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The Greatest Tomb In the World: The Terracotta Army and the West

The Greatest Tomb In the World: The Terracotta Army and the West


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This video documentary aims to prove that China had contact with the Western world of ancient Greece far earlier than previously suggested. Using the Terracotta Army as their visual template, these scientists work to find further evidence of this ancient correlation.


The Terracotta Army and Horses


Chinese name:
秦陵兵马俑 (Qinling Bingmayong)
Location: Yanzhai County, Lintong District, around 1.5km east of Emperor Qin Shihuang's Mausoleum, Xi'an city, Shaanxi Province.
Opening time: 8:30-18:00
How to get there:
- Bus: 306 (No.5), 307, 914, 915 or Special Line 101.
- From Xian Xianyang International Airport: Airport Shuttle Line 2 to Xian Railway Station (25 RMB)
- From Xian Railway Station: Tourism Bus no.5 (306), 914 or 915.
- Taxi: about 120 to 200 RMB (depending on where you catch a cab, but make the fare clear with the driver before leaving to the site)
Best time for visit: all year long
Recommended time for a visit: 3 hours at least


One of China's greatest attractions and a UNESCO protected human masterpiece

Standing as one of the 10 top attractions of China, the Terracotta Army and Horses is definitely a "must-see" scenic spot of the age-old city of Xi'an, the "Eastern Peace". This large-scale underground military museum is recognized today as one of the most significant archeological excavations of the 20 th century, a unique historical site never seen anywhere else in the world. The Terracotta Army is the buried army replica of Emperor Qin Shihuang, the First Emperor of China, guarding the tomb of the Emperor in his after life and accompanying him in his immortality. Representing the Qin Dynasty (211-206 BC) military power, these thousands of life-size figures arranged in a large-scale battle formation are impressive by there size, number and detailed looking. Today, over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses can be seen in the site. As one of the most famous attractions of China together with the Great Wall or the Forbidden City , the Terracotta Army and Horses scenic spot is attracting thousands of visitors coming from every parts of the world. Now part of any tour packages or visits to Xi'an and China, the Terracotta Army site is the place where meeting with China ancient Imperial Power and great culture that flourished since the beginning of the Qin Dynasty. Discovered in 1974, the site has been ranked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its marvel and need for preservation to future generations. Today, visitors can still notice archeologists' ongoing work on the site and in the three different pits, a sight giving an even deeper meaning to such a visit in China .

History around the Terracotta Army and Horses

When visiting such a marvelous place, one should be aware of the great history that is lying behind all the spots and tourist information signs. Indeed, the Terracotta Army and Horses is connected with the early ancient history of China. Everything started in 246 BC when at the age of 13, Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China ascended to the throne. Most famous Emperor in China's history for he was the one who unified China 2,200 years ago and gave to the country its actual name, Qin Shihuang was responsible for the creation of many of China's outstanding buildings such as the Great Wall, the Summer Palace and here the Terracotta Army and Horses site. Built with the purpose of protecting the tomb of the Emperor and show loyalty to him after his death, the Terracotta Army and Horses site was under construction during 38 years, and around 700 000 workers were needed to complete it . Apart from the terracotta figures, many buried treasures and sacrificial objects, animals and people had accompanied the Emperor in his after life, a real discovery for today's archeologists.

The site of the Army had been discovered accidently in 1974 by a farmer who was digging a well near to its village. Discovering a terracotta head looking like a human face painted in very bright colors, the farmer brought it back home to show his discovery to his family. Curious about what this head was about, they preferred alerting officials about the discovery and finished to bring them to the very place where the farmer had found the head. Soon after did the archeologists and officials realized that the farmer was at the origin of the discovery of one of the world's most important historical site: Emperor Qin Shihuang's Terracotta Army and Horses. Extending the digs, scientists first discovered Pit No.1, the biggest vault out of the three that can be seen today. Since then, the farmer has seen his life completely changed as he is now a celebrity signing autographs and that travelers can meet at the entrance of the Terracotta Army tourist site. Soon after the discovery, the State Council authorized to build a museum on the site and in 1976, two other pits were uncovered at just 20 to 25 meters away from the first pit. Precious site for China's history and humanity as well, the Terracotta Army and Horses has been listed to UNESCO in 1987, one of the greatest discoveries of the 20 th century.

Emperor Qin Shihuang &ndash The search for immortality

In Chinese history, Emperor Qin Shihuang (秦始皇) is recognized as the First Emperor who unified China and established a unified feudal country. Ruling from 221BC to 210BC, the Emperor was an excellent political ruler although being a famous tyrant who contributed a lot to ancient China.

The Emperor was originally called "Yingzheng"(嬴政), son of King Zhuangxiang of Qin and concubine Zhao ji although some controversy have appeared around this birth and the real character of the father. With his father dying when he was just 13, the boy took his imperial name of "Qin Shihuang" (Yellow Emperor of Qin) and ascended the throne supervised by a regent: Lv Buwei who finally had the ambition to overthrown Qin Shihuang. Being closed to the little Emperor's mother Zhao ji, Lv Buwei had two children with her and was then banished from the court while Zhao ji ended under house arrest in the court. Good at dealing with civil and military affairs, Qin Shi Huang progressively succeeded in unifying the other six states during the Warring States Period (475 BCE-221BC) while foiling plots to kill him many times. This was after the establishment of the Qin Dynasty (211-206 BC) that the Emperor reformed many important parts of the Kingdom. Reforming the institution, measurement, current money, laws and so on, Qin Shihuang was a great Emperor but also a rare tyrant that is recognized as the most important for China's earliest construction.

