|Tallies were issued as credentials to envoys or generals in ancient times. They were symbols of the emperor's granting power to the individual and often bore inscriptions describing that power. Most tallies were made of bronze and were designed to be split in half; one half would be given to the commander and the other half would be kept by the king or emperor. When the king wanted to send a message or a command, he would send his half of the tally in order to show that the command was genuine.
This tally is shaped like a tiger and is particularly well formed. It is 3.74 inches (9.5 cm) long, 1.73 inches (4.4 cm) high, and weighs 2.93 ounces (83 g). It is engraved and inlaid with nine lines of gold characters. The 40 characters read:
The ruler keeps the right half of the tally and gives the left half to Du. Any order for the deployment of 50 or more men must be accompanied by the ruler's half tally. When beacon fires are lighted in an emergency, the field commander may act on his own and dispatch troops without the ruler's half tally.
Somewhere there is another, matching, tiger. It doesn't appear to be a very secure method of verifying orders. If I were the enemy, I would be on the lookout for messengers. The inscription would tell me the power of the tally and I would send the enemy's troops wherever I liked. It was discovered at a site in Shanmenkou, Xi'an and was used by the State of Qin. The museum dates it to the Warring States Period of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (475 - 221 BC).
Last update: March 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2010