History of archery: Wikis


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A Japanese archer with targets. Ink on paper, 1878.

Projectile points are known from early in prehistory. The earlier examples were probably used on spears or on atlatl darts. Examination of the points alone does not allow the method of launching to be determined, and, as bows are normally made of perishable materials, it is possible that bows were widely used long before the earliest surviving known examples. Bows eventually replaced the atlatl as the predominant means for launching sharp projectiles on all continents except Australia.

Classical civilizations fielded large numbers of archers in their armies; archery was an important military and hunting skill before the use of gunpowder. Arrows were especially destructive against unarmoured masses and the use of archers often proved decisive. Mounted archers combined range with speed and mobility. Archery also figured prominently in the mythologies of many cultures.



Scythian bowmen on gold plaque from Kul oba kurgan, in Crimea, 4th century BC.

The bow seems to have been invented by the late Paleolithic or early Mesolithic. The oldest indication for archery in Europe comes from the Stellmoor in the Ahrensburg valley north of Hamburg, Germany and date from the late Paleolithic about 9000-8000 BC. The arrows were made of pine and consisted of a mainshaft and a 15-20 centimetre (6-8 inches) long foreshaft with a flint point. There are no known definite earlier bows or arrows, but stone points which may have been arrowheads were made in Africa by about 60,000 years ago.[1][2]

The oldest bows known so far come from the Holmegård swamp in Denmark. In the 1940s, two bows were found there. The Holmegaard bows are made of elm and have flat arms and a D-shaped midsection. The center section is biconvex. The complete bow is 1.50 m (5 ft) long. Bows of Holmegaard-type were in use until the Bronze Age; the convexity of the midsection has decreased with time.

Mesolithic pointed shafts have been found in England, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. They were often rather long (up to 120 cm 4 ft) and made of European hazel (Corylus avellana), wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana) and other small woody shoots. Some still have flint arrow-heads preserved; others have blunt wooden ends for hunting birds and small game. The ends show traces of fletching, which was fastened on with birch-tar.

Bows and arrows have been present in Egyptian culture since its predynastic origins. The "Nine Bows" symbolize the various peoples that had been ruled over by the pharaoh since Egypt was united.

In the Levant, artifacts which may be arrow-shaft straighteners are known from the Natufian culture, (ca. 12,800-10,300 BP) onwards. The Khiamian and PPN A shouldered Khiam-points may well be arrowheads.

Classical civilizations, notably the Persians, Parthians, Indians, Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese fielded large numbers of archers in their armies. Arrows were destructive against massed formations, and the use of archers often proved decisive. The Sanskrit term for archery, dhanurveda, came to refer to martial arts in general.


The ancient Egyptian people took to archery as early as 5000 years ago. Archery was widespread by the time of the earliest pharaohs and was practiced both for hunting and use in warfare.

Archers with recurve bows and short spears, detail from the archers' frieze in Darius' palace in Susa. Siliceous glazed bricks, c. 510 BC.

Legendary figures from the tombs of Thebes are depicted giving "lessons in archery";[3] Some Egyptian deities are also connected to archery.[4]


The Assyrians and Babylonians extensively used the bow and arrow; the Old Testament has multiple references to archery as a skill identified with the ancient Hebrews.

The Chariot warriors of the Kassites relied heavily on the bow. The Nuzi texts detail the bows and the number of arrows assigned to the chariot crew. Archery was essential to the role of the light horse drawn chariot as a vehicle of warfare.[5]

Indian Subcontinent

The bow and arrow constituted the classical Indian weapon of warfare, from the Vedic period, until the advent of Islam.[6] The Aryans used bows and arrows, often on war chariots.[7] Some Rigvedic hymns lay emphasis on the use of the bow and arrow.[8] Detailed accounts of training methodologies in early India concern archery, considered to be an essential martial skill in early India.[9]

Legendary figures like Drona, are shown to be masters in the art of archery.[10] Mythological figures such as Arjuna, Eklavya, Karna, Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughan are also associated with archery.

