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Battle of Muye
Datecirca 1046 BC
LocationMuye, southwest of Yin, Central Henan
Result

Decisive Zhou victory

  • Suicide of King Zhou
  • Fall of Shang Dynasty
Belligerents
Shang Zhou and its allies
Commanders and leaders
King Zhou of Shang King Wu of Zhou
Strength
Historical Records:
530,000 Shang troops (not all loyal)
170,000 slaves (which later defected)
~Total 700,000 men

Modern Estimates:
50,000-70,000 Shang Troops
Many slaves
Historical Records:
300 Zhou chariots
3,700 rebel principalities chariots
3,000 Zhou elite
45,000 Zhou footmen
Casualties and losses
All loyal Shang soldiers were slaughtered Relatively minor

The Battle of Muye (also known as the Battle of Mu; Chinese: 牧野之戰) was fought in circa 1046 BC[1][2] in China. The battle led to the end of the Shang Dynasty, and the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty.

Background[]

By the 12th century BC, Shang influence extended west to the Wei River valley, a region that was occupied by clans known as the Zhou. King Wen of Zhou, the ruler of the Zhou, who was a Shang vassal, was given the title "Count of the West" by the King Di Xin of Shang (King Zhou). Di Xin used Duke Wen to guard his rear while he was involved in a south-eastern campaign.

Eventually Di Xin, fearing Duke Wen's growing power, imprisoned him. Although Wen was later released, the tension between Shang and Zhou grew. Wen prepared his army, and conquered a few smaller loyal states to Shang, slowly weakening Shang's allies. However, Duke Wen died in 1050 BC before Zhou's actual offense against Shang.

Di Xin paid very little attention to these, as he viewed himself as the rightful ruler of China, a position appointed by the heavens, or perhaps because he was becoming engrossed with his personal life with his beautiful consort Da Ji, to the exclusion of all else.

Duke Wen's son King Wu of Zhou led the Zhou in a revolt a few years later. The reason for this delay was because Duke Wu believed that the "heavenly order" to conquer Shang had not been given and plus with the advice of Jiang Ziya to wait for the right opportunity.

Chinese civilians greatly supported Duke Wu's rebellion. In legend, Di Xin, initially, had been a good ruler. But after he married Daji, he became a ruthless ruler. Many called for the end of the Shang Dynasty.

Battle[]

With Jiang Ziya as the strategist, Duke Wu of Zhou led an army of about 50,000. Di Xin's army was at war in the east, but he still had about 530,000 men to defend the capital city of Yin. But to further secure his victory, he gave weapons to about 170,000 slaves to protect the capital. These slaves did not want to fight for the corrupt Shang Dynasty, and defected to the Zhou army instead.

This event greatly lowered the morale of the Shang troops. When engaged, many Shang soldiers did not fight and held their spears upside down, as a sign that they no longer wanted to fight for the corrupt Shang. Some Shang soldiers joined the Zhou outright.

Still, many loyal Shang troops fought on, and a very bloody battle followed, which is described in the Shijing (poem #236), as translated by James Legge:

The troops of Yin-shang,
Were collected like a forest,
And marshalled in the wilderness of Mu.
...
'God is with you, ' [said Shang-fu to the king],
'Have no doubts in your heart. '
The wilderness of Mu spread out extensive ;
Bright shone the chariots of sandal ;
The teams of bays, black-maned and white-bellied, galloped along ;
The grand-master Shang-fu,
Was like an eagle on the wing,
Assisting king Wu,
Who at one onset smote the great Shang.
That morning's encounter was followed by a clear bright [day].

The Zhou troops were much better trained, and their morale was high. In one of the chariot charges, Duke Wu broke through the Shang 's defense line. Di Xin was forced to flee to his palace, and the remaining Shang troops fell into further chaos. The Zhou were victorious and showed little mercy to the defeated Shang, shedding enough blood "to float a log".

Aftermath[]

After the battle Di Xin adorned himself with many valuable jewels then lit a fire and burned himself to death in his palace on the Deer Terrace Pavilion. Duke Wu killed Daji after he found her with the order to execute her given by Jiang Ziya. Shang officials were released without charge with some later working as Zhou officials. The imperial rice store was opened immediately after the battle to feed the starving population.

This battle left Duke Wu as master of all of Shang's important cities. Duke Wu proclaimed himself as King Wu of Zhou and so began the Zhou dynasty.

After the battle, King Wu was proclaimed by the people of Muye as the "father of the people" for letting those who did not directly participate in the battle live.

Notes[]

  1. Wu, note 40, 319 and note 41, 320: although the day and month on which the Battle of Muye was fought are certain, there is doubt about the year.
  2. Cambridge History of Ancient China (google excerpt)

References[]

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