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Terracotta Army — Guarding Warriors of the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor

Terracotta Army of the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor

Terra Cotta Army of the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, Photo by Zhao Zhen.


What Is the Terracotta Army?


Terracotta Army is the troop guarding the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang (259 BC — 210 BC), the founder of the first unified feudal empire, the Qin Dynasty, and the first emperor of China.

Terracotta Warriors and Horses of the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang

Terracotta Warriors and Horses of the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, Photo by Zhao Zhen.


What Does Qin Shi Huang's Underground Realm Like?


The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor that the Terracotta Army has been protecting is a grand, exceptional underground realm.


When Qin Shi Huang, also respected as Shi Huangdi, ascended to the throne in 247 BC, he started constructing his mausoleum.


In ancient Chinese culture, one's afterlife was equally important as real-life, and people would try their best to build a fancy tomb stuffed with treasures and servants.


Therefore, emperors would build their mausoleums when they were alive to ensure their afterlife worlds were as incredible as they wished.


With Qin Shi Huang having achieved more unprecedented accomplishments, including defeating other kingdoms and establishing the Qin Dynasty, unifying language and currency, and building the Great Wall, he invested more resources in constructing his mausoleum.  

Bronze Sword Unearthed from Terracotta Army Pit

Bronze Sword Unearthed from Burial Pit

Surrounded by Lishan Mountain on the north and Wei River on the south, The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor is 56.25 square kilometers large. 


The whole mausoleum is believed to be the copied capital city of the Qin Dynasty in the underground world. 


In his underground palace, valuable pearls were inlaid in the copper top as stars in Chinese Astrology, a large amount of mercury was used to display lakes and seas, and countless treasures were stocked in different rooms of the enormous palace. At the same time, hazardous defensive mechanisms were delicately set all over the mausoleum. 

Around the palace are hundreds of funerary pits, including terra cotta or bronze-made officials, warriors, performers, weapons, armor, horses, valuable animals, chariots, and so on. 

The excavated Terra Cotta Warriors in battle formation are in three of Qin Shi Huang's funerary pits. 

Bronze Crane Unearthed from one of Qin Shi Huang's Funerary Pits

Bronze Crane Unearthed from one of Qin Shi Huang's Funerary Pits


Why Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Remains Unexcavated?

The first description of The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor was by the historian Sima Qian (about 145 BC — ?). 


Throughout history, besides the Terracotta Army and a few funerary pits, the main mausoleum of the first emperor of China remains intact. It will not be excavated in the near future. 


According to detections, the mausoleum's main buildings are still strong, and there are no signs of leaking or seeping water. Therefore, it should and will be well-preserved. 


Besides, today's technology is still insufficient to protect those large amounts of valuable relics and keep the exceptional underground palace its original looks. Any broken would cause huge irreversible losses. 

Guardian Warriors of the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang- The Terracotta Army

Guardian Warriors of the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huangdi - The Terra Cotta Army, Photo by Zhao Zhen.


How Did the Terracotta Warriors Get Found?


The Terracotta Army was officially found, researched, and protected in 1974 after some farmers found a few human-size terracotta figures when drilling well and reported them to the local government. 


Then, some archeologists and reporters realized the great value of these terracotta soldiers and finally proved that they were part of the guardian army of the mausoleum of the first emperor of China. 

Bronze Chariot Unearthed from the Terracotta Army Pit.

Bronze Chariot Unearthed from the Terra Cotta Army Pit

Haven't Found

Why Hasn't the Terracotta Army Been Found Earlier?


The Terracotta Army, constructed in 247 BC and buried in 208 BC, was only a few meters deep in the ground from the surface.


However, throughout such a long history, they were not discovered until 1974.


Did no one ever find any Terra Cotta Soldier before?

Cavalry and Horse in the Terracotta Army

Cavalry and Horse in the Terra Cotta Army

Terracotta figurines were the replacement for human sacrifice, which was once popular in ancient history. Together with tri-colored glazed pottery, they were both exclusively used as funerary objects that were believed unlucky to keep.

Therefore, according to locals, some had seen pieces of terracotta figures many times, but they didn't know what those pottery pieces were, so they ignored or broke them into pieces and threw them away to avoid bad luck. 


For grave robbers, only gold and jade wares are valuable.


Hence, it was well preserved until 1974, when those smart farmers and dedicated archeologists discovered and recognized them.

Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses in Battle Formation

Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses in Battle Formation, Photo by Zhao Zhen. 


