The year was 210 BCE, give or take a few years. The Romans were fighting with Hannibal. Judea was a Greek colony, peacefully so as the Jews liked Alexander, who had conquered them about a century earlier. It would be about forty more years before a king from the Syrian branch of the Greek empire tried to outlaw traditional Judaism, suffered a revolt, and Judea won its independence in a guerilla war, some of which is celebrated on Chanukah. It would be roughly another century and a half before the Romans conquered Judea, at least the first time.
Far to the East, there were a series of warring states in what is now China, and the king of the Qin state, Ying Zheng, conquered them all and, for the first time, unified China. It has remained unified and independent ever since. Ying Zheng standardized writing and weights and measures throughout China and did a lot to ease transportation around China such as digging canals. He also started construction on a long berm to stop invaders from the North, a berm that would, centuries later, be added on to and become the Great Wall.
And this man lived
I have no idea what his name was. It is not, to my knowledge, recorded anywhere. What I can tell you is that he served in the Qin army and that his roughly life-sized likeness, photographed here, was buried in the tomb complex of the Emperor, along with the likenesses of other soldiers and some others who served the Emperor, including entertainers.
His statue is made of terracotta. This is not what it looked like when it was buried. When it was buried, it was painted in lifelike colors, but most of that paint has not survived. In fact, when one of these statues was unearthed, painted, upon hitting the air the ancient paint deteriorated in minutes as archeologists watched in horror.
The paint job would have looked sort of like this:
My wife and I drove down to Philadelphia this morning to the Franklin Institute, where an exhibit on the terracotta warriors from Xi-An, China, ends this weekend. Several of the warriors were there, plus a lot of other artifacts and a few replicas of statues that did not make the trip, such as these:
These statues are far smaller and are not terracotta but bronze. They are the most advanced bronze statues in the world up to that time.
The warriors were discovered by farmers attempting to dig a well in 1977, a discovery that is probably the most significant archeological find ever anywhere. So far, about two thousand warriors have been assembled. This is maybe 25% of the ones they know about. No two are alike. Some things about the statues were standardized because they had to make so many, particularly when it comes to feet, torsos, arms, though not uniforms, which are individually reproduced by function, depending on what kind of fighter each warrior was. There were eight basic head shapes, but the heads past that were fashioned individually. The statues are very detailed. Here is a pair of archers, and from what we know they used crossbows. One is standing, the other kneeling:
They would have been buried with weapons, but those seem mainly to have been lost or deteriorated. I discussed detail a moment ago. The kneeling archer would need traction to move quickly, and so
even the tread on his shoe is reproduced.
The warriors come from a few pits near the tomb of the emperor. They know where the tomb is and it is rumored to have fantastic things in it. It is in a mound roughly the height of one of the Pyramids at Giza. However, they have not excavated it. The reason has to do with watching the paint on the statue deteriorate: At this point, they’re too worried about not being able to preserve what they uncover. I don’t know what the eventual solution will be or if there will be one.
I will leave you with a few other photographs. It’s a very odd feeling to look at the faces of people looking back at you from well over two thousand years ago, faces roughly life-sized and very realistic, almost as if they could speak to you.