At the origin of many large-scale constructions, the First Emperor ordered namely to dig the Ling Canal, built the Great Wall, more than 700 palaces around and outside central Shaanxi Province. Obsessed by immortality, the Emperor ordered the construction of the Terracotta Army and Horses to protect him in the after life and reach immortality. Killing thousands of people not respecting his rule, the Yellow Emperor is for sure one of the most feared Emperor of its era but an Emperor who accomplished tremendous plans for the future of China.

Terracotta Army and Horses Scenic Spot General Facts

Since the discovery of the first head of a terracotta warrior in 1974, a total of three pits and some accessory one have been discovered by archeologists still working on the site today. Facing the East, this museum is covering an area of 16,300 m 2 with the 3 pits filled with more than 8,000 terracotta warriors and horses and more than 40,000 bronze weapons all looking like guarding soldiers for the Yellow Emperor of Qin. The Terracotta Army and Horses consists of 3 sections (also called "vaults" or "pits"), a series of accessory pits and an Exhibition Hall.

Pit No. 1: (14,260 m 2 , 210 meters long, 62 meters wide and 4.5 to 6.5 meters high)

This is the largest pit, the first discovered and the most famous one that can be seen on most of the pictures of the Terracotta Army. Composed of 3 lines of horizontal clay warriors, followed by several columns of 6,000 terracotta warriors on the foreground, and followed by 35 horse-drawn chariots on the background, Pit No.1 exhibits terracotta chariots and warriors since its opening in 1979. The excavated sculptures include more than 1,000 warriors, 8 war chariots, 32 horses and about a thousand of bronze vessels. All warriors seem well-prepared for the battle. A total of three excavation works have been proceeded in that pit, the first one in 1974, and the second one in 1985. The third excavation of Pit No.1 started on June 2009, after which new relics of 2 war chariots, more than 20 terracotta warriors and lots of vehicle components and bronze weapons have been excavated. In order to protect the site, a large arched hall has been built above the pit, providing the pit with good ventilation and daylight conditions for its preservation. By looking carefully at the pits, one will see that every three yards, a puddle wall separates the underground army into different columns. Fortified with wooden columns, earth and reeds, some of them still collapsed on the sculptures. On both the northern and southern sides of the war formation, stand 180 warriors serving as flank guards facing east and west in order to protect from the enemy. Life-like, the soldiers are a real impressive sight for anyone, giving a deep impression on what artisans created about 2,000 years ago. On top of the Terracotta figures, many weaponry including bronze arms were found in a still good preservation showing the high level of material technology already proceeding in that period of time in China. Originally all full painted in bright colors, the natural light and excavation techniques couldn't help preventing the colors to faint away with the years. When visiting the Museum, visitors should imagine the first farmer discovering a site of warriors all painted in red, black, white, pink and green colors. Currently, over ten pieces of colored terracotta warriors have been protected through the use of modern technology. The third excavation of Pit No.1 is then full of wonderful expectations on which scientists like to speculate. Excavation work of the Terracotta Army still goes on.

Pit No. 2: (7,176 square yards, 96 meters long, 84 meters wide and 5 meters high)

Located 20m North-east of Pit No.1, the second vault has been found in 1976. L-shaped and most spectacular of the three pits, it contains over 1,300 warriors and 90 chariots, crossbowmen, cavalry and infantry and thousands of bronze weapons unveiled to the public in 1994. The combat formations are more complex in that pit as the units of armed forces are more complete. Pit No.2 is where seeing the curious Green-faced Warrior on which many scientists reflect since its discovery. This pit can be divided into 4 sections:

- Section 1 - Crossbowman Warrior Squad: Eastern corner of the pit, square shape, 4 corridors around the four sides with 60 crossbowmen in standing posture, 4 east-west passageways where 160 crossbowmen are aligned in squatting posture.

- Section 2 - Chariot Commander Warrior Squad and Horse-drawn Chariots: Right of the pit, 64 war chariots divided into 8 rows, each pulled by 4 life-sized horses, 3 warriors stand side by side behind the chariot, with the middle one driving the carriage.

- Section 3 - Vehicular, Infantry Warrior and Cavalry Warrior Squad: Center of the pit, rectangular combat formation, 264 foot soldiers, 8 cavalrymen, 19 war chariots.

- Section 4 - Cavalry Warriors Squad: Left of the pit, 3 east-west passageways, cavalrymen aligned.

These 4 sections of Pit No.2 make up an impregnable fortress against the enemy.

Pit No. 3: (about 520 m 2 , 21.4 meters long, 17.6 meters wide and 5.3 meters high)

Looking like the command headquarter of the armed forces, Pit No.3 is situated 25 meters northwest of Pit No.1, discovered in 1976, the smallest pit out of the three. The vault in the exact shape of "凹" (Chinese character) contains 68 warriors, bronze weapons as well as gold, stone and bronze decorations, a war chariot and 4 horses, display since 1989 to the public. Attracting every visitor's attention, is the fact that many of the warriors seen in that pit are headless. Why? Archeologists believe that these warriors did have heads when originally produced about 2,000 years ago but due to many thefts from vandals, who in ancient times, had no idea about what the site was about, many heads have disappeared. Still, the splendor of Pit No.3 is amazing and making everyone marvel at what was occurring there thousands of years ago.