Important Data and Facts of the Terracotta Army.


  • The Terracotta Army is located in Xi'an City of Shaanxi Province;


  • Their production started in 247 BC, buried and sealed in 208 BC;


  • There are four pits in the area, but only three pits have Terra Cotta Warriors and chariots, and the other one is empty;


  • There are over 8000 terracotta soldiers, horses, and chariots, according to detection, and around one-third of them have been unearthed and are in the exhibition;

Details of Terracotta Horse

Details of Terracotta Horse, Photo by Dongmaiying.

  • Terracotta Warriors weigh between 100 kg to 250 kg, with an average weight of 180 kg and an average height of 185 cm;


  • The unearthed Terra Cotta Warriors were originally colorful, fading away soon after they were unearthed.


Their original colors include red, green, pink, purple, blue, white, brown, and so on;


  • There are carved Chinese characters on each terracotta figurine, showing who and where a specific part of the figurine is produced.


This was a means for the empire to trace and control quality. 

Carved Characters on Terracotta Warriors.

Engraved Characters on A Terracotta Warrior.


What Are the Formation and Layout of the Terracotta Army? 


The Terracotta Army is displayed in three pits:


  • Pit One is about 14260 square meters large, believed to be buried with over 6000 Terracotta Soldiers and Horses, and less than 2000 of them are unearthed and on display. 


The unearthed Terracotta Figures in Pit One are lined up in battle formation, holding weapons, divided by some load-bearing walls, and followed by some chariots behind. 

Terracotta Army Pit One

Terra Cotta Army Pit One, Photo by Zhao Zhen.

  • Pit Two is about 6000 square meters large, with over 1000 Terra Cotta Soldiers and Horses and over 80 chariots. 


The Terracotta Warriors in Pit Two formed a grand battle array, with the standing and kneeling archery, chariot, infantry, and cavalry units. 

  • Pit Three is around 520 square meters big, with a big chariot and 68 terra cotta soldiers.


It is the smallest but most important pit of all three, as the command post of the entire army. 

Bronze Chariot Unearthed from Terracotta Army Pit Two

Bronze Chariot Unearthed from Pit Two


Why Does the Terracotta Army Face East?


All unearthed Terracotta Warriors and Horses are lined up facing the east, and some major speculations are:


  • The six kingdoms that Qin Shi Huang defeated were located in the east of Qin, so his army underground still facing east, to threaten or show off to his former enemies;



  • Qin Shi Huang had sent people to pursue immortals eastward, where people believed deities were living. 


How Hairstyle and Ornaments of Terracotta Warriors Show Their Ranks and Duties?


The hairstyles and ornaments of Terracotta Soldiers are quite exquisite and could show their ranks, duties, and customs of the Qin Dynasty:


  • Every low-rank soldier has a bun on the right side of their head because the right side was more respectful in the Qin Dynasty. 


Those wearing fabric hats are heavily armed warriors and are ranked higher.

The Hairstyle of Soldiers in the Terracotta Army

Terracotta Soldiers' Hairstyles

  • Archers have buns on their left sides to ensure the bun won't affect their shooting arrows.

Archer of the Terracotta Army

Archer Warrior, Photo by Dongmaiying.

  • Military officials wear something to cover their tied-up hair; the higher the hat (in Chinese is Guan), the higher the rank.

Middle and Lower Rank Officers in the Terracotta Army

Middle and Lower Rank Officers

  • The highest-ranked officer among unearthed Terracotta Warriors, the general wears the most sophisticated hat (or Guan).

General of the Terracotta Army

General of the Terra Cotta Army, Photo by Dongmaiying.

  • Cavalrymen used for surprise attacks in wars are different, and they wear round hats on their heads. 

Cavalrymen of the Terracotta Army

Cavalrymen of the Terra Cotta Army

  • Qin's army had helmets, but most soldiers usually didn't wear that.


An important reason was that according to Shang Yang's Reform, people could get noble titles and promotions based on their performance on the battlefield.


Hence, most soldiers would not wear heavy helmets to increase their mobility in war. 

Helmet Unearthed from one of Qin Shi Huang's Funerary Pits

Helmet Unearthed from one of Qin Shi Huang's Funerary Pits


Are Terracotta Warriors Made of Real Humans?


Since all Terracotta Warriors are life-size, incredibly lifelike, and everyone looks different, there have been suspects that they were made of real humans. 


