Terracotta Warriors See them every day!
Millions of people travel to the Chinese city of Xi’an to see the ancient statues every year, and now they’re also on the march, invading overseas countries, as they never could if they were real live soldiers. It’s not difficult to see the draw of these amazing figures, and we’ve all seen them - but what do we know about them?
The Xi'an Terracotta Warriors are really quite an enigma of modern times. Discovered by accident in the mid-1970s when workers were digging a well, the life-sized figures surprised historians as their proportions, accuracy and sheer numbers began to emerge.
The warriors were commissioned by the man who first unified China, the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang in the 3rd century BC as an army to protect him in the afterlife. The life-sized army isn’t just a few statues – it’s an actual, whole army. There are thousands of infantrymen, cavalry and chariots. Some 2,000 soldiers have so far been unearthed, and it’s estimated that there may be a further 6,000 more waiting to see the light of day.
Incredibly, not only is there the representation of the full army there, but archaeologists also maintain the probability that Qin Shi Huang’s unexcavated tomb contains a complete replica of the city of Xi'an, as it would have been 2,200 years ago.
Perhaps the most mind-boggling of all is the fact that each warrior is totally individual, leading experts to think that each was modelled on an actual living soldier serving in the army at the time. Not only do they all possess different facial features, but also different hairstyles, builds, poses, clothing, armour and weaponry. They were individually coloured too, which unfortunately hasn’t stood the test of time. Slightly less inspiring (but no less incredible) are the dozens of civil servants that accompany the army, who are armed with writing tablets and quills!
The “tomb” thus far described seems enormous until we consider the whole size of the mausoleum. Scientific methods have discerned that the extent of the site may be in excess of 36 square miles, which would take years to excavate, even if there were no extraneous issues involved. Unfortunately though, added to the slow process that always accompanies the archaeological excavation, contemporary writer, Sima Qian reported of intricate and elaborate booby traps that were installed to protect the emperor in his afterlife tomb, so we may never see the full majesty of this ancient phenomenon.
Astonishing as this “wonder” is now, it must have truly been an awesome sight to behold; not only for its sheer scale but also for its colour, accuracy and intricacy. Qin Shi Huang must have been a massive egotist. Thank goodness for us modern-day voyeurs that he was!
Some of the warriors were exhibited last year in the UK, in Liverpool, but have now unfortunately marched on to their next destination. You can read more about them here: