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The Chinese Emperorsí Eternal Armies


In keeping with the grandeur of his life, the First Emperor had a lavish internment. Qin was entombed in Lintong County, Shaanxi Province about 35 kilometers east of the city of Xiían. Qin ordered an entire army to protect his mausoleum, which lies still uncovered at Mount Li.

Although it had been customary to put the servants of a king to death so that they might serve him in the afterlife, human sacrifice was less common by the time of Qinís death. Rather than sacrifice an entire army, he was buried with a symbolic force of detailed, life-sized, terracotta soldiers and horses assembled to protect him in the next world.

Jing Di

Less than 70 years later, Jing Di (157-141 B.C.), the fifth Emperor of the Han Dynasty, also was sent to the afterlife accompanied by a terracotta army. In March 1990, workers building a highway uncovered pits containing pottery soldiers sculpted one-third of life-size; these soldier images depicted a further step toward a merely symbolic sacrifice.

Little is known about Jing Di. He reigned over a period of peace and prosperity, relative to Qin. His main achievement was consolidating power in a central government and extending the unification of China. He encouraged agriculture and initiated a civil service. The Han dynasty, founded in 206 B.C, concentrated on agriculture and diplomacy rather than warfare. The Han rulers fortified the Silk Road tradeway between China and the western world. As a result, the Han imperial court was wealthy, lavish, and riddled with intrigue. Han emperors were considered divine intermediaries between heaven and the people.

Appropriately, the soldiers guarding a Han emperor into the next life were exquisitely sculpted and garbed in silk uniforms.


The excavation near Qinís tomb uncovered four pits, originally paved with bricks, lined with a framework of wood and earth and roofed over. Three pits containing a total of nearly 8,000 figures have been unearthed so far, and a fourth empty pit was found. Each pit is possibly a separate component of a single army. The soldiers are organized according to the military conventions of the time.

Pit #1, the largest, contains mainly infantry. Nearly 1,000 of an estimated 6,000 figures of armored and unarmored infantrymen, bowmen, crossbowmen, archers, and charioteers have been unearthed.

Pit #2 is smaller, with a more complex layout of military personnel divided into four units of archers, chariots and cavalrymen, approximately 1,000 soldiers, 400 horses and 80 chariots in all.

Pit #3 contains 68 figures which probably represent a command unit of officers.

A total of 24 pits have been revealed near Jing Diís tomb, eight of which have been investigated to date.

One pit was emptied by grave robbers, two others show signs of looting, and one even contains the skeleton of a murdered grave robber killed by an accident or a greedy partner. Looting of tombs was common in the first century A.D. during widespread peasant uprisings.

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