AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 212

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Session 212: New Military Technologies and Their Impact in the Indian Ocean Realm c.1000-1600

Organizer: Kenneth R. Hall, Ball State University, USA

Chair: John E. Wills, University of Southern California, USA

Discussant: John E. Wills, University of Southern California, USA

The proposed panel addresses archaeological, shipwreck, and textual records of military activity in the Indian Ocean realm in the Song-Ming eras (c. 1000-1600). There is notably little study of this topic as it relates to the regions connected via maritime links, in contrast to scholarship focal on the Silk Road overland networking. Recent publications on the spread of gun technology in Vietnam during the Ming era are the exception. Remarkably, the existing studies of the early fifteenth-century Zheng He fleets exclusively address the Chinese military rather than considering what the Ming armadas faced during their voyages within the Southeast Asia and South Asia realm. This panel is clearly cross-regional and focal on cutting-edge applications of social science methodologies in the study of historical texts. It is a purposeful mix of regional and disciplinary specializations: a Chinese-military specialist studies Ming-era military adaptations in Vietnam; a specialist in early Chinese and Indian Ocean maritime technology, and Chinese diaspora presence within the Indian Ocean region studies the China-to-India maritime passageway; a pre-1500 Southeast Asia history and archaeology specialist contributes a case study of the sea trade in iron as this specifically contributed to new military capacities and their societal consequences in Java; and a South Asia historian addresses the transitions set in motion by the introduction of gun weaponry in the c. 1400-1600 south India and Deccan Plateau borderland regions, with specific focus on architectural and urban changes. The panel chair /commentator, is a distinguished scholar of Chinese and Indian Ocean maritime history.

State Formation and Evolving Naval Strategies in the Melaka Straits Region in the Mid-First to Mid-Second Millennia CE
Derek Heng, Yale-NUS College, USA

As a maritime realm dependent on the international economic context for its survival and prosperity, the maritime context was of crucial importance, and had a direct impact on state formation, socio-cultural developments and the building of economic capabilities. As such, the nature of states in the region had a direct co-relation with the way in which naval capabilities were envisaged, structured and employed. As the nature of states changed over time to adapt to the evolving international context, these naval strategies also evolved in tandem to the resources and imperatives at various points in time. This paper will examine the factors that affected the nature of naval strategies in the Melaka Straits region during the mid-first to mid-second millennia CE, and the extent to which these strategies were effective in furthering the viability and their respective states. The paper will utilize both Chinese and Southeast Asian sources of information, including textual records, epigraphic materials and oral traditions to reconstruct a more coherent picture of the state and its coercive arm in pre-modern Southeast Asia.

Java’s Evolving Military History in the Tenth to the Early Sixteenth Centuries: Evidence of Contemporary Iron Imports and their Consequence as Documented in Shipwrecks, Epigraphy, and Indigenous Literary Records
Kenneth R. Hall, Ball State University, USA

This paper is based in the study of the shipwreck evidence off the Java coastline, notably the significant quantities of iron shipments to Java that had no previous iron culture. Shipwreck evidence is paired with contemporary Java epigraphy and recent regional site work by Manguin and Miksic, among others, to discuss the early negotiation of relationship between diaspora merchants and Java monarchs within the ports-of-trade (in ways that others who have previously studied these inscriptions have not). In making these comparisons, one realizes the importance of iron imports as a vital royal monopoly not only because iron was useful for expansive domestic use (agriculture) in the societal shift from central to east Java, but was also critical relative to the military ambitions of post tenth-century rulers as an iron weapons monopoly allowed the concentration of political authority in ways not previously possible. The initial era culminated in the events of Airlangga's early eleventh-century reign. This study addresses the inclusive military history of Java in the 10th-15th centuries, through the era of the Majapahit monarchy, as this relates to Java’s contemporary maritime interests, by using the new archeological evidence to revisit the epigraphic evidence, the Old and Middle Javanese literary texts, and the Chinese records of the Zheng He voyages.

Gunsmoke: The Ming Invasion of Vietnam and the Dissemination of Firearms Technology in Fifteenth-Century Asia
Kenneth M. Swope, University of Southern Mississippi, USA

According to the Official History of the Ming Dynasty, the Ming Emperor Yongle (r. 1403-1424) decided to establish the capital firearms training divisions (shenji ying) in the early fifteenth century after the Ming captured new firearms and firearms experts during their invasion and occupation of Vietnam. While proven to be erroneous by generations of scholars, this claim nonetheless reveals that there was in fact a good deal of technological exchange taking place in Asia in the wake of the collapse of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) in China. While the Mongols have long been recognized as major transmitters of military technology throughout the globe, until recently scholars have paid far less attention to the important role played by the succeeding Ming dynasty in continuing these efforts, albeit not always intentionally. Indeed, some scholars have identified the Ming as the world’s first “gunpowder empire” and suggested that the dissemination of Ming firearms technology to Southeast Asia was critical in regional power struggles and state formation. Moreover, even as they sought to protect their gunpowder technology from falling into the hands of potential foes, the Ming recognized how this technology could contribute to regional stability and shared it with their allies, most notably Chosŏn Korea. Using textual and archaeological evidence, this paper will examine some of the ways in which firearms technology was disseminated throughout fifteenth-century Asia by considering the role played by these weapons in the Ming war in Vietnam. It will also consider the ways in which firearms were viewed by combatants at the time as force multipliers and contributors to political and military stability.

Architecture and Settlement Pattern Changes as a Response to New Military Technology in the Deccan Borderlands, c. 1400-1600
Pushkar Sohoni, University of Pennsylvania, USA

The military history of South Asia in the late medieval and early modern periods has a number of lacunae. While the early use of gunpowder and the approximate dates for the advent and dispersal of specific technologies is known, their impact has not been adequately studied. Architecture and settlement patterns have been significantly altered as a response to the changes in military technology. The shifts in the arrangement and distribution of settlements before and after the sixteenth century need to be considered in this light. This paper will examine some of the changes in architecture and planning in the Deccan, as impacted by the rapidly changing military technology during this period. Forts were already upgraded in the late Bahmani period to resist gunpowder. The way cities and political capitals were sited, or even located in political space changed. The fixed city was replaced by the mobile royal city because of artillery. The demise of the south Indian Vijayanagara realm in the late sixteenth century was most likely not because of a lack of fortification to combat gunpowder assaults, as previous viewed. In fact, Vijayanagara was one of the first polities to embrace gunpowder technology, though they were technically at a disadvantage, since they lacked the steady stream of emigres with guncasting prowess -- to which the Deccan sultanates had access.