Apart from these three pits, other smaller pits have been found, known as accessory pits, near the three main one. The "artisans' graveyards", the "slaughter pits", the "stable pits" and the "rare birds and animals pits" are the names given to them.

Artisans' Graveyards Pit: A total of 3 artisans' graveyards have been found near to the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang. Over a hundred of skeletons have been found in this pit, all squeezed into 32 graves. Mostly composed of males (still a woman and a child were found), these people were supposedly forced to work for the Emperor until the death of the Emperor when everyone was killed alive in one grave. All positions in different directions, the heads of the skeletons show that they were buried hastily by the tyrannical government.

Slaughter Pits: Out of the 17 slaughter pits found in the area, 8 of them have been excavated so far. Containing bronze swords and skeletons of five men and two women aged between 20 to 30. Over 200 burial objects such as animal bones, gold decorations, silver, copper, jade, lacquer works and the silk were also found in the pits. Rich ornaments and objects, questions around the persons buried in the place have been raised.

Stable Pits: In Emperor Qin Shihuang's Mausoleum, two sites containing stable pits have been found. Some of the pits contained horses, while others only a statue of a kneeling terracotta warrior. Like for the artisans, the horses are believed to have been buried alive because the four limbs appearing to be traces of the struggling animal. All of this reflects once again the First Emperor's dealing with human lives. By doing this, he wanted to bring anything he had with him to the afterworld, so that he could continue his luxurious life. This dramatic idea was then gradually adopted by Emperors in later Chinese Dynasties.

Rare Birds and Animals Pit: Largest of all the accessory pits, the Rare Birds and Animal Pit was a place for the Qin Shihuang's spirit to hunt in the afterworld. A total of 31 pits are arranged in the area but just two of them have been excavated so far. Strangely enough, coffins were discovered in the pits, inside which skeletons of animals believed to be deer were found. Statues of kneeling warriors found in the pits with the animals are today believed to symbolize the feeders of the rare birds and animals of the Imperial court.

The Exhibition Hall: is where seeing the Bronze Chariots and the museum around the discovery of all the site as well as the UNESCO ranking of the Terracotta Army. There lie relics around the most famous visitors' coming at the museum since its opening.

Since the beginning of scientists' work on the three pits, over 7,000 terracotta soldiers, horses, chariots and even weapons have been unearthed, most of them restored to their former grandeur. Differing from any other in terms of facial features and expressions, clothing, hairstyle, and gestures the Terracotta warriors are a treasure of civilization showing how China was already one of the most advanced civilizations of its age about 2,000 years ago. All kinds of military ranks can be found in the pits: horsemen, longbow bearers, archers, senior officers and generals&hellippositioned in strict accordance with the ancient Art of War. A marvel for the eyes and for the rich cultural knowledge that is offered to scientists and historians of China and of the world. All these terracotta figures transport travelers to another world, to the time of Ancient Warring States when Emperors, kingdoms and wars where all about it. Emperor Qin Shihuang's Army and Horses are a treasure of ancient civilization, a treasure for the Chinese people.

Terracotta Army and Horses Skilled Artisans

Amazed by the large-scale human masterpiece discovered in 1974, archeologists started to wonder about the very artisans who build all of these pits and every single part of the more than 8,000 warriors and horses excavated. During their repair work, some discovered names carved on the bodies (hips, under the arms&hellip) of the sculptures. A total of 87 people's names were written which after some researches found out to be the one of master craftsmen. Recruited by the Qin Emperor, the countless skilled artisans came from all parts of the Qin Kingdom. Each of them ground by hand to achieve a perfect thickness, the warriors, horses, chariots, and bronze crafts sculptures tried to reproduce reality to perfection. A hard work which took months to be done. About 3,600 artisans have been estimated to be needed for creating a whole armor during one year. Precious testimony of their life and work condition during the elaboration of this army, some letters hidden in bamboo slips found in the pits showed how life was hard:

"I have to work carefully every day, if I paint the weapons incorrectly, my officer will punish me very severely".

Their fate already sealed by the time they were hired by Emperor Qin Shihuang 's government, the remaining artisans alive when the Emperor died were ordered to be buried alive in the tomb passages, so that the secret of the Mausoleum and its location would not be revealed. Faithful to their master and Emperor, the skilled artisans were the victims of the powerful but tyrannical era of the First Emperor of China.

When visiting the Terracotta Army and Horses scenic site, this is not to be denied that the museum is of a various and vivid artistic creation full of ingenuity for that period of time. For its realization, tens of thousands of individual human and animal statues were manufactured within a series of processes meticulously done by the more than 700 000 workers who work on this masterpiece.

