SOAS University of London

Early links with West likely inspiration for Terracotta Warriors, argues SOAS scholar

19 December 2013

In his recently published paper, Dr Lukas Nickel, a scholar on the archaeology of China at SOAS, University of London has suggested there are “likely” to be links between the Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor of China and influences from the West.

Dr Nickel’s paper, to be found in the October issue of the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies has cited ancient Chinese records that reveal tales of giant statues appearing in the far west. According to the narratives the Emperor ordered the casting of copies in bronze that were erected in front of his palace. This account supports the notion of early contact between China and the West, which Dr Nickel says could have inspired the First Emperor to not only duplicate the 12 giant statues but to build the huge Terracotta Army along with other life-size sculptures.

In the centuries before the First Emperor’s rule, Dr Nickel explains life-sized and realistic sculpture was not created in China. The idea perhaps emerged from Hellenistic kingdoms in Asia that were established following the conquests by Alexander the Great.

Terracotta Warriors pics
The terracotta warriors standing in marching formation. Credit: Dr Lukas Nickel

Dr Nickel said: “The thousands of terracotta sculptures found in the tomb of the First Emperor have no obvious predecessors in Chinese art history. One has to ask where the concept for this new art medium originated. Archaeology has shown that sculpture was widely employed in Hellenistic Bactria at the time, and references in Chinese literature now suggest that the idea came from there.”

For the full paper: Lukas Nickel, The First Emperor and sculpture in China, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies / Volume 76 / Issue 03 / October 2013, pages 413 – 447.