Unusual bas-reliefs found on the territory of the ancient empire of Northern Wei

(ORDO NEWS) — Archaeologists have unearthed a tomb built in the middle of the 5th century in northern China.

Specialists from the Institute of Archaeological Research of Shanxi Province (China) have discovered a looted burial chamber. But even in this form, it is of interest to historians.

Firstly, the burial is arranged in a rather unusual way: there is a stone sarcophagus inside the chamber, and a wooden coffin with the body of a deceased person was already placed in it, judging by the traces. The inner coffin has not survived, most likely due to the actions of the robbers.

Secondly, the size of the tomb is impressive: its area is 1.8 meters by 3.3 meters, and its height is 1.9 meters. Thirdly, high-quality bas-reliefs with images of warriors, animals, and mythical creatures have been preserved on the walls of the tomb.

Finally, archaeologists this time do not need to deal with the dating of the find: on one of the columns supporting the vault of the tomb, the year of its creation is carved: in translation into the chronology we are accustomed to, it is 456 AD – the heyday of the Northern Wei empire.

Unusual bas reliefs found on the territory of the ancient empire of Northern Wei 2

The North Wei story is an example of how East and West are not really that different from each other. “Rome honors the law, but the barbarians are right again” – such words could be the motto of the empire that existed in the north of China in 386-534 AD. Moreover, this applies to the emergence of the Northern Wei, and to its fall.

In the 3rd century AD, Northern China became the arena of confrontation between various tribes. New nomads came to the place of the Xiongnu, then others replaced them, but no one lingered for a long time – this is evidenced by archaeological finds.

So it was until the Toba tribe appeared there. These immigrants from the shores of Lake Baikal belonged to the ancient Mongol tribes. According to some scholars, they spoke one of the ancient Mongolian languages, while others believe that Toba were Turkic-speaking.

At the end of the 4th century, their leader Toba Gui (386-409 years of reign) conquered the Shanxi region. In 422, Toba took the large administrative center (the former capital) of Luoyang and under the dynastic name Wei (Toba-Wei) became real Chinese emperors. The empire they founded is called the Northern Wei.

It must be said that the customs of Northern Wei for a long time remained such that they caused genuine amazement among the indigenous Han people. For example, when the emperor died and his heir ascended the throne, the empress dowager and the mother of the new emperor were forced to commit suicide.

Unusual bas reliefs found on the territory of the ancient empire of Northern Wei 3

There was also such a tradition. Toba took over the bureaucratic structure from the Han people, but believed that paying civil servants a salary was an overkill.

They will feed themselves: they will take everything they need from the controlled population. And this continued for quite a long time: only after about a hundred years, that is, shortly before the end of the empire, officials began to receive money.

All this suggests that the Toba were culturally far from the Chinese, real nomads, barbarians. It was these features that at one time helped them to conquer Shanxi, and then the whole of Northern China – in much the same way as the tribes of the Ostrogoths and Visigoths on the other side of the continent conquered the lands of Rome. Civilization at that moment and there, and there had nothing to oppose to barbarism.

But it was civilization that ultimately destroyed the Northern Wei. Gradually, more and more Chinese customs and religion were adopted. Buddhism became extremely widespread in their empire. In Buddhist caves in the north of Shanxi, inhabited between 414 and 520, sculptures were discovered that made the glory of Wei art.

They are executed with deep religious, even mystical overtones. Traditional Chinese art in the south has never been so prone to mysticism and religious ecstasy. The leaders of the steppe nomads gradually became enlightened rulers – and, like real enlightened rulers, they wove intrigues, arranged conspiracies, weakening more and more.

By the beginning of the 6th century, Northern Wei practically did not wage a war, after that in 469 it threw its troops on the walls of Nanjing and was defeated by South China. And then it completely split into the Eastern Wei and the Western Wei, which did not go unnoticed for the next steppe tribes on the borders of the former empire.

The civilized nomads turned out to be weaker than the steppe people, who only had to learn about Chinese culture. In much the same way as the Ostrogoths and Visigoths were weaker than the new peoples who conquered their kingdoms.


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