Published: August 5 2001 on Helium
Many consider Emperor Qin's terracotta army, silently waiting in battle lines, should rank as the 8th ancient wonder of the world. Here was a man so proud of his achievements, (unifying chaotic China in this life), he wished to maintain them in the next. Life-size warriors, numbering about 8,000, and chariots with horses, all made of terracotta, symbolically accompanied Emperor Qin, the first emperor of China, into the afterlife. They were created by more than 700,000 workers between 246B.C and 209B.C. Not until 1974 was this amazing army unearthed. In 1987, Emperor Qin's mausoleum and army were listed by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage site.
Such a remarkable artistic feat signifies the emperor must have had great power and respect. Emperor Qin was only 13 when he came to the throne in 246B.C. By 222B.C., he had defeated the warring states and united China for the first time in history. By the time of his death in 210B.C., he had linked his country with a network of roads and canals. Feudalism was eliminated; provinces were led by governors. Written language was standardized. Monetary currencies were standardized. And he created the first version of the Great Wall of China. Such a phenomenal range of national achievements in one lifetime could warrant an unusual, grand scale monument in death.
And indeed this army was part of a grand scale mausoleum. Think of a large "underground city" or city of death. It includes an underground palace. The workers were buried alive in this palace so no secrets were told. This is the mausoleum complex covering about 2.18 million square metres. The emperor's tomb, beneath a mound of earth 40 metres high, (still not opened because the entrance can't be found), covers about 220,000 square metres. The army covers an area of about 20,000 square metres, linked by 3 large hallways (referred to by archaeologists as Pits 1, 2 and 3).
But it is the unique terracotta army that has attracted world attention. Pit 1, discovered in 1974, covers 14,000 square metres and contains 6,000 warriors. Infantry men, archers and chariots are here. 10 walls or partitions separate the rows of soldiers at the front. Rearguards have crossbows and chariots are at the back. The horses have bronze bridles. 10,000 metal weapons and the largest, bronze, horse-drawn chariot are also here. It was opened to the public on China's National Day in 1979.
Hundreds of cavalry, 90 wooden chariots and archers are in Pit 2. It was discovered in 1976 and opened to the public in 1994. Pit 3, also discovered in 1976, has 68 army commanders and staff. It seems to be an army headquarters and includes beautiful pieces of pottery and jewellery. The public could view this from 1989.
The human figures, once brightly coloured but now faded. Cavalry men are approximately 5 feet 8 inches tall. The commanders are over 6 feet tall. All have individual facial expressions. Some figures are in a standing position while others kneel with real swords drawn. Most wear tunics but some are dressed in armour.
The picture overall is one of an army waiting for the order to attack. The positions suggest aggression not defense. To enforce that perspective, when the army was discovered, weapons were still sharp. Arrow heads contained a deadly high percentage of lead, guaranteeing lead poisoning of a wound. This was not just a depiction of an army waiting for battle. It was a very real scenario.
Why did the Emperor feel the need to go to such lengths? Perhaps, he realized his subduing of China was fast, and maybe rash and desperate? Perhaps speed may not be a guarantee of lasting stability. Perhaps he felt insecure and needed a warning to all who challenged him. Perhaps he believed the after life was just an extension of the present.
As immense as these discoveries are, it is believed there are more pits to be found. Xiaoneng Yang describes Emperor Qin's ambition:
"Ample evidence demonstrates the First Emperor's ambition: not only to control all aspects of the empire during his lifetime but to recreate the entire empire in microcosm for his after life."
The terracotta army of Emperor Qin is symbolic of one man's dream to make a lasting difference in his world, even beyond the grave.
www.archaeology.about.com (Xiaoneng Yang's quote)