- A School of Oriental and African Studies expert believes it is ‘likely’ the 8,000 giant sculptures were the result of contact between Greece and China
- Lukas Nickel said ancient records are evidence that the warriors of the First Emperor were based on earlier life size statues
- Before the time of the Qin Shi Huangdi, there were no large figurines created in China and he thinks the idea came from Alexander the Great’s campaigns
The Terracotta Warriors are described as one of the 8th wonders of the world, but the life-size figures created over 2,200 years ago, were inspired by artwork by the ancient Greeks, one expert claims.
Lukas Nickel believes it is ‘likely’ the 8,000 giant sculptures, which were buried in pits close to the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huangdi, were the result of contact between Greece and China.
He cites newly translated ancient records that tell of giant statues appearing in the West, which inspired Qin Shi Huangdi, as evidence that the warriors of the First Emperor were based on 12 earlier life-size statues.
The Terracotta Army is a form of funerary art buried with the First Emperor in 210 to 209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.
Arguably the most famous archaeological site in the world, it was discovered by chance by villagers in 1974, and excavation has been on-going at the site since that date.
An extraordinary feat of mass-production, each figure was given an individual personality although they were not intended to be portraits.
The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals.
Current estimates are that there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried.
Since 1998, figures of terracotta acrobats, bureaucrats, musicians and bronze birds have been discovered on site.
They were designed to entertain the Emperor in his afterlife they are of crucial importance to our understanding of his attempts to control the world even in death.
‘It is perfectly possible and actually likely that the sculptures of the First Emperor are the result of early contact between Greece and China,’ Dr Nickel, a reader at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, told
Before the time of the First Emperor, there were no life-size figurines created in
The records, which Dr Nickel translated, reveal the statues were around 38ft tall (11.5m) and impressed the Emperor who built duplicates of them in bronze.
The bronzes no longer exist as they were destroyed after the death of the First Emperor.
However, a number of writers of the time documented the statues' existence, Dr Nickel wrote in the journal Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies.
Before the time of the First Emperor, there were no life sized figurines created in China
Records suggest there were links between China and Greece and that sculptors were influenced by Greek culture.
Dr Nickel believes statues of semi naked acrobats and dancers, which were found in another pit close to the mausoleum, are so realistic as sculptors learned from Greek masters, who collectively took centuries to perfect such realism in their sculptures and etchings.
He wrote: 'The [Chinese] sculptors attempted to render a bone structure, muscles and sinews to depict a person in movement.
‘This comes close to an understanding of the human body that was employed at the time only in Hellenistic (Greek influenced) Europe and Asia.’
However, while Dr Nickel believes he might have solved the inspiration behind the Terracotta Warriors, it remains a mystery why rulers of the Han Dynasty stopped making large sculptures and instead swapped to miniatures.
He suggests that the craftsmen who mastered how to build the huge figurines might have died without passing their skills on to the next generation, or that it was thought to be unlucky to replicate foreign models.