The Terracotta Army And Horses of Emperor Qin Shihuang, China


Recognized today as one of the most important archaeological excavations of the 20th century and noted as one of the top 10 attractions in China with thousands of visitors coming every year,  the Terracotta Army and Horses is a definitely “must see” for any equine enthusiast who is interested in seeing the art and history that our beloved steed is apart of. This is one of the largest and unique military museums in China. The Terracotta Army is the buried army  of Emperor Qin Shihuang, the First Emperor of China, guarding the tomb of the Emperor in his after life and accompanying him in his immortality. Representing the Qin Dynasty (211-206 BC) military power, these thousands of life-size figures arranged in a large-scale battle formation are impressive by there size, number and detailed looking. Today, over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses can be seen in the site and is one of the most famous attractions of China together with the Great Wall or the Forbidden City. First Discovered in 1974, the site has been ranked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China ascended to the throne at age 13. He was the most famous Emperor in China’s history, since he was the one who unified China 2,200 years ago and gave to the country its actual name. Qin Shihuang was responsible for the creation of many of China’s outstanding buildings such as the Great Wall, the Summer Palace as well as the Terracotta Army and Horses. They were built with the purpose of protecting the tomb of the Emperor and show loyalty to him after his death. The Terracotta Army and Horses site was under construction during 38 years, and around 700, 000 workers were needed to complete it. Apart from the terracotta figures, many buried treasures and sacrificial objects, animals and people had accompanied the Emperor in his after life.

Pit No.1,Terracotta Army and Horses,Xi'an Tours,China Tours
Pit No. 1

In 1974, the Army was discovered quite by accident. A farmer was digging a new well on his farm and discovered a terracotta head looking like a human face painted in very bright colors and brought it back to show his family. They were curious about the head so they contacted the officials about the discovery and brought them to the place they had found it. That soon lead to archaeologists and the officials realizing that they had found the legendary Terracotta Army and Horses, one of the most important finds in history. Extending the digs, scientists first discovered Pit No.1, the biggest vault out of the three that can be seen today. Since then, the farmer who fist discovered the treeacotta army’s life has completely changed. He is now a celebrity signing autographs that travelers can meet at the entrance of the Terracotta Army tourist site. Soon after the discovery, the State Council authorized to build a museum on the site and in 1976, two other pits were uncovered at just 20 to 25 meters away from the first pit.


Since the discovery of the first head of a terracotta warrior in, a total of three pits and some other accessories have been discovered by archaeologists who are still working on the site today. Facing the East, this museum is covering an area of roughly 4 acres with the 3 pits filled with more than 8,000 terracotta warriors and horses and more than 40,000 bronze weapons all looking like guarding soldiers for the Yellow Emperor of Qin. The Terracotta Army and Horses consists of 3 sections (also called “vaults” or “pits”), a series of accessory pits and an Exhibition Hall.

Pit No 1. is the largest pit, the first discovered and the most famous one. With 3 lines of horizontal clay warriors, followed by several columns of 6,000 terracotta warriors and 35 horse-drawn chariots behind them. The excavated sculptures include more than 1,000 warriors, 8 war chariots, 32 horses and about a thousand of bronze vessels. All warriors seem well-prepared for the battle.

The Terracotta Army and Horses is One of China’s greatest attractions and a UNESCO protected human masterpiece,Xi'an.

On both the northern and southern sides of the war formation, stand 180 warriors serving as flank guards facing east and west in order to protect their leader from the enemy. Life-like, the soldiers are a really impressive sight for anyone, giving a deep impression on what artists created about 2,000 years ago. Besides the Terracotta figures, many weapons were found including bronze arms  in a good condition. Originally they all were painted in bright colors, but the natural light and excavation techniques couldn’t help preventing the colors to fade away with the years. Currently, over ten pieces of colored terracotta warriors have been protected through the use of modern technology.

Bronze Chariots and Terracotta Horses,Xi'an Tours,China Tours.

Pit No. 2: The L-shaped pit contains over 1,300 warriors and 90 chariots, crossbowmen, cavalry and thousands of bronze weapons that were unveiled to the public in 1994.

