5 Things You Didn’t Know About The Terracotta Army

Guarding the tomb of an emperor for millennia, these ancient warriors continue to fascinate us to this day.

Terracotta Army

Numbering in the thousands, the life-sized figures of the Terracotta Army stand in eternal eerie vigil, fascinating us all. Here's what you need to know about this symbol of Ancient China.


The Terracotta Army was painstakingly crafted to honour the man who created China itself: Qin Shi Huang. Born in 260 BC and now remembered as the First Emperor, he was the powerful ruler who through sheer force of will managed to unite several rival states to create one vast nation: China. As well as being responsible for the Terracotta Army, Qin Shi Huang was behind some of the original stretches of the Great Wall of China.

Qi Shi Huang is also linked to a strange legend. Apparently obsessed with living forever, he sent his court magician, Xu Fu, on a quest to find the elixir of immortality. It's said that Xu Fu was accompanied on his trip with legions of young men and women, and mysteriously disappeared. Some say the group landed in Japan, and went on to lay the foundations of Japanese culture.

The Terracotta Warriors were discovered in 1974 by a farmer named Yang Zhifa.

The Terracotta Warriors were discovered in 1974 by a farmer named Yang Zhifa.


Unlike the pyramids and the ruins of Rome, the Terracotta Army is a latecomer to our attention. In fact, we didn't even know it existed until 1974, when the Army was accidentally discovered by a Chinese farm worker named Yang Zhifa. On that fateful day he was out digging a well when his hoe clanked against a chunk of terracotta. More digging revealed a headless statue and other old objects, and one of Yang's fellow workers joked "These things will be worth quite a bit of money. You'll be able to swap them for tobacco." Decades later, Yang revealed that he still tended his garden with the very same hoe which dug up the first soldier of the Terracotta Army.


There are estimated to be around 8,000 warriors in the Terracotta Army. And the incredible thing is each and every one is as unique as a fingerprint. That said, they were actually built using a surprisingly modern-seeming mass production process, with workers creating various body parts using moulds. The statues were then "hand finished" using clay to apply individual facial features and hairstyles. And don't be fooled by their relatively drab appearance - the warriors were once brightly bedecked in a multitude of colours, but the paintwork has long since flaked away.

The Terracotta Warriors come replete with individual army and even horses.

The Terracotta Warriors come replete with individual army and even horses.


It's not just the warriors of the Terracotta Army which are so impressively detailed and convincing. Their weapons are too. Over the years, tens of thousands of bronze weapons have been found, ranging from spears to swords to battle axes. The blades are still sharp and dangerous, and this is down to the chrome-plating technology which has protected the metal from corrosion over the past thousands of years. It's a perfect example of the ingenuity of Ancient Chinese science, coming so long before chrome-plating became commonplace in the 20th Century.


The Terracotta Army makes up just a fraction of a sprawling subterranean "city" built around the tomb of Qin Shi Huang. This complex is apparently a scaled down model of Chinese society at the time, though much of it is still a mystery. The tomb itself has never been opened, although according to the account of an ancient historian it's a miraculous creation which features rivers of mercury flowing in an elaborate mechanism.

According to accounts, hundreds of thousands of workers were brought in to create this underground celebration of Qin Shi Huang - the task took decades, and, as there's so much concern about accidentally destroying the complex, chances are we'll never get the full measure of this secret realm.