Creation of Terracotta Warriors

The creation of a terracotta warrior follows a drastic method starting with the molding of the legs, body and arms is a single piece of terracotta. The head is made separately for being placed afterwards on the neck. Every single warrior differs from one another in their hair style, gesture and look, what is even more impressive considering the more than 8,000 warriors excavated from the three pits by archeologists. Already skilled at using tiny details to express different characters and mental states, Qin's artisans were keen on realizing the best army looking like the real one for accompanying the Emperor in its after life. Every single warrior's eyes differ from one another, as that is the part of human body that figures as a window to a man's heart. For example, canny warriors were created with graceful eyebrows and eyes brave soldiers with wide and staring eyes simple and honest soldiers with a big head, wide face, bushy eyebrows and big eyes. In general, the warriors with squinty eyes and tender smile show their confidence to win the war, while the one with wide open eyes like in a fury show their hate toward the enemy. The soldiers looking down are supposed to be the one shy and quiet the one looking forward have eyeballs in the center of the eyelids while the one looking up have eyeballs titled up slightly. Differing in term of look, the warriors also differ in term of military rank. Three military ranks can be noticed and easily differentiate from one to another: the simple soldier, the noble officer and the great general. Vivid for the gorgeous work artisans' made on the sculptures and original for it has been the only place where such meticulous works has been noticed, the Terracotta Army and Horses is a human masterpiece.

Green-Faced Warrior

When visiting the Terracotta Army and Horses today visitors see the sculptures without any single color, just of the natural color of the terracotta. However, by the time the first farmer and archeologists discovered the site, all warriors were in full bright colors, each parts of the body recovered by a different one, giving to the soldiers an even more vivid aspects and look.

In Pit No.2, where about 1,500 figures stand is a unique green-faced soldier that differentiates itself from the others by its strange colors. Arousing the curiosity and interest of archeologists, the soldier's face, neck and ears are painted in light green (while others are painted in pink), the eyebrows and beard in black, hair band in scarlet red and hair bun painted ochre. Still in debate for the reason why it was painted this way, some hypotheses have been made such as it was just a pure mistake, or it was there for intending to frighten enemies, or demonstrate the braveness of all the soldiers and the power of the army, or finally that it was a sniper in camouflage&hellip Hypotheses that are all lacking in scientific evidence obviously and are still not unveiling the mystery over the soldier's green face. Precious and delicate the colors on the warriors have vanished with the natural light for it was composed of a brown organic bottom layer of Chinese lacquer, tinted with various colors.

Dressing of Terracotta Warriors

When admiring the sculptures of the Terracotta Warriors, one should notice the many details with which the dresses of the soldiers, officers and generals were made. Adopting the realistic kind of dress warriors possibly wore during the fights, Terracotta Warriors military ranks can be differentiate this way and by their hair dress and hat also.

The General: dual long jacket, crest hat, long pant, thigh protector, pair of boots with square opening tipping and uniform head, looking grand and awe-inspiring.

The Middle-level Officer: two kinds of dressing.
- long jacket, thigh protector, boots with square opening tipping head, chest plate trimmed with lace and a double long hat
- high collar gown clasped on the right side, thigh protector, boots with square opening tipping head and covered a piece of armor with smooth edge and lace.

The Junior Officer: long jacket, piece of armor, long hat, pair of shallow shoes and thigh protector. Some do not wear armors and fight in light equipment.

The Soldier: three kinds of dressing.
- long jacket, pair of shorts, pair of shallow shoes, combed a tight roll of hair at the right side of the head, assembled with leggings and armor on the back
- similar to the first one but with red handkerchief on the head
- similar to the second one but with combs flat bobs on the back of the heads instead of wearing handkerchiefs.

The Cavalries: Hu dress, waist-length armors and round small hats, hold bow and arrow in one hand, with the reins in the other hand.

The Drivers of Chariots: dress in two ways.
- long jackets, armors, long hats, shallow shoes and armed with leggings
- strict protection to the body: square plates protecting the neck and the two arms to connect with hand guards.

Bronze Chariots and Terracotta Horses

Out of the three pits composing the Museum of the Terracotta Army and Horses, two large scale-models of bronze chariots and horses have been unearthed in 1980, at around 20 meters east of the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang. Damaged by the natural erosion and humidity of the last 2,000 years for there were made of wood, bronze and cast bullion, the two chariots were first unveiled to the public in 1983 and 1988. Adding to the nation's great archeological treasure, the two chariots are a jewel of art directly coming form the Qin Era.

- Chariot No.1: (225 x 126 x 70 cm) two-wheeled vehicle drawn by a team of four strong horses, only one seat for the driver with a large umbrella providing shade from the sun.
- Chariot No. 2: (317 (long) x 106 (high) cm) larger one, horses richly adorned with gold and silver gear, three windows, roof umbrella-shaped.

Various bronze crafts excavated

The archeological researches made on the three pits since the first discovery in 1974 made a lot of gorgeous discoveries of bronze crafts directly coming form the Qin Dynasty. Bronze arms including swords, spears, scimitars, billhooks, halberds, curved knife and a large amount of crossbows and arrowheads make most of scientists' findings in the pits. Despite the 2,000 years old of the arms, their conservation had been one of the greatest noticed by archeologists for many of them are still glittering, sharp and new, an exquisite weaponry which shows that the metallurgical technology at that time had been already advanced. For example, the surfaces of the swords were coated with an oxide film 10 microns thick containing 2% of chrome, an oxidation technology which wasn't mastered until recent times and requires both complex equipment and processes in our modern times: a discovery making all scientists wonder about artisans secret recipe.