Eastern Asia

Chinese use of archery dates back to the Shang dynasty. Shang army officer categories included the ya and shi (commanders), ma (chariot officers), and she (archery officers).[11] The Chinese used war chariots with archers. The following Zhou dynasty saw contests of archery being held in the presence of nobility.[12] By the end of the Zhou period, works on history, music, ritual, archery, and other topics were recorded on bamboo or wood.[13]

In East Asia the ancient Korean civilizations were well-known for their archery skills,[14][15] and South Korea remains a particularly strong performer at Olympic archery competitions even to this day.[14][16][17] Mounted archers were the main military force of most of the equestrian nomads from the Cimmerians to the Mongols.

North America

The hoop was often netted, like this.

Archery was widely known among the indigenous peoples of North America, from pre-Columbian times. An archery game was widely practiced among the tribes of the Southern US which involved shooting at a hoop rolled with a forked stick. Points were scored based on how the arrow landed. The competition was popularly related to notions of fertility.[18] Tribesmen of the Great Plains became extremely adept at archery on horseback.



Early History

Polychrome small-scale model of the archer XI of the west pediment of the Temple of Aphaia, ca. 505–500 BC.

The people of Crete practiced archery and Cretan mercenary archers were in great demand.[19] Crete was known for its unbroken tradition of archery.[20] The Greek god Apollo is the god of archery, also of plague and the sun, metaphorically perceived as shooting invisible arrows, Artemis the goddess of wild places and hunting. Odysseus and other mythological figures are often depicted with a bow.

Apollo and Artemis. Tondo of an Attic red-figure cup, ca. 470 BC.

During the invasion of India, Alexander the Great personally took command of the shield-bearing guards, foot-companions, archers, Agrianians and horse-javelin-men and led them against the Kamboja clans—the Aspasios of Kunar valleys, the Guraeans of the Guraeus (Panjkora) valley, and the Assakenois of the Swat and Buner valleys.[21]

The early Romans had very few archers, if any. As their empire grew, they recruited auxiliary archers from other nations. Julius Caesar's armies in Gaul included Cretan archers, and Vercingetorix his enemy ordered "all the archers, of whom there was a very great number in Gaul, to be collected".[22] By the 300s, archers with powerful composite bows were a regular part of Roman armies throughout the empire. After the fall of the western empire, the Romans came under severe pressure from the highly skilled mounted archers belonging to the Hun invaders, and later Eastern Roman armies relied heavily on mounted archery.[23]

Middle ages in Europe

Horse archer demonstration in Hungary

During the Middle Ages, archery in warfare was not as prevalent and dominant in Western Europe as popular myth sometimes dictates. Archers were quite often the lowest-paid soldiers in an army or were conscripted from the peasantry. This was due to the cheap nature of the bow and arrow, as compared to the expense needed to equip a professional man-at-arms with good armour and a sword. Professional archers required a lifetime of training and expensive bows to be effective, and were thus generally rare in Europe (see English longbow). The bow was seldom used to decide battles and often viewed as a "lower class weapon" or as a toy, by the nobility. However, among the Vikings, even royalty such as Magnus Barelegs used archery effectively,[24] and the Muslims used archery, presumably also in their numerous raiding expeditions all over the Western European seaboard, in the 9th and 10th centuries.

By the time of the Hundred Years' War, the English had learned how to employ massed archery as an instrument of tactical dominance, with their English longbows. Tournaments were sponsored, with prizes for winners, among other ways of encouraging archery. There was therefore much motivation and incentive to become an expert with the longbow and the various English kings were able to recruit thousands of archers per year.

The crossbow became quite popular during the Middle Ages. However, the renowned armour-piercing power of the crossbow caused fear amongst the well-armoured nobility and it was banned by the Second Council of the Lateran, although to little avail.

Decline, last uses, and survival of archery

Panels depicting Archery in England from Joseph Strutt's 1801 book, The sports and pastimes of the people of England from the earliest period. The date of the top image is unknown; the middle image is from 1496 and the bottom panel is circa fourteenth century.