It is possible that the Terra Cotta Warriors were modeled on one of Qin Shi Huang's troops or accomplished generals and soldiers, but for sure they are not made of real humans:


  • In the year 384 BC, the current king of Qin officially published a policy to forbid human sacrifice;

  • Qin Shi Huang's annexation and unification wars and defeating of the Xiongnu cost many lives. His construction of the Great Wall, national highway, and mausoleum all required large numbers of man forces. 

Terracotta Warriors of the Mausoleum of First Qin Emperor

Terra Cotta Warriors of the Mausoleum of First Qin Emperor, Photo by Zhao Zhen. 

Hence, he couldn't make thousands of strong soldiers into terracotta figures. 


Moreover, cracked ones and scientific scans proved that the Terracotta Warriors are hollow in the middle and not made of real humans. 


How the Terracotta Warriors Were Made and Why Did Their Original Colors Go Off?


The Terracotta Army was made of local clay to save transportation costs. 


Artisans made clay into the main parts of each figurine using some standardized models, then carved important sections individually, one by one, such as heads, hands, sophisticated details on clothes, etc.

Details on Head of the Terracotta Warriors

Details on Head of the Terra Cotta Soldiers, Photo by Dongmaiying.

After assembling and firing, terracotta figurines would be painted. 


Artisans would first apply fine clay or raw lacquer or colloidal material before using mineral pigments to paint to color those clay-made figurines smoothly and naturally. 


Some places were painted with several layers to make them look more lifelike. 


Therefore, when the Terracotta Army was unearthed from the dark, humid underground to a bright, dry environment with oxidation, the original colors on the outer layers fell off quickly. 

Recovered Original Painting Colors of the General in Terracotta Warriors

Recovered Original Painting Colors of the General in Terra Cotta Army


What Are Unsolved Mysteries About the Terracotta Army?


Though more research regarding the Terracotta Army and The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor is going on and more technologies are used to detect this area, there are still many unsolved mysteries about this underground troop:


Missing Commander


The highest rank of Terracotta Soldier is general, but there's no figure of the chief commander of this underground army. 


  • A possible speculation is that there wasn't a permanent commander during Qin's reign. During wartime, chief commanders were usually assigned by the emperor directly.

  • Another guess is that Qin Shi Huang was the commander of his underground army, so it's impolite and unnecessary to make a terracotta figurine of the emperor in a funerary pit.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Certificate (Hu Fu) to Deploy Forces Garrisoned in Yangling

Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Certificate (Hu Fu) to Deploy Forces — National Museum of China

Burning Traces


There are clear traces to show that the underground army had been burned before, but when and by whom are still unclear. 


  • Many people thought the fire was set on by King Xiang Yu (232 BC — 202 BC), who rebelled and overthrew the Qin Dynasty, but later lost to Liu Bang (256 BC — 195 BC). 


  • Others believed that the people of Qin burnt Terracotta Army because the burning was a sacrificial ceremony, which was believed to send funerary objects to the other world.


  • Another speculation was that some rotten objects in the pit produced combustible substances like methane and caused the fire. 

Stone Armer Unearthed from one of Qin Shi Huang's Funerary Pits

Stone Armer Unearthed from one of Qin Shi Huang's Funerary Pits

Disappeared Weapons


Unearthed Terracotta Soldiers are with postures holding weapons, which are all disappeared. 


  • King Xiang Yu was suspected of having taken them away before setting the terracotta figures on fire; people believed he needed those valuable bronze or iron-made real weapons to arm his army.


  • It is also possible that the weapons of the Terracotta Warriors were made of wood and iron, which got corroded as time passed. 

Terracotta Warriors Holding Disappeared Weapons

Terra Cotta Soldiers Holding Disappeared Weapons

  • Another possibility was that when the rebellious war against Qin outburst, the construction of Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum was still haven't finished yet. 


When an uprising army was approaching in 208 BC, a general of Qin used those real weapons to arm slaves working on building the Terracotta Army and commanded them to fight for Qin. 

However, this newly armed army failed, Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum was finished and sealed in a hurry, and the Qin Dynasty ended in 207 BC. 

Bronze Arrows Unearthed from Terracotta Army Pits

Bronze Arrows Unearthed from Terra Cotta Army Pits.

Answers to these mysteries are probably gone for good, together with the Qin Empire.


However, the Terracotta Army and other relics, as magnificent cultural heritages, are still impressing people today and telling stories of the dynasty they came from. 

Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty

Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty

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