Qin Shi Huangdi (259 – 210 BC) and his Terracotta Army
There is an enigmatic aura and an air of mystery surrounding the Terracotta Army. Discovered in 1974 by local farmers, the pottery warriors are located near Xi’an, in Shaanxi province. These life-size soldiers form an army of the dead, built to protect their Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, in the afterlife, from the spirits of all those who he had wronged during his short but influential life. The army comprises various uniquely decorated figures, including an estimated 8,000 foot soldiers, 130 chariots, and 670 horses.
The Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, was the first emperor of China, finally uniting the country in 221 BC after extensive campaigning to subdue the other states ruling the then divided China, and thereby forming the Qin Dynasty (221 – 206 BC). He ruled until his death in 210 BC, most likely from a mercury overdose – a principal ingredient in medication that his physician had prescribed him as an elixir of life which the Emperor so desperately sought. Towards the end of his life the Qin had become obsessed with immortality due to his great fear of death.
Aside from his military achievements, Qin Shi Huangdi also built the early Great Wall; divided the country into administrative units; and standardised Chinese currency, script, and system of weights and measures. This consolidated his power and greatly facilitated the governance and administration of such a large empire.
The brutal way in which he came to power and the numerous people he had slaughtered to achieve the unification of China caused him to fear that there would be many angry and vengeful spirits waiting to attack him in the afterlife. This necessitated the creation of a spirit army to accompany him into the afterlife as protection, so he commissioned the Terracotta Army.
As a highly influential historical figure, Qin Shi Huangdi and his Terracotta Army are featured on a set of modern Chinese precious metal coins, issued in 1984. The set comprises five coins: four 5 yuan 22g silver coins featuring various warriors of the Terracotta Army; and one 100 yuan 1/3 oz gold coin which features the Emperor himself.