Population of the Tibetan Empire

Jul 2014
1,493
world
#1
I learned something that astonished me. In 652 AD the regular Tibetan army was only 40,000 thousand strong. I did not expect the numbers to be so low.

Source: Warren W. Smith's Tibetan Nation

"In 654 Gar Tongtsan composed the first Tibetan legal code, established military administrative divisions, ru, or "horns," and watch posts on the frontiers, and prepared a census of Tibetan subjects and a measurement of agricultural fields for purposes of taxation. Tibetan ministers and governors were required to meet annually to decide upon military campaigns and administration of conquered territories. Administrative divisions were based upon the territorial power of the prominent clans or "shares of power of the regions," perhaps reflecting divisions of territory and power between the predominant clans of central Tibet.

This system of horns was originally composed of three districts: Central Horn in the Kyi Chu valley, Lhasa nd Phenpo; Right Horn in southern central Tibet, eastern Tsang, centered around the Yarlung valley and perhaps including Dakpo; Left Horn in Nyang, Kongpo and perhaps Pobo. A fourth horn in Tsang was later added to these, and a fifth horn in the territory of Sumpa. Insignia of rank, seals, "symbols of the heroes" and the flags of the horns were all designated.

Zhangzhung was not included in the military system of horns, although it is described in other records as a "military district." Each of the horns theoretically consisted of eight tonde, or "thousand-district," a district that could field a thousand warriors. Although some of these numbers may have been hypothetical, the figures provide some conception of the military capabilities of the Tibetans at the time.

If all five horns and the royal bodyguards were included, the Tibetans theoretically could have fielded a force of over 40,000 troops. In addition, the nomadic tribes and frontier "savages" were divided into 60 tonde, potentially providing another 60,000 troops or porters."

I now do not believe anything Tang dynasty historians say about Tibet fielding huge gigantic armies.
 
Jan 2015
146
new york
#2
40k regular is a very large army. that size is more impressive considering the density of tibetan land. you got to remember that most armies back then include camp follower, logistic unit and other irregulars in the area. a personal rule of thumb when looking at a ancient army is if they list a small army accomplishing herculean task, they mostly likely discounted the logistical units on their own side and but not the other side.
 
Likes: songtsen
Jul 2014
1,493
world
#3
40k regular is a very large army. that size is more impressive considering the density of tibetan land. you got to remember that most armies back then include camp follower, logistic unit and other irregulars in the area. a personal rule of thumb when looking at a ancient army is if they list a small army accomplishing herculean task, they mostly likely discounted the logistical units on their own side and but not the other side.
What I meant was that the 40,000 strong army was the result of the total mobilization. It is impressive to me because this army was capable of fighting the Tang dynasty at its peak.
 
Mar 2012
4,319
#4
I've seen Chinese sources putting it at 400,000. Perhaps he forgot a zero? Also, I have not seen an exact break down of the number of soldiers per ru, so I wouldn't put much weight on any estimate of Tibetan mobilization potential. Chinese sources recorded Tibetan numbers well over 100,000. Even the military garrisons Tibetans established on the Qinghai frontiers were often in the tens of thousands. It is unlikely to be much exaggerated considering the Tang forces opposing them were also of that size.
 
Jul 2014
1,493
world
#5
I've seen Chinese sources putting it at 400,000. Perhaps he forgot a zero? Also, I have not seen an exact break down of the number of soldiers per ru, so I wouldn't put much weight on any estimate of Tibetan mobilization potential. Chinese sources recorded Tibetan numbers well over 100,000. Even the military garrisons Tibetans established on the Qinghai frontiers were often in the tens of thousands. It is unlikely to be much exaggerated considering the Tang forces opposing them were also of that size.
The mongol census in 1250s says that Utsang (the most populous region till the 15/16th century) had only around 250000 tibetans. This is very similar to Imperial Tubo census. I would believe the imperial Tax census of the Yarlung and Mongols over any Chinese historians in regards to population.

The Qinghai military garrisons were actually military colonies so that is why they number in tens of thousands. There was similar garrisons in Kham. Qinghai was originally tyuhun and Kham was was Zshangzshung. Modern day khampas and Amdowas claim descent from these military garrisons.

Once again I dont understand how the Tibetans could field such gigantic armies when the core population was so low. The Arabs and Turks would have surely recorded the gigantic Tibetans armies they fought against but I have yet to see any such records.And only the Chinese historians say this.
 
Mar 2012
4,319
#6
The mongol census in 1250s says that Utsang (the most populous region till the 15/16th century) had only around 250000 tibetans. This is very similar to Imperial Tubo census. I would believe the imperial Tax census of the Yarlung and Mongols over any Chinese historians in regards to population.

I'm not talking about Tang period sources, I'm talking about modern estimates (such as the Zhongguo renkou tongshi or Xizang tongshi) and suggest you take a look at them carefully; the census you spoke of are already used in these studies with actual critical analysis applied (I also suggest you read the Tibetan primary sources themselves so you know where these authors, including Smith, derived his estimates from). I’ve went back to examine these estimates and here are the reasons for the discrepancies.

