Fascinating Facts About China's Terracotta Army

Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, built the huge Terracotta Army to protect him in the afterlife. An elaborate tomb complex in Xi'an, the city-size compound came equipped with everything the emperor would require in the afterlife. Like the Egyptians, the ancient Chinese believed the items they took with them to the grave would accompany them into the afterlife. But instead of burying actual people with him underground, the emperor created clay reproductions of warriors, servants, horses, and other objects. An incredible feat of design, the army also features a number of ancient Chinese inventions, many of which no one realized dated back as far as the Qin dynasty.

Despite excavating it for over 40 years, archeologists have barely made a dent in this wonder of the ancient world. In total, they've unearthed approximately 2,000 soldiers and believe 6,000 remain uncovered. The focal point of the tomb, the Emperor's resting place, may never even be touched due to the hazardous material found near it. So even 2,000+ years later, the famous Terracotta Army still manages to protect its Emperor from the greedy hands of the living. 

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  • 200 More Statues Were Discovered In January 2020

    Chinese archeologist Shen Maosheng headed the third excavation of the Mausoleum of Emperor Qinshihuang between 2009 and 2019. On January 2020, Xinhuanet announced Shen's team uncovered 200 more clay soldiers. Shen said most of the sculptures are either "holding pole weapons, bending their right arms with half clenched fists" or "carrying bows, with their right arms hanging naturally," indicating each soldier's own task within the army.

    The excavation is about 750 feet long, 200 feet wide, and 16 feet deep, and in total there are more than 6,000 clay soldiers and horses. The carved armor on each of the newly discovered soldiers seems to indicate their rank, and Shen says, "the excavation expanded the study on the military service system and military equipment of the Qin Dynasty, which also provided new ideas for the research on the artistic style, characteristics and manufacturing techniques of figurines in the period." 

  • The Emperor Built The Army Because He Feared Revenge

    During his reign, Emperor Qin not only defeated armies in six states of China, he massacred them. As a result, he feared the military from these states would pursue him into the afterlife, so he built his Terracotta Army. One of the reasons the Terracotta Army looks east is because it faces the direction an enemy would likely come from to attack the underground mausoleum.

  • 700,000 Laborers Built The Statues, And Some Of Them Died For It

    After he took the Qin State throne in 246 BCE, Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the Terracotta Army to be built. Over 700,000 laborers spent 40 years working day and night to finish the soldiers and the tomb. The workers molded the legs, arms, torsos, and heads, which were then assembled together. Many laborers and artisans died during construction, some possibly executed to keep the location of the tomb and treasures a secret.

    When the work was finally completed in 206 BC, Qin had already been dead for four years.

  • No Two Soldiers Look Alike

    No Two Soldiers Look Alike
    Photo: Ingo.staudacher / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

     Amazingly enough, each of the 8,000 statues is different and unique in its own way. If you look at them closely, you notice the subtle differences the craftsmen included to differentiate each solider. While laborers only used about eight different molds for the soldiers, each warrior sports its own facial features, which were added in clay.

    Aside from being separated into different ranks, infantry, archers, generals, and calvary, each soldier features unique facial expressions, clothing, and hairstyles. They also have varying heights, the taller ones representing generals. Most of the statues are 5 feet, 11 inches tall, but some stand as tall as 6 feet, 7 inches.

  • The Horse Statues Received As Much Attention As The Warriors

    The horses in the army are equipped with saddles, proving the saddle's invention came about during the Qin Dynasty, much earlier than scholars originally believed. In ancient armies, the calvary and war chariots held great importance. The excavated steeds, accurate in size to living horses, are depicted as well-fed with erect ears, wide open eyes and open mouths. Some believe the horses resemble the Hegu horses who live today in Gansu, while others posit they're based off of Heitian horses from Xinjiang. These animals are good at climbing hills and racing and are very strong.

  • Acrobats, Birds, And Horses Were Found Alongside The Warriors

    In addition to the 8,000 soldiers, the three pits contain 130 chariots pulled by 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, most buried near the Emperor's mausoleum. The pits also include non-military statues, such as acrobats, strongmen and musicians. Bronze ducks, cranes, and waterfowl also appear featured among the human statues, a sign that Emperor Qin hoped to be surrounded by similar people and animals in the afterlife.