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Liqian (simplified Chinese: 骊靬; traditional Chinese: 驪靬; pinyin: Líqián; Wade–Giles: Li-ch'ien)[note 1] was a county established during the Western Han dynasty and located in the south of modern Yongchang County, Jinchang, in Gansu province of Northwest China. The Western Han inhabitants of the county had migrated to the area from western regions. The county was renamed Liqian (力乾) during the Northern Wei dynasty and disestablished during the Sui dynasty, becoming part of Fanhe County.[2] There is a myth that some of the modern-day residents of Zhelaizhai (now Liqian village,[3] in Jiaojiazhuang township[4]) are descendants of a group Roman soldiers that were never accounted for after being captured in the Battle of Carrhae. However eminent Chinese authorities, modern genetic studies, and archaeologists have debunked this theory.[5][6][7][8]


The area that became Liqian County did not become part of Chinese territory until the Western Han dynasty conquered this area in 2nd century BC. Until the 1st century BC, it belonged to Fanhe county (番和縣; Fānhé xiàn), Zhangye prefecture (張掖郡; Zhāngyè jùn).[9]

In 37 BC, General Chen Tang (陳湯; Chén Tāng) of the Western Han dynasty attacked Xiongnu and brought many captives back to China in 36 BC. These captives were given land to be settled.[10] The place was called Liqian, which is where Zhelaizhai is now situated.[9][11]

Liqian was split from Fanhe and received the county status in the Western Han dynasty. The inhabitants around Liqian were later called Liqian Rong (驪靬戎; Líqián Róng) or Lushui Hu (盧水胡; Lúshŭi Hú) in historical records.[9] Several states established by non-Han Chinese have controlled Liqian during the Sixteen Kingdoms period. Lushui Hu even ruled one of these states, the Northern Liang, from 401 to 439 AD.

The Northern Wei conquered the Northern Liang. In the coming years, Liqian was ruled by the Northern Wei, the Western Wei, the Northern Zhou, and then the Sui dynasty, which reunified China in 589 AD. Liqian county was merged into Fanhe county again in about 592.

Lost Romans myth[edit]

During the 20th century, theory speculated that some of the people of Liqian may be descended from Ancient Romans.[12] In the 1940s, Homer H. Dubs, a professor of Chinese history at the University of Oxford, suggested that the people of Liqian were descended from Roman legionaries taken prisoner at the Battle of Carrhae. These prisoners, Dubs proposed, were resettled by the victorious Parthians on their eastern border and may have fought as mercenaries at the Battle of Zhizhi, between the Chinese and the Xiongnu in 36 BC.[13] Chinese chroniclers mention the use of a "fish-scale formation" of soldiers, which Dubs believed referred to the testudo formation – a Roman phalanx surrounded by shields on all sides.[14]

Several investigations of Dubs' theory have been conducted.[15] To date, no artifacts which might confirm a Roman presence, such as coins or weaponry, have been discovered in Zhelaizhai.[14] Rob Gifford, commenting on the theory, described it as one of many "rural myths".[16]

People with normatively Caucasoid traits and/or who spoke Indo-European languages lived in areas that are now part of Gansu and Xinjiang centuries before the Romans, including the Yuezhi, Wusun, Basmyls, Tocharians, and some prehistoric Siberian populations.[17] One or more of these peoples may have been responsible for the Caucasoid Tarim mummies of Xinjiang. Genetic testing in 2005 revealed that 56% of the DNA of some Zhelaizhai residents could be classified as Caucasoid but did not determine their origins.[18] A subsequent DNA study found that "paternal genetic variation" did not support "a Roman mercenary origin" and that the modern population of Liqian was consistent genetically with being a "subgroup of the Chinese majority Han."[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The place name has also been romanized as Li-Jian[1]


  1. ^ Chu, Henry (24 August 2000). "Digging for Romans in China". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
  2. ^ 夏征农; 陈至立, eds. (September 2009). 辞海:第六版彩图本 [Cihai: Sixth Edition in Color] (in Chinese) (6th ed.). Shanghai: Shanghai Lexicographical Publishing House. p. 1326. ISBN 978-7-5326-2859-9.
  3. ^ "者来寨、骊靬古城遗址、骊靬亭简介". Yongchang County Bureau of Culture, Radio, Television. 8 August 2013.
  4. ^ "2016年统计用区划代码和城乡划分代码". National Bureau of Statistics of the People's Republic of China. 2016.
  5. ^ Hoh, Erling (14 January 1999). "Lost Legion". Far Eastern Economic Review. pp. 60–62.
  6. ^ "Do descendants of Roman soldiers live in Gansu?". China Daily. 21 July 1998.
  7. ^ Ying-shih, Yu (1967). Trade and Expansion in Han China: A Study in the Structure of Sino-Barbarian Economic Relations. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 89–91.
  8. ^ I-tien, Hsing (1997). "漢代中國與羅馬帝國關係的再檢討 (1985-95)" [Relations between Han China and the Roman Empire Revisited (1985-95)]. 漢學研究 (Chinese Studies). 15 (1): 1–31.
  9. ^ a b c Mengxian, Wang; Guorong, Song (18 November 2006). "古罗马人在中国河西的来龙去脉" [Ancient Romans in China's Hexi]. Xinhuanet. Archived from the original on 11 December 2006.
  10. ^ Yuping, Cao (May 2007). "者来寨里的"欧洲"村民". China's Ethnic Groups. Ethnic Groups Unity Publishing House: 52–53.
  11. ^ Xiaoqing, Mu (20 March 2005). "甘肅驪靬人祖先或是羅馬軍團". Wen Wei Po.
  12. ^ "Romans in China: The Lost Legions of Carrhae". War History Online. 31 August 2015. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  13. ^ Dubs, Homer H. (1941). "An Ancient Military Contact between Romans and Chinese". American Journal of Philology. 62 (3): 322–330. doi:10.2307/291665. JSTOR 291665.
  14. ^ a b Squires, Nick (23 November 2010). "Chinese villagers 'descended from Roman soldiers'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  15. ^ Spencer, Richard (3 February 2007). "DNA tests for China's legionary lore". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 February 2007.
  16. ^ Gifford, Rob (29 May 2007). "We Want to Live!". China Road: A Journey Into the Future of a Rising Power. New York: Random House. p. 185. ISBN 978-1-4000-6467-0.
  17. ^ Keyser, Christine; Bouakaze, Caroline; Crubézy, Eric; et al. (September 2009). "Ancient DNA provides new insights into the history of south Siberian Kurgan people". Human Genetics. 126 (3): 395–410. doi:10.1007/s00439-009-0683-0. PMID 19449030.
  18. ^ "Hunt for Roman Legion Reaches China". China Daily. 20 November 2010. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
  19. ^ Zhou, Ruixia; An, Lizhe; Wang, Xunling; et al. (June 2007). "Testing the hypothesis of an ancient Roman soldier origin of the Liqian people in northwest China: a Y-chromosome perspective". Journal of Human Genetics. 52 (7): 584–591. doi:10.1007/s10038-007-0155-0. PMID 17579807.

Further reading[edit]