The advent of firearms eventually rendered bows obsolete in warfare. Despite the high social status, ongoing utility, and widespread pleasure of archery in England, Korea, China, Japan, Turkey, Armenia, America, Egypt, and elsewhere, almost every culture that gained access to even early firearms used them widely, to the relative neglect of archery. Early firearms were vastly inferior in rate-of-fire, and were very susceptible to wet weather. However, they had longer effective range[25] and were tactically superior in the common situation of soldiers shooting at each other from behind obstructions. They also required significantly less training to use properly, in particular penetrating steel armour without any need to develop special musculature. Armies equipped with guns could thus provide superior firepower by sheer weight of numbers, and highly-trained archers became obsolete on the battlefield. "Have them bring as many guns as possible, for no other equipment is needed. Give strict orders that all men, even the samurai, carry guns."[26]

In Europe the last regular unit armed with bows was also a part of the oldest regular unit armed with gunpowder weapons, the Archers’ Company of the Honourable Artillery Company.

The sole exceptions may be the Comanches of North America, whose mounted archery was more effective than muzzle-loading guns. (Other Plains Indians fought mostly on foot, and usually found guns to be superior weapons when they did so.) "After... about 1800, most Comanches began to discard muskets and pistols and to rely on their older weapons."[27] Repeating firearms, however, were superior in turn, and the Comanches adopted them when they could. Bows remained effective hunting weapons for skilled horse archers, used to some extent by all Native Americans on the Great Plains to hunt buffalo as long as there were buffalo to hunt. The last Comanche hunt was in 1878, and it failed for lack of buffalo.[28]

The last recorded use of bows, in an English battle, seems to have been a skirmish at Bridgnorth, in October 1642, during the English Civil War.[29] The most recent death in war from British archery was probably in 1940, on the retreat to Dunkirk, when a former archery champion who had brought his bows on active service "was delighted to see his arrow strike the centre German in the left of the chest and penetrate his body".[30] In Ireland, Geoffrey Keating (c. 1569 - c. 1644) mentions archery as having been practiced "down to a recent period within our own memory"[31] Archery continued in some areas that were subject to limitations on the ownership of arms, such as the Scottish Highlands during the repression that followed the decline of the Jacobite cause, and the Cherokees after the Trail of Tears. The Tokugawa shogunate severely limited the import and manufacture of guns, and encouraged traditional martial skills among the samurai; towards the end of the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877, some rebels fell back on the use of bows and arrows. Archery remained an important part of the military examinations until 1894 in Korea and 1904 in China. Ongoing use of bows and arrows in some African conflicts has been reported in the 21st century, and the Sentinelese still use bows as part of a lifestyle scarcely touched by outside contact. A remote group in Brazil, recently photographed from the air, aimed bows at the aeroplane.[32] Bows and arrows saw considerable use in the 2007–2008 Kenyan crisis.

Traditional archery remained in minority use for sport and for hunting in many areas long after its military disuse. In Turkey, its last revival for this purpose took place with the encouragement of Mahmud II in the 1820s, but the art, and that of constructing composite bows, fell out of use with the death of the last bowyer in the 1930s. The rest of the Middle East also lost the continuity of its archery tradition at this time. In Korea, the transformation from military training to healthy pastime was led by Emperor Gojong, and is the basis of a popular modern sport. Japanese continue to make and use their unique traditional equipment. Among the Cherokees and the British, popular use of longbows never entirely died out. In China, the revival of archery continued until the Cultural Revolution, when it was suppressed. However today, traditional Chinese bowmaking is being revived, albeit on a relatively small scale.[33] In modern times, mounted archery continues to be practiced in some Asian countries but is not used in international competition. Modern Hungarians have revived mounted archery as a competitive sport.[34] Archery is the national sport of the Kingdom of Bhutan.[35]

Modern primitive archery

After the American Civil War, two Confederate veterans, Will and Maurice Thompson, revived archery in America. The two brothers and Thomas Williams (a former slave) lived in the wild in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. As ex-Confederate soldiers they were not allowed to own guns, so they needed other ways to hunt for food. Thomas Williams knew something about English-style Archery (using a longbow, though it is unclear where he gained this knowledge) and showed Maurice and Will. Later, Maurice wrote a book,The Witchery of Archery, which became a best seller and enthused people about the sport of archery. In 1879 the National Archery Association was formed. However, public interest in archery soon subsided.