Bronze Cranes

In an accessory pit (Pit No. 7, only 30 square yards) located at just a few meters away from the actual Mausoleum were found a lot of bronze cranes, birds, wares, etc&hellip Discovered by villagers, the unearthed crafts are part of the history of the Qin Mausoleum's archaeology. Directly referring to Chinese traditional culture, the crane's position is second after the holy phoenix that can be seen on many art crafts, brocades or architectural ornaments in China. King of longevity (so does the tortoise), the cranes reflect Emperor Qin Shihuang's long and cherished wish for immortality.

Acrobatic Figures (Baixi Yong)

By excavating the pits, scientists found some curious terracotta warriors in acrobatic positions together with the utensils they used for performance. Although being damaged by the last 2,000 years, the figures can still be analyzed Naked from the waist up and wearing thick short skirts, the acrobatic sculptures are fainting to play wrestling, weight lifting, dancing and other performances. These acrobatic figures are very different from the solemn-looking Terracotta Warriors in terms of gesture, dressing and expression. There discovery add a new group to the Qin Terracotta Warriors, supposedly showing us the colorful acrobatical art and entertainment that used to proceed in the Imperial court of Qin Shihuang.


Young Emperor

Ying Zheng took the throne in 246 B.C. at the age of 13. By 221 B.C. he had unified a collection of warring kingdoms and took the name of Qin Shi Huang Di—the First Emperor of Qin.

During his rule, Qin standardized coins, weights, and measures interlinked the states with canals and roads and is credited for building the first version of the Great Wall.

According to writings of court historian Siam Qian during the following Han dynasty, Qin ordered the mausoleum's construction shortly after taking the throne. More than 700,000 laborers worked on the project, which was halted in 209 B.C. amid uprisings a year after Qin's death.

To date, four pits have been partially excavated. Three are filled with the terra-cotta soldiers, horse-drawn chariots, and weapons. The fourth pit is empty, a testament to the original unfinished construction.

Archaeologists estimate the pits may contain as many as 8,000 figures, but the total may never be known.


5. The unearthed weapons show the highly developed metallurgical techniques of China over 2,200 years ago.

More than 40,000 pieces of bronze weapons have been unearthed in the Terracotta Warriors pits, most of which are copper plated. Besides, there are many swords, daggers, crossbows, arrowheads, billhooks, spears, halberds, spears, and axes. All the weapons were well manufactured. The surfaces of the swords had undergone anti-oxidation treatment, thus having good properties of anti-corrosion and anti-rust. Though having been buried underground for more than 2,200 years, the blades still glitter and remain sharp. These fine weapons prove that the metallurgical techniques of China had already reached an advanced level in the Qin Dynasty, a miracle in the history of metallurgy.


Power: spotlight — The Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi

The first emperor of China was Qin Shi Huangdi. First, he became king of the Qin (pronounced “Chin”) state at the age of thirteen. Eventually he defeated the rulers of all the competing Chinese states, unifying China and declaring himself “First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty” (Qin Shi Huangdi). He began the construction of his vast tomb as soon as he took the throne, and it took 38 years to finish, even with a reported 700,000 convicts laboring for the last 13 years of construction. These great numbers are, themselves, displays of the tremendous power of the emperor, and the work clearly bears the imprint of their astounding labors.

As emperor, he was repressive —banning and burning Confucian books and executing the scholars who wrote and studied them. Not surprisingly there were at least two attempts to assassinate him.

Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi today, (photo: CC BY-SA 3.0)

Visual elements

When the tomb was completed, it was covered in grass and trees, so that it would appear like a natural part of the landscape.

Today, from the outside, Qin Shi Huangdi’s burial mound looks like a hill. This explains how the huge tomb could have remained hidden until 1974 when rural villagers accidentally discovered it while digging a well. It blended into its surroundings, looking like a foothill of the Li Mountains.

Plan of the tomb complex, Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (diagram Weixing Zhang)

As the plan of the tomb complex shows, the tomb itself was surrounded by a large number of other burials, including three pits containing warriors made from terracotta (which are known today as the “Terracotta Army”) There was also a pit filled with the remains of exotic animals, and the graves of followers executed at the time of the burial.

So far, approximately 7,000 figures made from terracotta and 100 wooden chariots have been discovered in Pits 1, 2 and 3.

Pit 1, Army of the First Emperor, Qin dynasty, Lintong, China, c. 210 B.C.E., painted terracotta (photo: mararie, CC BY-SA 2.0,

When we look at the vast rows of the 6,000 soldiers of the army in Pit 1 (the largest yet found) we see a view that no one had seen for more than two thousand years — from the time that the tombs were sealed until the excavations of the 1970s. The figures were set into paved channels of earth, reinforced with wooden planks and then buried.

The soldiers are arranged in battle formation, with a vanguard of archers surrounding the bulk of the army. The hands of the archers are now empty, but they originally held wooden bows, of which some traces survive. These wooden bows, along with bronze weapons held by other soldiers, would have given the soldiers a more naturalistic appearance.

Front and back view of Kneeling Archer, Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi

Pattern and repetition

As a whole, the layout and design of the army emphasizes pattern and repetition. The soldiers are all of very similar size — slightly larger than life-— and are standing in repeated poses. They are arranged in consistent rows, which establishes a very regular pattern. It also creates a sense of unity, which is an ideal generally sought by real armies. These soldiers are clearly, through their unified appearances, collectively working to express, enforce and protect the power of the emperor, even as he lies in his grave. There is, though, variety throughout the army, enlivening the whole with small, humanizing differences in features and costume.