First, the figure of 250,000 for the Mongol census did not come from any primary source; I assume its an estimate which was derived from the 14th century Rgya Bod Yig Tshan. U-tsang under the Yuan was divided into two types of population; the Mi sde and the Lha sde. The former paid tax to the government whereas the later are monastic serfs. According to the source, there was a total of 36,453 Mi sde households in U-Tsang. To this, Zhang Tianlu multipled by 6 people per household and arrived at roughly 234,000 people total. This is probably the same number of 250,000 you are talking about. Yet this is only the Mi sde population and did not include the Lha sde population, which Rgya Bod Yig Tshan recorded that for each tumen of Mi sde, 6 miliarchs will be Lha sde. This mean that about 60% of the population are Lha sde. Making the total Tibetan taxed population close to 600,000. To this, we still have the serfs directly under the Sakya nobility as well as the Lama population which is not counted in either. Adding them we have at least 700,000-800,000 population in the region of U-Tsang alone. If the population of Amdo and Kham already surpassed that of U-Tsang as Sperling and others speculated, the total population of Tibetan Plateau at the time can easily be 2 million or over.



Now, in regard to the population of the Tibetan Empire. Fortunately, we have a direct primary source on the population of the four Ru from the imperial period in the Bka thang sde lnga found in the Yarlung valley. The source gave an upper Ru lag at Gstang to have a population of 360,000 and a lower Ru lag a population of 360,000 as well. For Yas Ru lag, we have an upper and lower Ru of 350,000 respecitvely. For Dbu Ru, we have an upper and lower Ru of 370,000 each, and for Yo Ru, we have an upper and lower Ru of 350,000 each, with a total of 2.86 million people total for the four Ru combined. This might or might not include the imperial army and this is also before the final conquest of the Sumpa, Zhang Zhun, and Tuyuhun (Azha).



In regard to the army size, as I suspected, Warren Smith assumed that each stong ste (literally a miliarch) was a force of 1,000 and that each Ru had 8 stong ste and these numbers remained unchanged. However, this does not seem to be the case in Tibetan sources. The Bka thang sde lnga stated that “The four Ru with 36 stong ste have a total force of 300,000-400,000”. We also have a later religious history in the “Mkhas pa ldeus mdzad pai rgya bod kyi chis ‘byung rgyas pa” which regarded that “there was 360 stong ste, with each having 1000 soldiers, the total force would be 360,000.” Either each Ru had more than 8 stong ste or each stong ste had closer to 10,000 by the imperial period (considering the Bka thang sde lnga is an earlier source, each stong ste having well over 1,000 is probably more likely). This is why Smith thought the total Tibetan army was only just 40,000 (and later 60,000). Furthermore, in addition to the 4 Ru, Tibet later added the Sumpa Ru (making it 5 total) and Zhang Zhung having a total of 61 stong ste. This doesn’t even include the Tuyuhun (Azha) which Tibet later incorporated in 663. If a stong ste is closer to 10,000 then Tibet had a total mobilizing potential of over 600,000 by the end of the 7th century. If we assume that the Sumpa Ru had smaller stong ste and is closer to the other Ru in population and army (meaning having around 700,000 people and around 90,000 soldiers), then Tibet had some 450,000 potential soldiers (not including the Tuyuhun and Tiele units which later submitted, which would bring this number to some half a million) and a population of 3.5 million (adding the Tuyuhun and other tribes of the eastern Kham region not under Tibetan control at the time, this number would be around 4 million).
This implies that the population of the Tibetan plateau during the imperial period was larger than it was in later times prior to the 20th century.


Once again I dont understand how the Tibetans could field such gigantic armies when the core population was so low. The Arabs and Turks would have surely recorded the gigantic Tibetans armies they fought against but I have yet to see any such records.And only the Chinese historians say this.
I've shown you primary Tibetan sources adding up to well over 3 million people for the Tibetan Plateau, while you only have your own estimate based on military enumeration, assuming each stong ste numbers exactly 1,000 through a literal interpretation of the word.
There are no Arab or Turkish sources that even talk about Tibetan numbers. While we have both Tibetan and Chinese primary sources talking about Tibetan armies capable of fielding in the hundreds of thousands.
 
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Jul 2014
1,493
world
#7
Once again :

Source: Warren W. Smith's Tibetan Nation

So in 654 AD The Tibetan imperial census records:

"In 654 Gar Tongtsan composed the first Tibetan legal code, established military administrative divisions, ru, or "horns," and watch posts on the frontiers, and prepared a census of Tibetan subjects and a measurement of agricultural fields for purposes of taxation. Tibetan ministers and governors were required to meet annually to decide upon military campaigns and administration of conquered territories. Administrative divisions were based upon the territorial power of the prominent clans or "shares of power of the regions," perhaps reflecting divisions of territory and power between the predominant clans of central Tibet.

