What is the Terracotta Army?

Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco
Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

The Terracotta Army, known in Chinese as the "soldier and horse funerary statues," is one of the most astonishing archeological discoveries of the past few decades. Buried in 210-209 BC with Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi near the city of Xi'an, the army of statues was created, according to ancient beliefs, to help Quin continued his reign in the afterlife. Despite its antiquity, the figures were not discovered until 1974, and this happened as an accident as workers were drilling in the area and uncovered the colossal structure.

There are more than 8,000 life-size statues in the Terracotta Army, mostly representing soldiers and horses, but there are also chariots, weapons, and other objects. The statues are extremely detailed, with warriors wearing different uniforms according to rank, and featuring detailed faces and lifelike postures. They are also positioned according to precise military formation, obeying rules of rank.

The army is part of the Mausoleum for Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, which includes a 83 yard (76 meter) tall pyramid believed to be a royal tomb. The tomb, however, remains unopened, as archeologists believe accessing the place will cause irreversible damage to the contents. The main entrance has yet to be found, which may also explain why archeologists are wary of causing damage to the structure by digging blindly around it. Qin’s necropolis also includes several halls and tunnels. The mausoleum alone took 38 years to complete and a large number of the workers who labored on it were buried alive inside the structure to protect the secrets of the place.

The Terracotta Army is now a popular tourist attraction. Housed inside a specialized hangar, it covers 5.43 acres (22,000 square meters) and is organized in 11 columns according to the army rank of the soldiers. Parts of it are housed in room-like compartments indicating different stages of battle.

For those who cannot afford a visit to China, replicas can be seen at the Forbidden Gardens in Texas. The British Museum in London also has a rotating exhibition showing 12 original Terracotta warriors.

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Discussion Comments


this is good. Thanks. it helped me with an assignment.


The sight is absolutely spectacular. Knowing that those soldiers are there for centuries is equally amazing. It is believed that much more is buried underground, and the portion uncovered so far is but a fraction of what lies below the ground.

The process of digging and unearthing is slow and careful so that sudden exposure to light and possible other damage is not done to the buried treasure.

The farmer who by accident uncovered the warriors in early 1970's can be met on certain days. While working in the fields he came upon a piece of terracotta, and believing it to be bad luck wanted to break it and throw it away.

Fortunately somebody associated with a museum found out about it and took it with him to the museum to study it, and of course the rest is history. This is a least how the story was told to us on my visit to Xian and the Terracotta Army museum.

Another interesting fact is that everyone of the warriors looks different, there are no two warriors alike.

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