades are not unique to Romans, nor are they even common in Roman fortifications. Rather, there are archaeological examples of Hun forts that employed double palisade walls. Dubs suggested that since the Huns were nomadic, they would not normally have employed fortifications at all, which is clearly incorrect. This is a recurring news event in the Chinese media. Local authorities are trying to connect Gansu province with Rome to boost tourism. It is an interesting theory, but highly impropable.

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