One of the Greatest Armies in History is Made Entirely of Clay

Qin Shihuang (259-210 B.C.E.) conquered much during his lifetime, but his ultimate goal was to overcome death. To obtain immortality, he constructed a tomb—a massive underground city defended by a life-size terracotta army including warriors, infantrymen, horses, chariots, and all the armor and weapons that goes with them.

One of the most astonishing and fascinating ancient finds is the underground terracotta army discovered in the First Emperor’s burial complex. A massive citadel with gardens and stables, bronze ritual utensils, jade jewelry, and a plethora of gold and silver trinkets has been discovered.

Observing the physical building of the underground complex and the meticulous manufacture of the figurines exposes a set of themes from which we obtain a glimpse into the First Emperor’s worldview and enduring influence, in addition to exposing much about an ancient way of life.

How Was Terracotta Army Discovered?

The excavation of the Terracotta Army figures is considered one of the greatest discoveries of the twentieth century. Farmers building a well in 1974 unearthed what is today considered one of the world’s largest archaeological sites, which had been hidden underground for nearly 2000 years.

Vault One was the first component of the Terracotta Army site to be unearthed. Two other vaults, Vault Two and Vault Three, were discovered around 20 meters apart in 1976.

The tomb is a treasure trove for both the Chinese and the rest of the globe. The Tomb of the First Emperor (containing the Terracotta Army Vaults) was designated as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in December 1987.

Why Were the Terracotta Warriors Made?

Currently, three hypotheses dominate and are largely accepted among various explanations as to why the Terracotta Army was made. Some believe the Terracotta Army was built to protect Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum, others believe it was designed to memorialize Qin Shi Huang’s illustrious life, and still others believe it was built to assist Qin Shi Huang in ruling the underworld.

  • The Terracotta Army was created in order to protect Qin Shi Huang and his tomb

When Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the owner of the Terracotta Army, launched wars against neighboring governments, he executed many people who resisted him. He had a dream one night that people who had been executed by him were seeking vengeance. This nightmare terrified Qin Shi Huang, and he felt uneasy for a long period. When he was living, he believed the great army would defend him, but what would happen after he died? Who could possibly defend him?

Since then, Qin Shi Huang had been bothered by the matter, so he summoned some trustworthy subordinates to discuss it. No one could come up with a viable answer after hearing the problem. Finally, a minister instructed Qin Shi Huang to select a group of warriors who would be buried alongside him after his death. They could not only defend the emperor, but also the mausoleum from tomb robbers in this manner. Qin Shi Huang hesitated because burying soldiers alive seemed cruel.

Another minister then advised that Qin Shi Huang instead utilize clay warriors. Qin Shi Huang believed it was a fine idea, so he gathered all of the country’s skilled craftsmen to begin creating pottery warriors, later known as the Terracotta Army.

So, what were the terracotta warriors’ goals? The main goal is to keep Emperor Qin Shi Huang safe in the afterlife.

  • The Terracotta Army was made to glorify Qin Shi Huang

This is also an important cause for the construction of the Terracotta Army. For his accomplishments, such as defeating other governments and uniting China, standardizing units of measurement, language, characters, and currencies, Qin Shi Huang was regarded as an unprecedented great emperor in Chinese history. The most magnificent achievement is defeating other states in order to unite China. He wanted future generations to remember his victory over other states and what his army had accomplished for the country, so he had the Terracotta Army built in his honor, modeled after a real army.

Terracotta Army’s Facial Shapes

According on their rank, each figure has different face features and expressions, attire, and hairstyles. Analyses show that the facial shapes of the terracotta figures can be roughly classified into eight types, and each shape resembles a Chinese character: 目, 国, 用, 甲, 田, 由, 申, and 风. For example, ‘目’-shaped faces look relatively narrow and long, and have small features.

Terracotta Army’s Hairstyles

Hairstyles were not only a reflection of people’s social standing in ancient times, but also of their lifestyles. The terracotta soldiers’ haircuts change depending on their rank and service specialty.

The figures’ hairstyles can be split into two categories. Figures with their hair in a bun on the right side of their heads belong to the first category. The other displays characters with plaits in their hair and a bun at the top of their heads, which is subsequently covered with a fabric cap. Their hair was styled with bands, ribbons, and pins.

Terracotta Army’s Dressing

The terracotta figures are dressed differently. Each figure’s rank and military service arm can be deduced from its attire. Consider the following figures as examples:

Under an armored tunic that covers his chest, back, and shoulders, the general wears two layers of robes. He wears lightweight square-toed shoes that slope upwards at the front. Warriors in armor wore robes with turtlenecks and heavily armored capes to protect their chests, backs, and shoulders.

Front and back, cavalrymen wear pillbox caps, neck scarves, and minimal body armor. To avoid injuring their mounts, their shoes are soft and spherical at the toes.

Chariot drivers’ outstretched arms and hands, which must handle the horses’ reigns, are given extra protection. To protect the back of their necks, they wear helmets.

Did Terracotta Warriors Hold Weapons?

Yes. Many of the figures were originally armed with bronze swords, longbows, arrows, spears, dagger-axes, and other long-shafted weaponry of the time. The weapons were coated to resist rust and corrosion, allowing them to remain sharp even after being buried for over 2,000 years.

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