The Terracotta Warriors


In 221 BC, for the first time in its history, Chinawas united under one emperor, Qin Shihuang of the Qin dynasty. The Qin emperor’s influence far out lived his short dynasty. His most important achievement was unifying the various warring kingdom and integrating writing, money, weights and measures into one centralized and standardized bureaucracy. Like many autocrats, Qin Shihuang had an early start on his own mausoleum; construction began when he was only 14 and continued for 36 years.

The emperor’s tomb complex is a massive memorial to a man that history remembers as both brilliant and brutal. Many parts of his rich tomb remain unexplored because current archeological technology isn’t advanced enough to preserve the priceless artifacts held within.

The tomb of the Qin emperor, at 56.25km2 , is best described as an underground palace with stables and an inner and outer city. Han dynasty historian Sima Qian detailed the construction effort, he wrote of the vast effort required to build the emperor’s final resting place. Over 700,000 conscript and slave laborers built the tomb to hold the numerous treasures within, rivers of mercury, constellations of pearls and gems embedded into the ceiling, plus an assortment of valuables the emperor would require in his afterlife, including live soldiers, concubines and servants-plus the artisans who worked on the mausoleum lest they reveal its secrets.

Today Qin Shihuang’s unopened vault, 1.5km from the Terracotta Warriors and 30km from Xi’an, still guards its secrets. The non-descript grassy tumulus is surrounded by trees. On peaceful sunny days, the wind blows yellow earth across the countryside, what many lie underneath belies the humble surroundings and tantalizes the imagination.

The Terracotta Warriors is only a part of the Qin emperor’s tomb complex. They may have remained forgotten had it not been for the fortuitous discovery by local peasants drilling a well in 1974. What they found would excite the archeology world.

In a vault of approximately 12,000m2 and 5m underground lay some 8,000 terracotta infantry soldiers, archers, cavalrymen and chariots arranged in battle formation, ready to defend their emperor, immortal soul. Each soldier is approximately 1.8m-tall, with higher-ranking soldiers being taller, and made of 7.6cm thick terracotta clay. Each part of the hollow body was made separately, while the trunk, limbs and hands were mass-produced, the heads were individually constructed and the face of each warrior is distinct. It has been theorized the faces were sculpted from the likeness of the soldiers and artisans. The terracotta sculptures show a high level of artistry with individualized facial expressions, hairstyles and clothing and were once brightly painted with black armor, colorful red scarves and green pants, though the colors have long faded. As warriors, they each held weapon, bronze swords, spears, axes and halberds-which were still sharp when discovered, and longbows and crossbows.

Three pits containing warriors are open, a nearby fourth pit was found empty. The pits are still being excavated and in many; warriors lay toppled as if they fell in combat. Shattered and headless statues give the eerie sense of viewing the carnage of an ancient battlefield. Though a daunting task, archeologists continue to piece together the broken remains of those warriors who lost their battle against time.

Pit 1 is the largest and contains about 6,000warriors with war chariots and horses. Housed in a gigantic building that resembles an airplane hangar, the warriors are protected from the elements and tourists who view them from elevated walkways. The warriors are lined in 38 trenches, facing eastwards to the emperor??s tomb.

The warriors in Pit 2 are mostly hidden and excavation continues with most of the area closed off. This pit show signs of fire damage, the wooden roof structure was burned when the mausoleum was looted by Xiang Yu, one of the warlords who battled for supremacy after the fall of the Qin dynasty. While the first pit contains mostly foot soldiers, the second pit is the mobile arm of the army with chariots, cavalry and archers. A tall statue, thought to be a general, was also found in this pit.

The third pit is the command center for the ghostly army, with 68 statues of officers around a war chariot. The clothing of the offices differ from common soldiers, the offices wear fine robes and are much taller.

There’s a display hall with two bronze chariots unearthed near the base of the emperor’s tomb. These elaborate half-sized chariots are intricately detailed with detailed drivers and horses that have decorated plumes and gold and silver inlaid harnesses. These richly decorated chariots feature working parts such as windows that open and close and turning handles. There are also exhibitions featuring artifacts from the pits, allowing a closer look at the intricate workmanship.
Outside the gates of the Terracotta Warriors, present day market warriors will give a shrill battle cry as you approach. They’re armed with different wares, from ubiquitous replica terracotta warriors to postcards–the best defense is a good offense .