Pit No. 3: This is the smallest of the pits, but still as grand. The vault in the exact shape of “凹” (Chinese character) and contains 68 warriors, bronze weapons as well as gold, stone and bronze decorations, a war chariot and 4 horses that have been on display since 1989 to the public. One of the most interesting things about this pit is that most of the warriors in the pit are headless. Archaeologists believe that these warriors did have heads when originally produced about 2,000 years ago, but due to many thefts, almost all of the heads in this pit have disappeared.


Apart from these three pits, other smaller pits have been found known as accessory pits, near the three main ones. The “artisans’ graveyards”, the “slaughter pits”, the “stable pits” and the “rare birds and animals pits” are their names. I found this information interesting and have included it below:

Artisans’ Graveyards Pit: 3 artisans’ graveyards have been found near the Army. Over a hundred of skeletons in total have been found in this pit, all squeezed into 32 graves. Most of all the skeletons were males, but a woman and child were found as well. These people were supposedly forced to work for the Emperor until his death, when everyone was killed alive in one grave. All positions are different, and the heads of the skeletons show that they were buried hastily by the tyrannical government.

Slaughter Pits: Out of the 17 slaughter pits found in the area, only a few have been excavated so far. Containing bronze swords and skeletons of five men and two women, aged between 20 to 30. Over 200 burial objects such as animal bones, gold decorations, silver, copper, jade, lacquer works and the silk were also found in the pits, raising questions about who these people were.

Stable Pits: In Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum, two sites containing stable pits have been found. Some of the pits contained horses, while others only a statue of a kneeling terracotta warrior. Like the artists, the horses are believed to have been buried alive.  By doing this, the Emperor Qin Shihuang wanted to bring anything he had with him to the afterworld, so that he could continue his luxurious life. This  idea was then gradually adopted by Emperors in later Chinese Dynasties.

Rare Birds and Animals Pit: Largest of all the accessory pits, the Rare Birds and Animal Pit was a place for the Qin Shihuang’s spirit to hunt in the afterworld. A total of 31 pits are arranged in the area but just two of them have been excavated so far. Strangely enough, coffins were discovered in the pits, inside which skeletons of animals believed to be deer were found. Statues of kneeling warriors found in the pits with the animals are believed to symbolize the feeders of the rare birds and animals of the Imperial court.

Another Interesting Fact

The archaeologists were amazed by the large-scale masterpieces they discovered in 1974, and started to wonder about the artists who built all of these pits and every single part of the more than 8,000 warriors and horses excavated. During their repair work, some discovered names carved on the bodies (hips, under the arms, etc.) of the sculptures. A total of 87 different peoples names were discovered.  Recruited by the Qin Emperor, these countless skilled artisans came from all parts of the Qin Kingdom. Each of them tried to bring the warriors, horses, chariots, and bronze weapons to life artistically in their sculptures. About 3,600 artists have been estimated to be needed for creating a whole armor during one year. Even more amazing still, artists wrote letters detailing their life and working conditions during the making of this army. Some of the letters were  hidden in bamboo slips found in the pits. Here is an excerpt from one of the letter, translated into English by the scientists:

“I have to work carefully every day, if I paint the weapons incorrectly, my officer will punish me very severely”.

Unfortunately for the artists, their fate had already been decided by their Emperor Qin Shihuang’s government. The remaining artists who were still alive when the Emperor died were ordered to be buried alive in the tomb passages, so that  that the secret of their work and its location would not be revealed. Faithful to their master and Emperor, the skilled artisans were the victims of the powerful but tyrannical era of the First Emperor of China.

I hope you joyed learning about this amazing “sculpture city”. If you do go there, take a moment and think about these poor, unfortunate people who worked all their life on this, only to be killed needlessly afterwards by their tyrant  leader. Thankfully, today we are able to create beautiful equine art in all forms freely and without any suffering to us and our horses.

Horse Lifestyle TV will be on #EquineArtHour this Sunday!

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Have a wonderful, exciting and colorful New Year!


Huh? What? Well, I will believe that when I see flying Shetlands !

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Carol DeLorenzo says:

    This army of sculptures is quite remarkable!

    *xo, c


    1. Shya Beth says:

      Hi Carol,
      Yes, these horses are amazing!! I’m glad you enjoyed the article, thanks for reading!


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