Sleeping Warriors Awake
Very powerful men rarely ask for a small funeral. China’s first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, was perhaps the most powerful man of his time and he got quite a send-off in 209 BC.
In fact, his vast necropolis makes Tutankhamun’s tomb look tasteful in comparison (and it’s not easy to outdo an Egyptian Pharaoh with a giant ego).
In 1974, unsuspecting farmers from Chin’s Shaanxi province unearthed what went to become one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century and the most celebrated part of that discovery is coming to Liverpool World Museum. It’s unimaginable, astonishing, beautiful and extraordinary. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s safe to say you’ve never seen anything like it. Ever.
The Terracotta Army is one of only a handful of global exhibitions, along with remnants from the Titanic and the aforementioned artefacts from ancient Egyptian tombs, that shift tickets and sell-out galleries, on the strength of their name alone.
You’ll have to wait until 2018 to see it. You’ll have to see it to believe it. But to help tide you over, we’ve dug up ten incredible facts, to make you stand to attention for China’s tremendous and terrifying Terracotta Army.
1) FIT FOR A KING WON’T CUT IT
During his 36-year reign, Qin Shi Huang ordered the creation of what was to become The Great Wall of China. He founded the Qin dynasty, coined the term Emperor, standardised weights and measures and unified all of China, putting an end to 350 years of warring states. It wasn’t enough. What he really wanted was to cheat death and live for all eternity. He spent much of his later years searching for the secret to eternal life, hoping to rule forever. That’s where all the clay warriors come in.
2) MAKE A FUSS
Obsessed with retaining his power, well into the afterlife Qin Shi Huang’s extraordinary funeral arrangements we’re in development soon after he ascended to the throne, at the age of 13. Like a lot of rulers, Qin Shi Huang loved a bit of bling and this led to the selection of where to make his final resting place. Mount Li, famed bounty of jade and gold was deemed suitably resplendent.
3) THE MOTHER OF ALL MAUSOLEUMS
Over a 36-year period, 700,000 workers built Qin Shi Huang’s tomb. When he died, in 210 BC this structure consisted of palaces and towers, teaming with valuable and important artefacts and simulated rivers of deadly mercury, all guarded by officials. The Terracotta Army itself is part of a much larger necropolis, believed to be 98 square kilometres in size. (Bet your dream headstone doesn’t sound so ostentatious now.)
4) PROTECT THE EMPEROR
It took three giant pits to consume the 8,000 strong Terracotta Army. Their role was to follow the commands of their Emperor in the afterlife and experts believe they were never even meant to be seen. But clay men alone couldn’t do the job. Around 130 chariots, thousands of real weapons and 520 horses all form part of the perfectly precise military formation. But troops need entertainment too, so they’re joined by terracotta acrobats, musicians, strongmen and even concubines!
5) RANK AND FILE
No two members of the Terracotta Army are alike. There are ten basic face shapes, but each one differs in gestures and facial expressions to make them unique. The figures are all life size, but vary in height, uniform and hairstyle, all in accordance with their rank. These ranks include armoured warriors; unarmoured infantrymen; cavalrymen; archers, chariot drivers, generals and other lower-ranking officers.
6) BUILDING AN EFFICIENT ARMY, BIT BY BIT
Despite what must have been painstaking work, fairly modern methods of assembly were used. The Terracotta Army was built in workshops, by government labourers and local craftsmen, using local materials. But the heads, arms, legs and torsos were created by different departments, stamped with their mark of origin, for quality control purposes and assembled later, classifying the process as an assembly line production. Not bad for 246 BC.
7) SHOWING THEIR TRUE COLOURS
There’s no denying that the Terracotta Army have aged well. But they’re not quite in their original packaging. Once the clay warriors had been fired they were painted with bright pigments. Many exhibitions show the original colours of the warriors and a very small amount even have shades of their original coat of paint remaining.
8) LOOK AFTER YOUR WEAPONS
More than 40,000 exquisitely made bronze weapons have been unearthed from the terracotta pits, including battle axes, spears, crossbows and arrowheads. The secret to their preservation shows another forward thinking innovation. The weapons were coated with a layer of chromium, protecting them from rust, 2200 years before the Germans ‘invented’ chrome plating in 1937.
9) SEALING THEIR FATE
Though he advanced his society considerably, Qin Shi Huang was not a nice man. Ruthless and cruel, Qin Shi Huang was determined that his tomb be kept a secret at all costs, including the lives of the people who built it.
Hundreds of skeletons have been uncovered in the tomb, believed to be labourers who were put to death, to preserve the secrecy of the location and its treasures. The gates were closed to imprison the labourers and grass and trees were planted over it, to make it appear like nothing more than a hill.
10) SOME SECRETS STILL REMAIN
In part, Qin Shi Huang got his wish. His hermetically sealed tomb remains untouched, possibly due to concerns over preservation of its artefacts. (When the Terracotta Arms were uncovered, their paint curled up and withered away in 15 seconds, once exposed to Xi’an’s dry air.)
But perhaps that isn’t the only danger with raiding this tomb. Legend has it that artisans, along with carving a map of the Qin kingdom on the floor and recreating replicas of palaces and pavilions, also set deadly booby traps to kill trespassers seeking treasure.
The Terracotta Army is considered to be the eighth wonder of the world. Full details of Liverpool’s exhibition are being kept under wraps for now, but we do know that this will be the first exhibition of these wondrous warriors outside of London for 30 years, in yet another monumental coup for our city.
Many men have died to bring you these spectacular National Class 1 Cultural Treasures, representing one of the most significant archaeological finds man has ever made. It’s phenomenal history in human form and it’s here in Liverpool from February to October 2018.
Tags: Liverpool Museums, World Museum