The scale of the project is hard to comprehend. This is not a token set of guards around the imperial tomb, but a complete army, from foot soldiers and cavalrymen to generals. To get a sense of these figures, we will look first at an archer from Pit 2. The archer wears a long robe and armor over his torso and shoulders and kneels on his right knee. He originally held a bronze crossbow, a weapon that shot heavier arrows faster and farther than bows.

His armor is quite detailed. The immensity of the labor required to produce the thousands of figures is stressed by viewing the figure from the back, revealing the attention paid even to the sole of his shoe. It bears three different patterns in the tread, to differentiate heel, center and toe. The care taken over such a minor detail emphasizes the power of the patron, and the vastness of his wealth.

Still, while there is great attention to detail, which suggests the individuality of the figures, there are also techniques used to grant the whole composition its consistent and impressive unity. The most obvious method used to create a sense of unity is the depiction of their armor: since they are an army, they are dressed in very consistent uniforms. There are, though, subtler techniques used to suggest that the figures are not actually individual portraits but slightly differentiated versions of a generalized, idealized soldier. The folds of the archer’s clothing, for example, are stylized: we know that the heavy cuts into the surface of the terracotta represent folds in heavy cloth, but they do so in a generalized way, rather than seeming like each was carefully copied from reality.

Individualized but abstracted and idealized

The figure’s face is also at once individualized and slightly abstracted. Its sense of individuality does not come from intense verism, from the rendering of every wrinkle and imperfection, but from the lively and alert expression. All of the features are smoothed out, made angular. Some of the figures bear bushy moustaches and beards or thick eyebrows, but this figure’s features are all more minimally presented. The halves of his moustache are flat planes, and his eyebrows are smooth ridges.

All of the artist’s efforts here seem to be focused on his watchful state. The figure, like all of the thousands at the site, is idealized. The archer appears to be youthful and strong. His face is highly symmetrical, though this is humanized by his off-center top-knot of hair. He, like all those around him, is an ideal soldier to serve in the emperor’s imposing army.

Chariots

Equally impressive are the great chariots, including the war chariot. These were found just outside the actual burial of Qin Shi Huangdi (which remains unexcavated at this time). Two bronze chariots were found, one considered a war chariot and the other a peace chariot. Both chariots were found in fragments but have been restored. They are about half life-size, and intricately designed. The war chariot contains gold and silver embellishments on the canopy pole and the horses’ bridles, as well as other parts of their tack.

War Chariot, Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, c. 210 B.C.E. (photo: Tiffany, CC BY-NC 2.0)

The horses are depicted in much the same style as the terracotta figures, with a delicate balance between naturalism and stylization. Their heads and bodies are somewhat generalized, so that we do not see veins or tendons standing out beneath the hide, for example, and yet they are still quite lively. Their ears are perked up as if with attention, their heads tossing as they bite their bits. They were originally painted white, with red tongues, which would have granted them an even more lively appearance.

The horses, like the soldiers, are each individualized, and yet clearly all part of a cohesive team. They are all of the same size, and wear similar gear, but they differ in subtleties of the nostrils and eyes, for example. A crossbow hangs within easy reach of the driver, elaborately decorated with patterns. A quiver containing 54 bronze arrows of two different types — diamond-shaped and flat tipped — was found hanging from the inside of the chariot’s rail. Once the emperor died and his dynasty was quickly disintegrating, mobs plundered the tomb and took the weapons because they could be used.

Cultural context

The burial of Qin Shi Huangdi reflects the worldly power of the emperor. In ancient China, very elaborate burials were standard features of imperial court practice, and were copied by lesser members of the aristocracy, as well. In the earlier Shang Dynasty (c. sixteenth-eleventh century B.C.E.), rulers were buried with lavish possessions (as well as with their servants — human sacrifices were also common in the Shang Dynasty, and continued through successive periods).

By the time that Qin Shi Huangdi commissioned his elaborate tomb, these practices were already ancient, and set the precedent for his ritual specialists to follow. Sima Qian’s Shiji (Historical Records) provides an account of the tomb (Sima Qian is considered the first major historian of China he wrote during the Han Dynasty that succeeded the Qin). His description attests to the continued practice of human sacrifices, as well as the to great measures taken to secure the tomb against raiders seeking its riches.

The tomb vault was dug through three underground streams and the coffins were cast in copper. Palaces were built within the burial mound and the burial chamber itself was a rich repository full of precious and rare treasures. Artisans were commanded to contrive gadgets controlling hidden arrows so that if tomb robbers approached they would be bound to touch the gadgets and so trigger the arrows. On the floor of the vault mercury representing the rivers and seas was kept flowing by mechanical devices. The dome of the vault was decorated with the sun, moon and stars, and the ground depicted the nine regions and five mountains of China. … At the entombment the Second Emperor decreed that it was not fitting that the childless concubines of the First Emperor should be allowed to leave the imperial palace and should all be buried with the Emperor. Thus the number of those who died was very great. As quoted in Zhang Wenli, The Qin Terracotta Army: Treasures of Lintong (London: Scala Books, 1996),
14-16.

Horses, Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (photo: Erwyn van der Meer, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Like most imperial burials in China, Qin Shi Huangdi’s burial chamber remains sealed, and so this early account of its vaults and surroundings has not yet been confirmed (though there are heavy concentrations of mercury in the soil around it, suggesting at least some accuracy).