That all changed when Ishi came out of hiding in California in 1911. Ishi was the last of the Yahi Indian tribe. He lived for his last five years at the University of California at Berkeley Anthropology Museum.[36] His doctor, Saxton Pope, was an instructor of surgery at the medical school. Dr. Pope was very interested in Ishi and his culture, especially archery. Ishi willingly taught Dr. Pope about his culture, how to make tools the way the Yahi did, and how to hunt using a bow and arrow. Soon, Dr. Pope was joined by archery-enthusiast Arthur Young.

Ishi died in 1916 of tuberculosis. Dr. Pope and Mr. Young did not lose interest in archery, and set about proving that archery could be used to bag large game.[37] They hunted in Alaska and Africa and took several large game animals.[38]

Because Dr. Pope and Mr. Young demonstrated to Western society that archery was effective on not only small game, but large game as well, archery did not lose public interest so easily. Many methods that Ishi taught Dr. Pope are still used today by primitive archers. From the 1920s, professional engineers took an interest in archery, previously the exclusive field of traditional craft experts.[39] They led the commercial development of new forms of bow including the modern recurve and compound bow. These modern forms are now dominant in modern Western archery; traditional bows are in a minority. In the 1980s, the skills of traditional archery were revived by American enthusiasts, and combined with the new scientific understanding. Much of this expertise is available in the "Traditional Bowyer's Bibles" (see Further Reading).

