Tibetan Royal Guardsman རོཡལ་ 吐蕃禁兵
Carrying long spears (mdung) these professional warriors (zimchongpa) wear mail armour constructed of either finely made iron rings or scales (lung gi khrab) or lamellae armor made of thin plates and iron foils (byang bu’i khrab). These infantrymen wear a short form of this armour (khrab thung ha) which covers the torso down to the knee.
In addition to their long spears (mdung) they carry distinctive rattan or cane shields (sba phub).
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TIBETAN EMPIRE
Though the Tibetan Empire and Tang Dynasty of China began as cautious friends and occasional adversaries, during the 8th and 9th century, the two polities became mortal rivals over the control of the Tarim Basin and all the lands east of the Gansu Corridor, sensing Tang weakness in the aftermath of the devastating An Lushan Rebellion where nearly 13~ 36 million of its subjects died, the resurgent Tibetan Empire under the able rule of their God- Emperor (Chosgyal) Trisong Detsen, would frequently launch deep and organized raids across the western frontiers of the Tang.
Padmasambhava Statue from the Johkan Temple, first built in the 7th century. Under strong Tibetan Emperors (Chosgyal) such as Songtsen Gampo, Trisong Detsen, and Ralpacan, Tibet became a supreme regional power by the advent of 7-9th century. Just like the Gokturks from the earlier part of Tang history, the Tibetan Empire would become one of the mortal nemesis of the Tang Empire during the latter part of its existence. However, it would suddenly implode in 842 when its last Emperor was assassinated by a Buddhist fanatic. Throughout the 800s, the Tang would frequently ally with the Uighur Kaganate against the Tibetan armies.
(Tibetan Empire in black, Tang in gold, and An Lushan's forces "Yan" in orange) The Massive An Lushan Rebellion effectively severed Tang China in half, leaving only a renegade court and several loyalist provinces that resisted the rebels.
During this time, the Tang Tarim Basin (left- yellow) holdings, called the Anxi Protectorate was completely stranded and lost all connection to the heartland of China because its only access to interior- the thin Ganxu Corridor was completely bottled up by the rebels. Seeing an opportunity to take all of the Tarim Basins, the Tibetans launched several invasions to take hold of the stranded province.
A Tang and Tibetan guard of the 8th century.
The fruits of their conquest would also be their downfall. For because they have risen so suddenly, and so successfully extended across so many domains, nearly all of their neighbors began to fear them- as one. The Tang and the Abbasid Caliphate were initially slow- to trust neighbors due to their first contact battle at the Talas River half a century earlier. But because of the unchecked strings of Tibetan expansions- until all the lands that lay between the Tang and the Abbasids all belonged to Tibet. The Abbasids, under their great Caliph Harun Al- Rashid struck an alliance with the Tang to check the Tibetan expansion. The webs of diplomacy would eventually be the undoing of the Tibetan Empire. Soon- the Uyghur Khaganate- allies of the Tang would also deal blows against Tibetan holds in the west.
Emperor Rapalcan, who once held sway over a vast domain over many kingdoms
However his reign was cut short.
With the death of Rapalcan and Langdarma, the Tibetan Empire would for centuries hence be shattered into hundreds of fiefs and fortified monasteries in an age called "The Era of Fragmentation." And with the death of the Tibetan Empire and Tang Dynasty China, both people looked toward different destinies. Tibet would remain fragmented for centuries to come while the Han Chinese would fragment into many warlordoms for nearly a century and then unite under a scholarly Song dynasty, of course by that time, the two people began their relations anew and engage in the trade of tea and horses. When the Song was threatened by steppe barbarian hordes from the north, the various Tibetans would sent aids of war horses while the Chinese traded them with gold and tea. The two people were both united for the first time under one government under the yoke of Kublai Khan's Mongol Yuan dynasty.
Tibetan armor was heavily influenced by the armors of China and the various Mongol peoples. According to Donald J. La Rocca of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Department of Arms and Armor, Tibetan soldiers were most commonly protected by body armor, a helmet, and a rattan-reed shield reinforced with iron struts. Tibetan cavalry also protected their horses's bodies with thin leather armor and their heads with thick iron plates.
The most common form of Tibetan armor was lamellar armor called byang bu'i khrab, which was created by overlapping squares of force-absorbing material. The most common material used in Tibetan armor was leather, as it was lowest in cost. Higher ranking Tibetan soldiers were equipped with iron or copper lamellar armor, often elaborately decorated with gold inlay. In later eras, iron-worked mail armor became more common, and lamellar armor was gradually replaced with more effective scale armor. Some Eastern Tibetan tribes were speculated to have employed heavy infantry clad entirely in iron armor.
This observation is complemented by an account by Chinese historian Du You in his encyclopedia Tongdian. You noted that, during the reign of the Tibetan Empire (7th to 9th centuries AD), Tibetan heavy infantry were entirely encased in armor. He wrote that,
The men and horses all wear chain mail armor. Its workmanship is extremely fine. It envelops them completely, leaving openings only for the two eyes. Thus, strong bows and sharp swords cannot injure them. Their archery is weak but their armor is strong.
— Du You
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