The Full Wiki

More info on Battle of Xiangyang

Battle of Xiangyang: Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

The Battle of Xiangyang ( ) was a six-year battle between invading Yuan Dynastymarker armies founded by the Mongols and Southern Song forces between AD 1267 and 1273. After the battle, the victorious Yuan forces pushed farther into the Song heartland. Previously for 30 years, the Song Dynasty managed to handle several major offensives by the Mongol Empire. The strategic significance of Xiangyang came from the fact that it was in a position dominating the Han river. Once the Yuan forces occupied Xiangyang, they could travel by ships down the Han river into the Yangtze river. After the Battle of Xiangyang, the Song Dynasty did not enjoy the protection of natural barriers any more and so it collapsed in just a few years. The final battle was the relatively short naval Battle of Yamen in 1279. Thus this battle was decisive.

The battle consisted of skirmishes, ground assault, and the siege of the twin fortified cities of Fancheng and Xiangyang in modern-day Hubeimarker, Chinamarker. Lü Wenhuan, commander-in-chief of the Southern Song Dynasty, surrendered to Kublai Khan in 1273. The conventional use of Mongolian cavalry was restricted by the woody terrain and numerous military outposts of the Southern Song Dynasty. Chinese firearms and cannons were employed by the Mongols in the victorious siege of Fancheng after capturing the outposts and relieving Chinese forces from Sichuanmarker and Yuezhou, which broke through the siege but was eventually defeated. Especially effective proved the use of the counterweight trebuchet by the Mongols, as the ancient traction trebuchet was the only one known in China beforehand.


The Mongols, before the rule of Kublai Khan, had launched military campaigns as far as Eastern Europe, and had conquered Russiamarker, Siberiamarker, Tibet, Koreamarker, North China, Yunnanmarker, Iraqmarker, Anatoliamarker and Iranmarker. However, the Song China was difficult to conquer because of the strategic location of Xiangyang, hence a vital position for Kublai to capture and hold. The city guarded the waterways of South China because the Han Rivermarker was a major tributary into the Yangtze Rivermarker. Once the city fell, the Mongols obtained easy access into important Southern cities in China and the Southern Song would collapse shortly after.

The Southern Song knew the importance of this vital spot, and treated the defence of Xiangyang as important as defence of their capital. The city was surrounded by mountains on three sides, and a river (Han river) on one side. Song stored massive amount of supplies inside the fortress, as preparation for long sieges. They also built high walls and towers on all four sides of the fortress. Each entrance of the fortress had at least two layers of walls, used to trap enemy sieging forces inside.

In 1133, the famous Song general Yue Fei led many successful campaigns against the Jin Dynasty, in the Xiangyang area. From there, he pushed the Jin army back north as far as Kaifengmarker. In 1234, the Jin Dynasty was conquered by the Mongols under the leadership of Ogedei. At that time, Mongols and the Southern Song dynasty were allies. After that, the two former allies did not have any common enemy. The Song killed Mongol envoys and attempted to invade the Mongol territories.

Xiangyang surrendered to the army of the Mongol Empire without resistance in 1236. But the Mongols voluntarily left the city after it was briefly held by them in 1236-38. The twin cities of Xiangyang-Fenchang, with walls almost 5 kilometers around and 200,000 people, withstood a Mongol assault in 1257. The Mongolian cavalry were lured in Xiangyang where they were slaughtered by the Song defenders due to the fortress' double layered wall design. When a Mongol contingent entered the entrance of the fortress, the Mongol forces would be slaughtered to the last man, while trapped between 4 walls. Mongols lifted the siege of Xiangyang. The sudden death of Mongke Khan forced the imperial army of the Mongol Empire to withdraw from the Song territory in 1259-60.

In 1260, Kublai Khan was proclaimed successor to the throne after the death of his brother Mongke, as was his youngest brother Ariq Boke. The succession war between him and Ariq Boke began. Kublai Khan won the war eventually, though his claim as the successor to Mongke was only partially recognized by the Mongols in the west. In 1271, Kublai Khan renamed his empire "Yuan", establishing the Yuan Dynastymarker, instead of "Ikh Mongol Uls" (Great Mongolian Nation or Great Mongol Empire). After defeating his rivals and opponents in Mongoliamarker and Northern China, Kublai Khan also wanted to continue his grandfather Genghis Khan's conquest of China. In 1267, Kublai Khan ordered Aju and the Song defector Liu Zheng to attack Xiangyang and Fencheng.

The siege

Aju and Liu Zheng arrived in 1268 and blockaded the city with a ring of forts. The Mongols probed the defence of Xiangyang and Fancheng. The Yuan-Mongols learned from their mistake, and this time brought along with them about a hundred trebuchets. These trebuchets had a shooting range of around 100 meters, and could use projectiles of around 50 kg. During Mongol campaigns against the Jin Dynasty, the Mongols used about 5,000 trebuchets, and they were very successful in destroying the Jin fortresses. Lu Wende commanded the Song dynasty's Yangtze and his son-in-law Fan Wenhu and son Lu Wenhuan commanded Xiangyang.