See also


  1. ^ Early Weapon Evidence Reveals Bloody Past. Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News 31st March 2008. http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/03/31/earliest-weapon-human.html
  2. ^ "a larger point, reminiscent of the single specimen from Peers Cave, parallels large un-poisoned bone arrow points from LSA, Iron Age and historical Bushman sites. Additional support for the Sibudu point having served as an arrow tip comes from backed lithics in the HP compatible with this use, and the recovery of older, larger bone and lithic points from Blombos Cave, interpreted as spear heads. If the bone point from the HP layers at Sibudu Cave is substantiated by future discoveries, this will push back the origin of bow and bone arrow technology by at least 20,000 years" Middle Stone Age bone tools from the Howiesons Poort layers, Sibudu Cave, South Africa. Lucinda Backwell, Francesco d'Errico, and Lyn Wadley. Journal of Archaeological Science. Volume 35, Issue 6, June 2008, Pages 1566-1580. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WH8-4S044NX-1&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=f05bdc6b1b9f132ea45c27fb73e85a38
  3. ^ Wilson, John (1956). The Culture of Ancient Egypt pg 186. University of Chicago Press
  4. ^ Traunecker, Claude (2001). The Gods of Egypt pg 29. Cornell University Press
  5. ^ Drews, Roberts (1993). The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe Ca. 1200 B.C. pg 119. Princeton University Press
  6. ^ Zimmer, Heinrich and Campbell, Joseph (1969). Philosophies of India pg 140. Princeton University Press.
  7. ^ Drews, Robert (1993). The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe Ca. 1200 B.C. pg 119. Princeton University Press
  8. ^ With the bow let us win cows, with the bow let us win the contest and violent battles with the bow. The bow ruins the enemy's pleasure; with the bow let us conquer all corners of the world. -- Drews, Roberts (1993). The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe Ca. 1200 B.C. pg 125. Princeton University Press
  9. ^ Scharfe, Hartmut (2002). Education in Ancient India pg 271. Brill Academic Publishers
  10. ^ Van Buitenen, J. A. B. (1980). The Mahabharata: The Book of the Beginning pg 153. University of Chicago Press
  11. ^ Trigger, Bruce G. (2003). Understanding Early Civilizations: A Comparative Study pg 254. Cambridge University Press
  12. ^ ""Archery," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2007 © 1997–2007 Microsoft Corporation.". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. http://www.webcitation.org/5kwqoOYFK.  
  13. ^ M. Lewis, Charlton, Scott Morton, W. China: Its History and Culture pg 24. McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 0071412794
  14. ^ a b Korean archery at turtlepress.com
  15. ^ Korea archery at anthromuseum.missouri.edu
  16. ^ Archery in South Korea at lycos.com/info/archery
  17. ^ "South sweep," September 28, 2000 at sportsillustrated.cnn.com
  18. ^ Hodge, Frederick Webb (1907). Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, Vol 1 pg 485. Government Printing Office
  19. ^ Cambridge University Press (2000). Cambridge Ancient History pg 174.
  20. ^ Kirk, Geoffrey etc (1993). The Iliad: a commentary pg 136. Cambridge University Press
  21. ^ The Ashvayanas living on river Guraeus (modern river Panjkora), which are the Gauri of Mahabharata, were also known as Gorys or Guraios, modern Ghori or Gori, a wide spread tribe, branches of which are still to be found on the Panjkora and on both sides of the Kabul at the point of its confluence with Landai (See: History of Punjab, Vol I, 1997, p 227, Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, Patiala (Editors) Dr L. M. Joshi, Dr Fauja Singh). The clan name Gore or Gaure is also found among the modern Kamboj people of Punjab and it is stated that the Punjab Kamboj Gaure/Gore came from the Kunar valley to Punjab at some point in time in the past (Ref: These Kamboja People, 1979, 122; Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, p 131, Kirpal Singh).
  22. ^ http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10657/10657.txt Caius Julius Caesar. Caesar's Commentaries. Translated by W. A. Macdevitt.
  23. ^ Greece and Rome at War, Peter Connolly, Adrian Keith Goldsworthy. Greenhill Books 1998 ISBN 185367303X ISBN 978-1853673030
  24. ^ Magnus Bareleg's Saga
  25. ^ Korean Traditional Archery. Duvernay TA, Duvernay NY. Handong Global University, 2007
  26. ^ Asano Yukinaga, 1598 CE, letter to his father, quoted in The Samurai, by S.R. Turnbull, Osprey, London 1977. ISBN 0-85045-097-7
  27. ^ T.R. Fehrenbach. Comanches, the history of a people. Vintage Books. London, 2007. ISBN 9780099520559. First published in the USA by Alfred Knopf, 1974. Page 125.
  28. ^ T.R. Fehrenbach. Comanches, the history of a people. Vintage Books. London, 2007. ISBN 9780099520559. First published in the USA by Alfred Knopf, 1974. Page 553.
  29. ^ "The Garrisons of Shropshire during the Civil War" refers to a letter written by a John Norton, dated October 5, 1642 from Bridgnorth describing the incident.
  30. ^ The archer's craft: A sheaf of notes on certain matters concerning archers and archery, the making of archers' tackle and the art of hunting with the bow. Adrian Eliot Hodgkin. Faber 1951
  31. ^ Geoffrey Keating. The History of Ireland, translated into English and preface by David Comyn, Patrick S. Dinneen. http://celt.ucc.ie/published/T100054.html. Accessed 9 December 2007.
  32. ^ "BBC NEWS". 2008-05-30. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7427417.stm. Retrieved 2010-01-05.  
  33. ^ http://www.atarn.org/chinese/juyuan/juyuan.htm Ju Yuan Hao
  34. ^ "Magyar index". http://www.atarn.org/magyar/magyar_link.htm.  
  35. ^ "Bhutanese Traditional Archery". http://www.atarn.org/tibet_bhutan/bhutan/bhutan01.htm.  
  36. ^ Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America (Paperback) by Theodora Kroeber. Republished University of California Press 2004. ISBN 0520240375 ISBN 978-0520240377
  37. ^ Saxton Pope. Hunting with the bow and arrow. New York. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1925.
  38. ^ Saxton Pope. Adventurous bowmen. Field Notes On African Archery. G. P. Putnam's Sons. New York. 1926.
  39. ^ Hickman, C.N., Forrest Nagler and Paul E. Klopsteg. Archery: The Technical Side. A compilation of scientific and technical articles on theory, construction, use and performance of bows and arrows, reprinted from journals of science and of archery. National Field Archery Association 1947

Further reading

  • The Traditional Bowyers Bible Volume 1. The Lyons Press, 1992. ISBN 1-58574-085-3
  • The Traditional Bowyers Bible Volume 2. The Lyons Press, 1992. ISBN 1-58574-086-1
  • The Traditional Bowyers Bible Volume 3. The Lyons Press, 1994. ISBN 1-58574-087-X
  • The Traditional Bowyers Bible Volume 4. The Lyons Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9645741-6-8

External links


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