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Terracotta Army of Chinese Warriors

Updated on January 26, 2015
Terracotta soldiers with horse
Terracotta soldiers with horse | Source

This Terracotta Army has Eight Thousand Warriors!

Discovered in 1974 by chance, the Terracotta Army is a massive collection of life-sized terracotta warrior figures buried near the tomb of the Emperor Qin, first emperor of unified China. The site was listed by UNESCO in 1987 as a World Cultural Heritage Site.

Around 8,000 unique figures of soldiers and horses have been found, a huge army! The Terracotta Army is not only an archaeological treasure, it is an icon of China's past.

What Is This Terracotta Army?

The Terracotta Army is a collection of over 8,000 life-size figures of warriors and horses. They were found buried near Xi'an, Shaanxi province, China in 1974, by farmers. This was quite a chance discovery as the farmers were drilling a well for water near the burial mound of Emperor Qin, the first emperor to rule over a unified China. The amazing collection of terracotta warriors that they came upon were Emperor Qin's army.

Warriors in the Terracotta Army, Qin Dynasty, 210 BC

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The warrior figures are constructed of terracotta. Each man was built with solid legs and a hollow torso. These terracotta figures were constructed from specific parts that were crafted and fired, and then assembled together to form each whole figure. After completion the warriors were placed in precise military formation according to rank, lined up in huge pits.

Photo of an officer of the Terracotta Army.
Photo of an officer of the Terracotta Army. | Source

One thing that is so amazing about this army is that each warrior is unique. They vary in height, facial features and expressions, hairstyle, and uniforms that indicate different ranks. They are not only the size of actual people (and horses) they are also amazingly life-like. Their faces look so real that it seems like they were modeled on actual soldiers. Can you imagine having a terracotta figure of yourself made and buried in a pit with thousands of others for thousands of years!

The soldiers have armor and were originally armed with bronze spears and bows and arrows.

There are not only infantry but also cavalry, complete with their horses.

Terra Cotta Warriors and horses by Keren Su

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There are even lacquered wooden war chariots pulled by horses.

Horses and Carriage

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Statue of emperor Qin
Statue of emperor Qin | Source

Who Built the Terracotta Army?

The Terracotta Army was built by order of the Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor Qin, who ruled over the Chinese State of Qin from 247 B.C.E. to 221 B.C.E., and then as the first emperor of a unified China from 221 B.C.E. until his death in 210 B.C.E., ruling under the name First Emperor. He was buried in a huge mausoleum alongside large quantities of treasure and objects of craftsmanship. The necropolis complex was constructed as an imperial palace complete with offices and halls, and surrounded by a wall. Such a construction is similar to the Egyptian Pyramids at Giza built to house the pharoahs and all that they would need in the afterlife.

Why did he build this army?

Emperor Qin apparently had pretty grandiose ideas about his time in the afterlife! The wonders inside his tomb were written about by a Chinese historian, Sima Qian who described palaces, scenic towers, officials, valuable utensils and "wonderful objects." He wrote of rare jewels, a scale replica of the universe complete with ceilings that mapped the heavens with stars and planets represented by pearls, and on the floor of the tomb a panorama map of China with flowing mercury representing the rivers and seas. Together with all those offices and rooms it seems like he was preparing quite a bureaucracy to help him rule the whole world!

However, Sima Qian never mentioned the Terracotta Army. We can imagine though that Terracotta Army was constructed not just to protect the Emperor's tomb in this world, but to be his warriors during his rule in the afterlife. Seems like he expected quite a lot of others to challenge his rule, since he prepared thousands of warriors all armed to the teeth, both infantry and cavalry complete with horses.

Terracotta Army Pit 1
Terracotta Army Pit 1 | Source

Presumably Emperor Qin thought it better to make terracotta warriors, rather than killing his real army and having them buried near him, which is kind of what the Egyptian pharoahs did with their servants. If Emperor Qin wanted his dynasty to continue on the earth he must have thought his son would need a real army to maintain it. Thus, he ordered figures of his warriors created out of terracotta ready to do battle in the afterlife. Truly an amazing enterprise!