However, Song had expected a trebuchet siege, and made preparations beforehand. They had expanded the river in this area, to a width of over 150 meters. And in addition to reinforcing their walls, they made nettings, which they used to cover the walls during a trebuchet siege. As a result, the Yuan trebuchets had a hard time hitting the fortress, and the few lucky shots that did hit the wall bounced off harmlessly.

Mongol entrapment

The Mongols then started to block Xiangyang off from the rest of Song. A Yuan fleet of 5,000 ships was established, to stop any Song supplies from the Han river. The Han River was blockaded with five stone platforms capped by arbalests. The Mongol trained 70,000 marine but Song food supplies still held out in 1271. The Yuan also sent forces to go around the fortress, and set up camps at the key roads, to stop Song supplies from land. Eventually, Yuan built their own forts at these key locations.

From late 1267 to 1271, Song reinforcements from the south tried, many times, to attack the Mongol positions, in order to supply Xiangyang. Unfortunately, outside of Xiangyang, the Song forces were no match for the Mongolian cavalry. The catalogue of useless thrusts continued, the Chinese losing 1,000 in October 1270, 2000 in August 1271, and most of a 3,000 strong force was destroyed the following month. And once the Yuan forts were completed, the situation became hopeless. As a result, the Song forces inside Xiangyang had to depend on themselves.

But Song had stored years of supplies within Xiangyang. That said, by 1271, the fortress finally ran low on their supplies. Still, the Song troops chose to hang on.

Finally, in 1272, a small Song force of 3,000 men was able to break though the Yuan naval blockade, and supplied Xiangyang from the Han river. This was a major morale boost to the defenders. However, no one could get back out to inform others of the success. The Song officials considered that reinforcement lost and Xiangyang, doomed to fall from the lack of supplies, did not send more Song reinforcements afterwards.

Aju realized that the twin cities were hard to be taken by the Mongol cavalry and wrote Kublai that he needed the Chinese infantry. Kublai strengthened him with 20,000 men.

New weapon of the Yuan Mongols

The dream of Song defending Xiangyang forever came to a crashing end on 1273, with the introduction of the counterweight trebuchet.

Because non-Mongols such as Guo Kan fought with the Mongols under Hulegu in the Middle East, Kublai heard of terrible siege engines. Iraqimarker experts Ismail and Al al-Din were ordered to arrive in China by the Great Khan Kublai in 1272. They built the powerful mangonels under the Uyghur general Arikhgiya by March, 1273. These counterweight trebuchets had a shooting range of 500 meters, and could launch projectiles weighing over 300 kg. On top of their power, these new trebuchets were much more accurate than the old ones, and were the only artillery powerful enough to break the strong walls of Xiangyang. Yuan forces built about 20 of them, and used them to assist the siege of Xianyang.

The Mongols started the siege with Fancheng in early 1273. Song soldiers in Xiangyang watched in horror as giant rock fall flew right over the gigantic walls of Fancheng, and hit the houses inside. The walls, with netting on them, crippled as if the walls were made of sand. And as soon as the walls fell, Mongolian cavalry stormed the fortress. Fancheng, after holding up for years, suddenly fell within a few days.

The Yuan Mongol army then turned their attention to Xiangyang. However, Lü Wenhuan did not give up, because he knew Xiangyang must not fall. He sent a messenger to the Song emperor, to request immediate reinforcements. The messenger successfully got by the Yuan forts and reached the emperor. But upon hearing the power of these new trebuchets, the emperor considered Xiangyang lost and did not send reinforcements.

For the next few days, Song soldiers looked to the south for reinforcements, but all they saw were Yuan counterweight trebuchets and the Mongols waiting to end their lives. For years, the Song soldiers had hoped that the situation will eventually get better for them, but it only got worse.

In February, one testing shot was fired into the city, and the shot happened to hit a stone bridge inside. When the stone landed, it sounded like thunder. Song soldiers went to check the damage, and to their horror the stone had sunk a few feet into the solid ground.

Massive chaos occurred right after the testing shot. Many soldiers and civilians tried to open the gate and escape. Aju massacred the inhabitants of Fencheng to terrorize Xiangyang after he breached its wall with mangonels. The Mongols told Lü Wenhuan that, if Song did not surrender, everyone inside, including all civilians, would be slaughtered. Lü Wenhuan, with no chance of defending the fortress any longer, and no reinforcements in sight, surrendered his forces, hence ending this long six year siege.


Xiangyang, the strongest fortress of the Song Dynasty, had fallen. As a result, Yuan forces were free to conquer the rest of southern China. Everywhere else Yuan went, Song fortresses fell like sand castles, due to the counterweight trebuchets and later, cannons.

