30 July 2014

Horse armours of the Ming Dynasty


Chinese cataphract
Ming cataphracts during an imperial hunt. Image cropped from a copy of 'Shang Lin Tu (《上林圖))' by famous Ming painter Qiu Ying (仇英).
Horse armour is known as Ju Zhuang (具裝) in Chinese language. An armoured cavalryman on armoured horse is therefore known as Jia Qi Ju Zhuang (甲騎具裝, lit. 'Armoured cavalry with armour for horse'). From Ming Dynasty onward, horse armour is also known as Ma Jia (馬甲) or Ma Kai (馬鎧).

Importance of horse armour diminished during Ming period due to shifts in cavalry tactics as well as deteriorating quality and training of both horse and rider. Nevertheless, Ming armouries still manufactured and maintained thousands of horse armours in their arsenal.

Traditional Song Dynasty-style "Cataphract" barding

Champron and croupiere/crupper, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Criniere/crinet and peytral, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Champron (side view) and flanchard, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Traditional Chinese barding is of lamellar construction, and can be made of leather, iron, or some combinations of both. It consists of five different components, namely Ma Mian Lian (馬面簾, lit. 'Horse face screen') or champron, Ji Jing (雞頸, lit. 'Chicken neck') or criniere/crinet, Dang Xiong (盪胷, lit. 'Swinging chest') or peytral, Ma Shen Jia (馬身甲, lit. 'Horse body armour') or flanchard, and Ma Da Hou (馬搭後, lit. 'Horse back attachment') or croupiere/crupper. 

The practice of separating horse armour into multiple pieces seems to be began in China's Southern Dynasties, possibly as an adaptation and refinement of single-piece barding preferred by their Northern Dynasties rivals. Both types of horse armours co-existed well into Tang Dynasty, although by Song period single-piece barding seems to be largely displaced by multi-piece horse armour.

The use of Song Dynasty-style "Cataphract" barding probably continued well into Ming period, albeit with greatly diminished numbers.

Late Ming period lightweight horse armour

Simplified leather horse armour, from 'Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》)'.
Late Ming period military treatise Wu Bei Yao Lue (《武備要略》) records a lightweight horse armour that is very different from typical Chinese lamellar barding. The armour, which is made from large pieces of tung oil-treated buffalo hides sewn to padded cotton backings and laced together using rawhide cords, consists of only three components, namely a Hu Lian (護臉, lit. 'Face protector') or champron, a Hou Jia (喉甲, lit 'Throat armour') or criniere and Xiong Jia (胸甲, lit. 'Chest armour') or peytral combined into a single item, as well as two pieces of small Qian Jia (膁甲, lit. 'Loin armour') used to protect the flanks of the horse.


  1. So how much use did it saw compared to previous dynasties like Yuan and Song.

    1. Much rarer, especially towards the later period of Ming Dynasty.

    2. Thank you, if you don't mind me asking could you perhaps could go a little bit in depth about it during Yuan or Song, like how common was it exactly.

      Also what is the total weight.

    3. As far as I am aware, there isn't any comprehensive research on the use of horse armour in China across multiple dynasties, and Song & Yuan Dynasty aren't really in my study focus.

      I can only tell you that horse armour was more common during those two dynasties.

    4. Thats a little disappointing, do you have any knowledge of horse armour used in earlier dynasties?

    5. @wakawakwaka
      Unfortunately my knowledge regarding horse armour in earlier dynasties is quite limited.

  2. not relevant to the article but figured I should ask this now, it's about the crossbow in Chinese military, I'm a bit confused on the matter I have read a few forms saying it was a dominant weapon in the military and this one article saying it was not uncommon for Han Dynasty to have 30% or 50% of the army having crossbows is that true.

    I know in another article you mentioned crossbows were never popular in Ming or Yuan and as well remembering in a comment respond to another person saying that the Chinese rely more on crossbows then bows is only true for certain dynasties( i.e. Song) even then bows were use alongside them.

    So if that the case where does the overemphasis on crossbows come from exactly.

    1. It's only my guess - the reason of overemphasis on crossbow is probably due to:

      1) Chinese invented crossbow.
      2) Cool factor of repeating crossbow.
      3) Stereotypical protrayal of Chinese armies as "massed peasant horde" or "human wave".
      4) Crossbow just happens to "allow untrained peasants to stand up and kill aristocratic knights" in Western consciousness.
      5) Add all of the above together.

  3. “deteriorating quality and training of both horse”
    I don't think the reason includes this, because the size requirement of horses in the Ming Dynasty is that a one-year-old foal must be 126cm(“四尺”)。According to the growth law of horses, this foal is estimated to be 146cm in adulthood。Ming officials who advocated importing Mongolian horses also admitted from the side that Ming horses looked stronger than Mongolian horses。
    (English is not my mother tongue, please forgive me。)

    1. Your English is fine.

      My statement is very generalized though, as "late Ming" covers quite a long period. Ming cavalry during Imjin Wars were still very well-trained and deadly, but less so by the time Later Jin came knocking.

      Do you have the source of that Ming officials?

    2. This statement comes from the report on《discussing the advantages and disadvantages of importing Mongolian horses》(“《议收胡马利害疏》”)by Wang Chonggu, governor of Xuanda(“王崇古,宣大总督”)。
      “且夷马性耐寒劳。骨任驰骋。虽大小不齐。均非内地虚膘无力之种可同。”(“Mongolian horses are used to hard work and cold,its bones are suitable for its running。 They are not of uniform size,but the Ming horses that look strong but lack strength still can't match it。”)
      Please note that although this is a report that belittles the horses of the Ming Dynasty and praises the Mongolian horses,however, the report was opposed by He Yigui, a bureaucratic censor of Shanxi(“贺一桂,山西巡按御史”) in the Ming Dynasty,He believed that the Mongolian horses that the Empire could import were inferior horses and could only be sold for money.
      What attracted me in this report was that even officials who advocated importing Mongolian horses had to admit that Ming horses looked stronger than Mongolian horses. He could only publicize that the strong muscles of Ming horses were weak.
      There are many problems in the late-Jin / Qing Dynasty. If I use my mother tongue to explain this problem, I can write a paper, but the Qing army still suffered heavy losses in the war of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, and the Ming cavalry once broke through the main force of the Qing army and nearly killed Huang Taiji


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