YouTube Video on The Terracotta Army

What Happened to this Terracotta Army?

Well, after Emperor Qin ordered this huge army constructed, they were placed in these enormous pits, all lined up ready for battle in precise military formation.

They really look like they're all just ready to march out to do battle, or mount up and ride forth. Of course someone stole their weapons, but apart from that I reckon they'd be a pretty dangerous force if they got going!

Terracotta Figures from the 2000 Year Old Army

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Terracotta Army
Terracotta Army | Source

Unfortunately, though, Emperor Qin died, apparently before the army was quite complete. Pretty soon after the Emperor's death there was a rebellion and rebels broke in and stole many of the weapons. Within four years of Emperor Qin's death his son was dead and the Qin Dynasty come to an end. The historian, Sima Qian, described how the tomb and vaults holding the Terracotta Army were looted, the weapons from the terracotta figures being stolen and the necropolis being set on fire. Despite the fire much of the Terracotta Army survived, surrounded by burnt wooden structures that housed it.

Books on the Terracotta Army

Learn all about the terracotta army, how they were discovered, how they were made, and all about Emperor Qin who made them!

Rediscovery and Restoration of the Terracotta Army

So, 2,000 years later, in 1974 some farmers were drilling in the field near Emperor Qin's burial mound and found the Terracotta Army. Pottery found by the farmers soon attracted the attention of archeologists, who quickly recognized that the artifacts were from the Qin Dynasty of over 2,000 years ago. Those farmers must have been shocked!

From the excavation of the Terracotta Army in Pit 1
From the excavation of the Terracotta Army in Pit 1 | Source

Excavations were commenced and the huge pits were found, filled with warriors. Of course they were rather the worse for wear, having suffered that major fire and being buried there for 2,000 years. So they needed a bit of help to regain their composure, so to speak.

Four pits were found, each almost 25 feet deep. The first and largest pit has 6,000 warriors lined up facing east in battle formation, with war chariots at the back. It also has passages 10 feet wide that are paved with small bricks and have wooden ceilings supported by large beams and posts.

The second pit has another thousand warriors. It has cavalry and infantry units as well as lacquered wooden war chariots, and is thought to represent a military guard.

The third and smaller pit appears to be a command center. It contains figures of high-ranking officers, a war chariot, and four horses. The fourth pit is empty and it seems that the emperor probably died before it was completed.

Terracotta Army Pit 3
Terracotta Army Pit 3 | Source

You can visit the Terracotta Army

A large hall has been built to protect the army which allows the public to see the warriors easily. It is visited by around two million tourists annually.

Terracotta Army Pit 1
Terracotta Army Pit 1 | Source

Terracotta Warrior Statues to Buy

These statues are handmade in the same manner as the original life size Terracotta Soldiers. No two soldiers are exactly the same.

Terra Cotta Kneeling Archer Warrior Statue 14" Chinese Army
Terra Cotta Kneeling Archer Warrior Statue 14" Chinese Army

This is the archer. If you're wondering why he doesn't have a bow and arrows - remember their weapons were all stolen!


Of course, the general has the coolist uniform!

This is the infantry soldier - there must be a lot of them in the army!

There's a Terracotta Army Museum in England!

If you don't have time (or money) to travel to China, don't worry you can visit the Terracotta Warriors Museum in the UK. It's located in Dorchester in Dorset. While it's not as spectacular as the real location of course, it's very educational and quite inspiring. It features a number of displays that were specially designed with life size figures and audio recordings that tell the story of the construction of the terracotta warriors, background on life in China 2200 years ago, and the chance discovery of this amazing army in 1974.

© 2009 Jennifer P Tanabe

Here's your chance to comment on the Terracotta Army!