Many people agree that the fall of Xiangyang essentially marked the end of the Song Dynasty. For example, Paul K. Davis wrote, "Mongol victory broke the southern Sung dynasty, leading to the establishment of the Yüan dynasty." For the six years that Yuan sieged Xiangyang, Song were unable to regroup and strike back at Yuan with their resources in the south. In fact, they could not even get much reinforcements and supplies to Xiangyang, to support the hard working defense there.

Role of the counterweight trebuchet

The sieges of Fancheng and Xiangyang were also noteworthy for the introduction of the counterweight trebuchet in China from Persia as these new weapons proved to be decisive in forcing the surrenders of the two cities in 1273. Within a few days after the Yuan forces took up the bombardment of Fancheng by the counterweight trebuchet in March 1273, the city had been ripe for attack and successfully assaulted. Shortly afterwards, the Song commander of Xiangyang, realizing that the city could not withstand a similar attack, accepted the surrender terms of the Yuan.

The counterweight trebuchet was a relatively new type of ballistic siege engine which was much more powerful than the earlier traction trebuchets, which had existed in China for centuries. The origin of the counterweight trebuchet is obscure, but it appears to have been invented somewhere in the Mediterranean basin in the twelfth century. Many possible inventors have been hypothesized, including Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium and the Muslim engineers of Saladin.

The design of the trebuchets deployed at Xiangyang

Since the Yuan employed Muslim engineers for the designing of the counterweight trebuchets, they were designated in Chinese historiography as the "Muslim" trebuchet (hui-hui pao). However, regarding the exact nature of the trebuchets used by the Mongol armies, recent research by Paul E. Chevedden indicates that the hui-hui pao was actually a European design, a double-counterweight engine that as Cheveddens shows had been introduced to the Levant by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1210-1250) only shortly before. The Muslim historian Rashid al-Din (1247?–1318) refers in his universal history to the Mongol trebuchets used at the Song cities as "Frankish" or "European trebuchets" ("manjaniq ifranji" or "manjaniq firanji"):

Before that there had not been any large Frankish catapult in Cathay [i.e.
China], but Talib, a catapult-maker from this land, had gone to Baalbek and Damascus, and his sons Abubakr, Ibrahim, and Muhammad, and his employees made seven large catapults and set out to conquer the city [Sayan Fu or Hsiang-yang fu = modern Xiangfan].

The Chinese scholar Zheng Sixiao (1206–83) indicates that, "in the case of the largest ones, the wooden framework stood above a hole in the ground". Chevedden considers this to be clearly a description of the double-counterweight bricola, since, according to him, that was the only counterweight piece of artillery that had a framework capable of being mounted in a hole in the ground and was commonly set up in this fashion. Thus, the fall of the Song cities was testimony to the wide diffusion of military technology which the Mongol conquests brought along.

Another version is given by Marco Polo in his book Il Milione where he claims having been responsible for teaching the Mongols how to build and use catapults during the siege of Xiangyang. However, the names of the Muslim engineers were given by Muslim sources as Talib and his sons Abubakr, Ibrahim, and Muhammad, respectively by Chinese sources as Ala-ud-Din and Isma'il. Moreover, the siege had already ended before Marco Polo's arrival in China.

Cultural references

In the wuxia novel The Return of the Condor Heroes by Jinyong, a battle at Xiangyang is the climax of the story, with the protagonists such as Yang Guo and Guo Jing participating in the defense of the city.


  1. The Cambridge History of China: Volume 6, Alien Regimes and Border States By Herbert Franke, Denis Twitchett, John King Fairbank, p.367
  2. John Man-Kublai Khan, p.158
  3. J.Bor-Mongol hiiged eurasiin diplomat shshtir, VOL. II
  4. C.P.Atwood-Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p.592
  5. C.P.Atwood-Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p.648
  6. John Man-Kublai khan, p.167
  7. Paul K. Davis, 100 Decisive Battles from Ancient Times to the Present: The World’s Major Battles and How They Shaped History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 142.
  8. "Black Camels and Blazing Bolts: The Bolt-Projecting Trebuchet in the Mamluk Army", Mamluk Studies Review Vol. 8/1, 2004, p. 231
  9. Liang, Jieming (2006). Chinese Siege Warfare: Mechanical Artillery & Siege Weapons of Antiquity, p. 30
  10. "Black Camels and Blazing Bolts: The Bolt-Projecting Trebuchet in the Mamluk Army", Mamluk Studies Review Vol. 8/1, 2004, pp.227-277 (232f.)
  11. Rashiduddin Fazlullah’s Jamiʻuʾt-tawarikh (Compendium of Chronicles), English translation & annotation by W.M. Thackston, 3 vols., Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, Dept. of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, 1998-99, 2: 450
  12. Quoted in Needham and Yates, Science and Civilisation in China, 5:6:221)
  13. Liang, Jieming (2006). Chinese Siege Warfare: Mechanical Artillery & Siege Weapons of Antiquity, p. 30
  14. Wood, Frances (1995). Did Marco Polo go to China?, London: Secker & Warburg, pp. 107-108.

External links

Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address