But why would an emperor wish to be buried with a terracotta army, with bronze chariots and teams of horses, and even with his concubines?

In ancient China, death was seen not as the complete end to an individual but rather, a new stage in life. Therefore, the army was intended not only to demonstrate the emperor’s power in this life, but also to extend that same power into the world of the dead.

Admittedly biased Confucian historians of later dynasties describe Qin Shi Huangdi as paranoid, though the two documented attempts on his life suggest that some fear would not have been irrational. Desiring to preserve his power eternally, he had the ideal army constructed, and placed to the east of his tomb — the direction of his enemies in life.

This massive project should be seen in the context of Qin Shi Huangdi’s other efforts, including the beginning of the Great Wall of China, built to keep out northern invaders in the world of the living. The first emperor gained unified control over China through military force, censorship of information and ideas, and a strong defense against outside forces. Having accomplished this, he then worked to ensure that he would continue to hold such worldly power — even after his death.

Additional resource


Greeks May Have Influenced China’s Terra Cotta Army

Though the 13th-century Italian explorer Marco Polo may have been the first Western European to leave a detailed chronicle of his travels to Asia, he was certainly not the first to make the trip. Chinese historians recorded earlier visits by people thought to be emissaries from the Roman Empire, which took place during the second and third centuries A.D. In the third century, during the Han dynasty, came the formal establishment of the Silk Road trade route, a network of caravan stops and trading posts linking China and the West.

The 2,200-year-old Terra Cotta Army on display in Xian, China. (Credit: China Photos/Getty Images)

According to archaeologists and historians now working on China’s famous Terra Cotta Army, meaningful contact between East and West may have begun far earlier. They believe the lifelike appearance of the statues may have been inspired by or modeled on ancient Greek sculptures, suggesting Western influence in the era of China’s first emperor, some 1,500 years before Marco Polo’s famous voyage.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang, founder of the Qin dynasty, ascended to the throne in 246 B.C. at the tender age of 13. Over the next 25 years, he unified a number of warring kingdoms and implemented stabilizing policies, including the standardization of coins, weights and measures and the building of roads and canals. Qin also undertook various ambitious building projects during his reign, including the earliest version of the Great Wall, built along the country’s northern border to protect against barbarian invasions, as well as his own mausoleum.

The figure of a kneeling archer on display at the British Museum. (Credit: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

According to the writings of the court’s historian, Siam Qian, Qin ordered construction of the tomb complex to begin early in his reign. More than 700,000 laborers worked to build it over three decades, and the project appears to have been left uncompleted after the emperor’s death in 209 B.C.

Flash forward to 1974, when a terrified farmer stumbled on the Terra Cotta Army after seeing a human face emerge among the vegetables in his fields. Archaeologists eventually unearthed some 8,000 sculptures from the pits in Xi𠆚n, all built to escort Emperor Qin into the afterlife and guard his final resting place. The life-size warrior figures included chariots, weapons and horses, and were sculpted in impressive detail, down to their hairstyles and the insignias on their armor.

Terra Cotta soldiers in battle formation. (Credit: Martin Moos/Getty Images)

Before Qin’s reign, China had no known tradition of building life-size sculptures. Though many other buried terra cotta soldiers have been found, earlier ones were much smaller, measuring less than 10 inches tall. According to Li Xiuzhen, a senior archaeologist at the Terra Cotta Army site, this significant departure in scale and style likely occurred when influences arrived in China from elsewhere–specifically, from ancient Greece.

“We now have evidence that close contact existed between the first emperor’s China and the west before the formal opening of the Silk Road. This is far earlier than we formerly thought,” Dr. Xiuzhen told the BBC, which collaborated with National Geographic on a documentary about the team’s findings. “We now think the Terra Cotta Army, the acrobats and the bronze sculptures found on site, have been inspired by ancient Greek sculptures and art.”

Credit: Keren Su/Getty Images

What’s more, Greek artists may even have been on hand themselves to instruct their Chinese counterparts in sculpture techniques. “I imagine that a Greek sculptor may have been at the site to train the locals,” said Lukas Nickel, the chair of Asian art history at Vienna University and a member of the team working on the history of the Terra Cotta Army.

It’s widely believed that Alexander the Great’s military campaign to India in 326 B.C. was the first point of contact between East and West, leaving behind a cultural tradition of Greco-Buddhist art. But the new theory goes further, suggesting that in the century after Alexander’s campaign, Greek statues could have made their way to China and influenced the Terra Cotta Army.

Xi𠆚n, Shaanxi, China, North-East Asia, Asia

To support this theory, Dr. Xiuzhen and her fellow experts point to a separate study, which found ancient mitochondrial DNA, specific to Europeans and dating to the time of the first emperor, in Xinjian province, the westernmost region of China. Such findings suggest Europeans may have settled in the province before and during Qin Shi Huang’s reign.

In addition to the possible link with ancient Greece, the archaeologists at the site have also discovered that Qin’s tomb complex is far larger than they first thought, some 200 times bigger than Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. Alongside the Terra Cotta Army, the mausoleum also contained the mutilated remains of women, believed to have been high-ranking concubines of the emperor. The skull of a man, found with a crossbow bolt embedded in it, is believed to have belonged to the emperor’s son, who was killed along with others during a power struggle after his father’s death.