This system of horns was originally composed of three districts: Central Horn in the Kyi Chu valley, Lhasa nd Phenpo; Right Horn in southern central Tibet, eastern Tsang, centered around the Yarlung valley and perhaps including Dakpo; Left Horn in Nyang, Kongpo and perhaps Pobo. A fourth horn in Tsang was later added to these, and a fifth horn in the territory of Sumpa. Insignia of rank, seals, "symbols of the heroes" and the flags of the horns were all designated.

Zhangzhung was not included in the military system of horns, although it is described in other records as a "military district." Each of the horns theoretically consisted of eight tonde, or "thousand-district," a district that could field a thousand warriors. Although some of these numbers may have been hypothetical, the figures provide some conception of the military capabilities of the Tibetans at the time.

If all five horns and the royal bodyguards were included, the Tibetans theoretically could have fielded a force of over 40,000 troops. In addition, the nomadic tribes and frontier "savages" were divided into 60 tonde, potentially providing another 60,000 troops or porters."

Now the Mongol census :

Tsepon Wangchuk Deden Shakabpa, One Hundred Thousand Moons: An Advanced Political History of Tibet. Translated by Derek F. Maher. Leiden: Brill, 2010. Two Volumes. See Vol. 1, pp. 232-235.


"In 1268 Tibetan officials carried out a census in three groups, one for Ngari and Tsang and one for Ü. The basic unit of measurement was the agricultural household family, with nomadic pastoralists largely ignored. The total figures for such households was: 15,690 for Ngari and Tsang and 30,737 for Ü. The census was implemented for one overwhelming purpose: taxation. Beginning with the year of the census Tibetans paid ten percent of annual agricultural produce to the Yuan-Sakya government."

U and Tsang are predominantly agricultural area, only Ngari is kham and semi nomadic area. So the census says that there was roughly 50000 thousand agricultural families in U, Tsang and Ngari. This area is roughly as big as modern day TAR ( TIbet autonomous region).

Now let us suppose that Ngari (kham) has 20000 nomad families and add 50000 agricultural families. that is 70000 families. 70 thousand multilied by 6 is 420000 people. I still do not see any millions of people.
 
Mar 2012
4,319
#8
Songtsen, you do realize that I gave you a break down of the various primary Tibetan sources where these authors got their estimates from do you not? I also showed where Smith got the idea of 40,000 from and how that's not the size of the Tibetan armies (he said the numbers were hypothetical, but still conservatively thought a stong ste literally meant a unit of one thousand, when it seems to have been a much bigger unit in practice). We don't need to suppose anything. This is a direct quote from the primary source of the period:

The Bka thang sde lnga stated that “The four Ru with 36 stong ste have a total force of 300,000-400,000”. We also have a later religious history in the “Mkhas pa ldeus mdzad pai rgya bod kyi chis ‘byung rgyas pa” which regarded that “there was 360 stong ste, with each having 1000 soldiers, the total force would be 360,000.

2.86 million people from the four Ru (horn) is also the figure directly coming from Bka thang sde lnga (this, along with the above figures does not include the Sumpa, Zhangzhun or Tuyuhun adding them as well would give the population of the Tibetan plateau around 4 million with an army potential of some 500,000).

For the Yuan figures, I gave you a more exhaustive breakdown citing directly from the Rgya bod yig tshan in the estimates made by Xizang Tongshi, volume 2, on Imperial Tibet. The figures given by the Yuan census only included the Mi sde, and not the Lha sde population (which made up 60% of the total population of U-Tsang), nor the serfs of the Sakya nobility and the lamas. I suggest you read my post more carefully before responding to points that are already addressed in detail.
 
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Jul 2014
1,493
world
#9
Songtsen, you do realize that I gave you a break down of the various primary Tibetan sources where these authors got their estimates from do you not? We don't need to suppose anything. This is a direct quote:

The Bka thang sde lnga stated that “The four Ru with 36 stong ste have a total force of 300,000-400,000”. We also have a later religious history in the “Mkhas pa ldeus mdzad pai rgya bod kyi chis ‘byung rgyas pa” which regarded that “there was 360 stong ste, with each having 1000 soldiers, the total force would be 360,000.

2.86 million people from the four Ru is also the figure directly coming from Bka thang sde lnga.

For the Yuan figures, I gave you a more exhaustive breakdown from the Rgya bod yig tshan in the estimate of Xizang Tongshi the volume on Imperial Tibet.
I am talking about the population during the census of 654 AD while you are I believe talking about the population during emperor Thritsong Detsen one hundred years later. Please correct me if i am wrong.

Please give me a link to the kathang denba. I do not have access to it right now. Could you tell me Who was the emperor when this force of 300000 was under his command ? Thank you in advance.
 
Mar 2012
4,319
#10
It seems I mistakenly thought the Bka thang sde lnga was a primary source from the imperial period, but when its actually a 13th century source describing the imperial period under Songtsen Gampo. However, like many sources of the time, it was probably based on some imperial period records. I'm afraid we cannot really know just how big Tibetan armies are based on these sources alone. However, these later medieval sources tell us that while Stong ste literally means unit of one thousand, it can easily be larger than that.