Weapons of the Terracotta Army

Written by Sally Guo Updated Apr. 28, 2022

Over 40,000 bronze items of weaponry have been recovered from the pits of the Terracotta Army, along with the terracotta soldiers; items such as swords, halberds, dagger-axes, spears, shu, billhooks, crossbows, battleaxes, bayonets, and arrowheads.

The terracotta soldiers were skillfully sculpted from clay, but the weapons were real and mainly made of bronze, though some were made of iron. Despite 2,200 years of burial, the weapons are still sharp, demonstrating the high level of metallurgical technology during the Qin era.

Terracotta Army Weapon

Weapons of the Terracotta Army

Crossbow Trigger – 弩 nǔ in Chinese

More than 2,200 years ago, seven states during the Warring States Period (453 BC – 221 BC) were at war with each other, fighting for supremacy. At that time, the most advanced cold weapon was the crossbow trigger. During archaeological excavations in the Qin Terracotta Army pits, about one hundred crossbows have been dug up.

Developed from the bow, a crossbow is a long-range weapon with a sophisticated trigger mechanism and capable of shooting arrows farther than 800 meters (2,600 ft), double the effective range of a Soviet-made AK47 rifle.

A crossbow is generally 130 to 145 cm (4.3 to 4.8 ft) long, with a 130-cm bowstring. It is said to be the king of cold weapons because of its great accuracy, fast speed, and long-range.

Arrowhead – 箭簇 jiàn zú in Chinese

A total of over 4,100 arrowheads have been found, easily the most abundant weaponry from the pits of the Terracotta Army.

The bronze arrowhead is the sharp part mounted on the front of the arrow shaft and shot using the bowstring of a crossbow. The head is very sharp, with a triangular pyramid shape and narrow blades.

Dagger-Axe – 戈 gē in Chinese

Prevalent during the Shang to Zhou dynasties (1600 BC–221 BC), the ge is an L-shaped bronze blade mounted on a long shaft and used for slashing and hooking at the enemy.

The number of ge unearthed in the pits of the Terracotta Army was small, suggesting that among the weapons of the Qin dynasty the ge was not as important as they were during the Shang and Zhou dynasties.

Sword – 剑 jiàn in Chinese

At lengths of around 81 to 95 cm (32 to 37 inches), the excavated swords are compact in structure, with slim and smooth bodies like willow leaves. Having slept in the river of ancient history, they are still as bright and sharp as new.

Researchers found the Qin swords were coated with a 10-micrometer layer of chromium dioxide that kept them stainless for 2,200 years, a feature that amazed the watching world. It is still a mystery how the Qin people mastered this apparently modern technology, two millennia ahead of modern times.

Spear – 矛 máo in Chinese

With a total length of 2 to 3 meters (6.6 to 9.8 ft), the mao is a long weapon consisting of a shaft, usually of wood, with a pointed head.

In use earlier than the ge, the mao was used to assassinate the enemy in ancient times. Its importance was second only to ge during the Shang and Zhou dynasties. There were signs of the mao replacing the ge during the Qin dynasty.

Halberd – 戟 jǐ in Chinese

As a combination of ge and mao, the ji is a pole weapon used with two hands, consisting of a spear topped with a dagger-axe head. It is a fighting weapon with the dual function of hooking and stabbing, making it more lethal than the ge or mao.

Shu – 殳 shū in Chinese

30 cylindrical shu were excavated in pit 3, with triangular heads measuring about 10.5 cm (4.1 inches) in length and 2.3 to 3 cm (0.9 to 1.2 inches) in diameter. They were made with wooden handles.

Unlike the spears and halberds, however, the shu discovered in the pits of the Terracotta Army had no edge or blade, showing that the shu in the Qin dynasty was basically used as ceremonial weapons.

Billhook – 吴钩 wú gōu in Chinese

Also called jīngōu in Chinese, wu hooks were first created by the Wu people in the Warring States period (475–221 BC). Shaped like a sickle, these bronze hooks are equipped with 20-cm long oval handles with double-edged 80-cm bodies.

Battleax – 钺 yuè in Chinese

Shaped like a large axe, the excavated battleaxes were more often used for rituals in ancient China, though they were really lethal.

Bayonet – 铍 pí in Chinese

16 bronze bayonet heads were uncovered in the pits of the Terracotta Army. They are mostly 35 cm (13.8 inches) long, with bilateral hexahedral flat blades. A bayonet is similar to a dagger. The hilt of the bayonet is connected to its wooden handle by a bronze nail.

Terracotta Army Tour with Beijing and Shanghai

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