History and Construction of Terracotta Warriors and Horses

In 221 B.C., Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin dynasty established the first centralized feudal dynasty in China. After his death, he was buried at the northern foot of Lishan Hill in the east of Lintong County. The tomb has been reduced to half its size after 2,000 years of water and soil erosion, but still impressive - 76 meters high and a fundamental space of 120,000 square meters.

One unusual detail about the construction of the tomb is that the emperor had the building begin shortly after becoming king of Qin at the age of 13. This action contradicted Confucian wisdom that a son should demonstrate respect for his father by building as impressive a memorial as possible and that a man should never plan his own funeral rites.

The tomb took 39 years and 700,000 workers to reach completion. It had pearls embedded in the ceiling to represent the stars, and rivers and lakes were modeled with liquid mercury. The tomb itself has not been opened yet.



Mar 29, 1974 CE: Terra-Cotta Warriors Found

On March 29, 1974, the terra-cotta warriors were discovered in Xian, China.

Anthropology, Archaeology, Arts and Music, Social Studies, World History

Terra Cotta Warrior

A terra-cotta army of more than 8,000 life-size soldiers guarded the burial site of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di. The Terra-Cotta Warriors were only discovered in 1974.

Photograph by O. Louis Mazzatenta, National Geographic

On March 29, 1974, the first in an extensive collection of terra-cotta warriors was discovered in Xian, China. Local farmers came across pieces of a clay figure, and these shards led to the discovery of an ancient tomb, vast in its size and number of artifacts. The tomb was ordered to be built by Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China. The portion containing his remains are still unexcavated.

In the part of the tomb that has been excavated, thousands of sculptures of horses and warriors in full armor stand in battle formation. The warriors are life-size, with most about two-meters (six-feet) tall. The sculptures weigh up to 272 kilograms (600 pounds) each. Each warrior has unique characteristics&mdashfacial features, hairstyle, clothing, and pose.

In recent years, museums outside China have hosted exhibitions featuring a small number of the terra-cotta warriors. The warriors in Xian remain in their original positions facing east, the direction from which the emperor&rsquos enemies had come.


Ancient Greeks may have built China's famous Terracotta Army – 1,500 years before Marco Polo

Ancient Greeks artists could have travelled to China 1,500 years before Marco Polo’s historic trip to the east and helped design the famous Terracotta Army, according to new research.

The startling claim is based on two key pieces of evidence: European DNA discovered at sites in China’s Xinjiang province from the time of the First Emperor in the Third Century BC and the sudden appearance of life-sized statues.

Before this time, depictions of humans in China are thought to have been figurines of up to about 20cm.

But 8,000 extraordinarily life-like terracotta figures were found buried close to the massive tomb of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who unified the country in 221BC.

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The theory – outlined in a documentary, The Greatest Tomb on Earth: Secrets of Ancient China, to be shown on BBC Two on Sunday – is that Shi Huang and Chinese artists may have been influenced by the arrival of Greek statues in central Asia in the century following Alexander the Great, who led an army into India.

But the researchers also speculated that Greek artists could have been present when the soldiers of the Terracotta Army were made.

One of the team, Professor Lukas Nickel, chair of Asian art history at Vienna University, said: “I imagine that a Greek sculptor may have been at the site to train the locals.”

Other evidence of connections to Greece came from a number of exquisite bronze figurines of birds excavated from the tomb site. These were made with a lost wax technique known in Ancient Greece and Egypt.

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There was a breakthrough in sculpture particularly in ancient Athens at about the time when the city became a democracy in the 5th century BC.

Previously, human figures have been stiff and stylised representations, but the figures carved on the Parthenon temple were so life-like it appeared the artists had turned stone into flesh.

Their work has rarely been bettered – the techniques used were largely forgotten until they were revived in the Renaissance when artists carved statues in the Ancient Greek style, most notably Michelangelo’s David.

Dr Li Xiuzhen, senior archaeologist at the tomb’s museum, agreed that it appeared Ancient Greece had influenced events in China more than 7,000km.

“We now have evidence that close contact existed between the First Emperor’s China and the West before the formal opening of the Silk Road,” the expert said.

“This is far earlier than we formerly thought.

“We now think the Terracotta Army, the acrobats and the bronze sculptures found on site have been inspired by ancient Greek sculptures and art.”

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And Professor Zhang Weixing, lead archaeologist at the tomb site, said: “The archaeological work undertaken here recently is more important than anything in the last 40 years.

“By systematically examining the First Emperor’s main tomb and subsidiary burials we have discovered something more important even than the Terracotta Army.”

The mitochondrial DNA samples revealed Europeans had settled down in China and died there during the time of the First Emperor and even before then.

Hamish Mykura, of the National Geographic Channel, which made the documentary with the BBC, said: “The scope of these archaeological finds and what they mean for world history are astonishing.

“The new revelation that two of the world’s ancient super powers may have been in contact is a vital reminder today of the need for intercultural communication on a global scale.”

And BBC presenter Dan Snow said: “I hope audiences will find the new evidence as astonishing and thought-provoking as I did.


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Watch the video: Αθανάσιος Μπίντας, Καθηγητής στο Πανεπιστήμιο της Νις: Αυτός είναι ο τάφος της Ολυμπιάδας (June 2022).


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