Terracotta Army Facts

When was the Terracotta Army Built?

When was the Terracotta Army built? Recognized by most archeologists, the Terracotta Army was built more than 2,200 years ago from 247BC or 246BC to 208BC, lasting nearly 40 years.

The Construction of the Terracotta Army Started in 247BC or 246BC.

According to historical records, Emperor Qin Shi Huang started the construction of his mausoleum as soon as he ascended to the throne in 247BC, when he was merely 13 years old. As a burial part of the mausoleum, most archeologists believe that the Terracotta Army was built together with the mausoleum or no soon later; the start time should be 247BC or 246BC. 

The Construction Ended in 208BC.

The Terracotta Army was not completed when Qin Si Huang died in 210BC. His son Hu Hai continued the construction in the following two years, but later stopped in 208BC because the peasant uprising broke out in a large scale and the Qin Empire was soon overturned. This can be conjectured on the fact that Pit 4 of the Terracotta Army is empty. Archeologists say the workers were sent urgently to fight against the peasants, so there was no time and manpower to make warriors for this pit.

How Long Does It Take to Build the Terracotta Army?

The construction of the Terracotta Army spanned the whole political life of Emperor Qin Shi Huang from 247BC or 246BC when he came to power, to 208 BC, two years after he died. The project, designed by the then prime minister Li Si and supervised by the general Zhang Han, took nearly 40 years.

Another Answer on When Was the Terracotta Army Built: 221BC – 209BC

Some archeologists deduced that the specific time for constructing the Terracotta Army was from around 221 BC after Qin Shi Huang unified China to 209 BC. The whole construction took about 10 years. They made this conclusion on the basis of the following evidences.

 1. The bronze weapons unearthed from the Terracotta Army pits. These bronze weapons carved with the year of production, show that the latest weapons were made in 228 BC. It indicated that they were put into the pit after 228 BC.

 2. The characters carved on the ground tiles of the Terracotta Army pits. Those characters are mostly the names of organizations which were responsible for making bricks and pottery during the Qin Dynasty (221 – 207BC). The organizations were set up after Qin Shi Huang unified China in 221 BC, so it can be concluded that the Terracotta Army was built after 221 BC.

 3. The large amount of timber and labor force consumed in the construction. Based on the scale of the Terracotta Army, it’s calculated that more than 8,000 cubic meters of timber were used and 126,949 cubic meters of earth were excavated for the Terracotta Army construction. Some of the timber was from today’s Hunan and Hubei Provinces, which belonged to other states before Qin Shi Huang unified the country. It was difficult to accomplish this if the country had not been unified.

 4. The peasants uprising first took place in 209 BC and according to records, the workers building the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum were sent to suppress the peasants uprising, so the latest time for building the Terracotta Army cannot be later than 209 BC.

Historical Background for Building the Terracotta Army: The Climax of Using Figurines to Replace Human Sacrifices

The Terracotta Warriors are actually a kind of funeral statues. In feudal China, slaves were regarded as appendages of slave owners when alive. Even if the slave owners died, they wanted the appendages to serve them in the afterlife, so that the barbaric human sacrifice system sprouted.

The Shang Dynasty (17th century BC - 1046 BC) witnessed the most prosperous era of the tradition of human sacrifice. It was common to see human sacrifices in the tombs of the noble. In the following Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 - 771 BC), the phenomenon of human sacrifice was repressed to a great extent, but it had not been eliminated. 

In the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 BC), the human sacrifice custom revived. Then during the Warring States Period (475 - 221 BC), the vassal states abolished the system of human sacrifice successively. It was in 384 BC that Qin State canceled the human sacrifice system. 

In Qin Shi Huang’s time, as the social changes led to the changes in burial customs, people began to use statues made of pottery, wood, stone, and jade to replace human sacrifices. The Terracotta Warriors and Horses are the typical example and the masterpiece among all the replacements. The reason why they reached such a high degree in scale and craftsmanship is inseparable from the will of Emperor Qin Shi Huang as well as the wisdom of the ancient craftsmen.

 Further Reading: 

History of Terracotta Army 

Chronicle of Terracotta Army

Why was the Terracotta Army built?

- Last updated on Mar. 06, 2024 by Brenda Lian -
Questions & Answers on When was the Terracotta Army Built?
Asked by mk | May. 15, 2023 12:16Reply
how old is the landmark Terracotta Warriors and Horses
Answers (1)
Answered by Alan | May. 16, 2023 01:05

It has a history of more than 2,200 years but it was unearthed since 1974.
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