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    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 2 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Thank you Margaret! I have found them fascinating too, ever since I first heard about them.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Jennifer, I've seen two television documentaries on the Terracotta Warriors and I've been fascinated by them ever since. This article is a wonderful introduction to them!

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      I like the way you did this lens - it was like a walk-through of the site, and very personable. I have been to Xizn a few times, and seen the stie. It has improved in the last 25 years, especially after receiving UN Cultural Heritage site status. I like to see their faces up close best. They are all different. Thanks!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      that is amazing really helped me with my homework

    • judithmurphy profile image

      judithmurphy 6 years ago

      This army is just unbelievable!

    • PromptWriter profile image

      Moe Wood 6 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      Amazing! Were they featured in a movie?

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      i have one for sale original 07510305714 phone for info sensible offers only

    • Kathryn002 profile image

      Kathryn002 7 years ago

      This is so fascinating. Great lens.

    • profile image

      GabrielaFargasch 7 years ago

      Love it! Great choice of topics JP! Thumbs up!

    • poptastic profile image

      Cynthia Arre 7 years ago from Quezon City

      Wow, the Terracotta Army is a masterpiece! I can only imagine how awesome this place must look in person. It's also bewildering knowing that such fine artists/sculptors/craftsmen existed that long ago - it makes me ponder how life used to be back in those ages. You made a wonderful tribute to such an amazing work of art, Jennifer! ~Blessed~

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 7 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      What amazing works of art. I cannot imagine how long this took and how many people must have worked on creating the warriors. I wish I could see them. Maybe someday. Thanks for this great lens.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 7 years ago from Canada

      Beautiful and amazing. It is breathtaking. Best wishes in the New Year.

    • Joy Neasley profile image

      Joy Neasley 7 years ago from Nashville, TN

      I have been there...this is a must see if you come to China. A friend of mine found out while he was there that the man who discovered these soldiers was visiting the place that day, and signed a book about the Xian soldiers for my friend.

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      scar4 7 years ago

      Xian is the Chinese city that have been the capital of Chinese Dynasties for many times. Great to see the Terracotta Army of Chinese Warriors in your lens. Nice pictures.

    • caketech profile image

      caketech 7 years ago

      I love the way you re-told this story in text and was an enjoyable read! I learned a lot about these Terracotta warriors that I never knew. Angel blessings to you!

    • aidenw profile image

      aidenw 8 years ago from USA

      I recently saw these Terracotta warriors at a museum in Houston - a once in a lifetime opportunity. Great lens!

    • MandMx profile image

      MandMx 8 years ago

      I've been to Xian twice. Really fun and you can just feel the history there!

    • Bellezza-Decor profile image

      Bellezza-Decor 8 years ago from Canada

      These Chinese warriors must be a wonder to behold! 5*

    • Aladdins Cave profile image

      Aladdins Cave 8 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      5 Star Rating Lens. Very Cool. I'm a new squid, and love to travel. This lens has shown me how to make my lens 100% better. Thank You. Gus

    • Kate Phizackerl1 profile image

      Kate Phizackerl1 8 years ago

      Very nice lens. It's something that's on my list to write about - but having seen your lens it's gone down my priority list 5*


    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 8 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      I've seen the warriors. They are most impressive!

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      Andy-Po 8 years ago

      Very interesting lens. I saw the Terracotta Army last year in China. A very impressive sight.

    • Brookelorren LM profile image

      Brookelorren LM 8 years ago

      These are awesome. I'd love to see them someday.

    • missbat profile image

      missbat 8 years ago

      Such a fantastic and awe-inspiring sight. My grandparents actually saw the Terracotta Army in person when they visited China.

    • shwetashah profile image

      shwetashah 8 years ago

      I didnt kknow about Terracotta Army. Good to have this topic and you have given enough information.

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      anonymous 8 years ago

      An awesome lens! These are just fascinating. I didn't realize that they were buried for 2,000 years.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 8 years ago from United States

      Very Interesting lens! I had never heard of them before. Wouldn't it be fun to be a part of such an archeological find!