Excavations of grand tombs and mausoleums around the globe are witness to the ancient world’s preoccupation with death and the afterlife. But the grandest excavation by far, has to be that of the terracotta army of Emperor Qin in Xian.
The on site museum is concealed under an unsightly hangar like building. The sheer scale of the complex is astounding. Pit 1 alone has an entire – life sized – army of over 1000 infantrymen (excluding the nearly 5000 still to be excavated!) arrayed in humongous columns as if ready for battle.
Pit 2 has another 1300 archers and cavalrymen and some 64 chariots. Pit 3, the smallest is thought to be the command center and had only 64 figures and one ornate chariot drawn by four horses.
Differing costumes and hairstyles, even belt buckles, signifying different echelons in the army. The mind boggles at the cost of this endeavor in terms of time and manpower.
Qin’s underground mausoleum, consisting of several palaces and rumoured to be filled with incredible treasures and quicksilver streams, is yet to be excavated. The warriors were accidentally discovered by farmers digging a well in 1974 and subsequently excavated from several pits around the actual burial mound.
I (sheepishly) confess to standing in line for a (rather expensive) picture book, autographed by one of the farmers who allegedly found the first pottery fragments. R was skeptical as always, but regardless of whether the story is true or not…….I love that book. I really do!
Apart from conquering and unifying China’s five states in 221 BC – when he called himself Qin Shi Huang Di (or “First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty”) – Emperor Qin is credited with building the first part of the Great Wall and with standardizing script, weights and measures across the kingdom.
But he was also ruthless and autocratic and was reputedly obsessed with immortality. Qin eventually succumbed to the after effects of the concoctions he consumed in his quest for eternal life. His weak successors barely survived him by a few years, ending forever his dream of dynasty.
The first emperor’s name would have likely been wiped out of collective memory but for his pottery sentinels, silently standing guard through eternity.
PS: While in Xian, do make time for the exquisite army of Han Yangling. You will not be disappointed.