Archers were highly respected by the ancient Egyptians, Hittites,
Assyrians, Persians, etc. The Egyptians were the first masters of the
war bow, skilled archers were respected and given high ranks in
society. Soon the bow was considered an almost mythical piece of
equipment. Pharaoh Ramses II was a skilled archer, his armies depended
mainly on lightning-fast chariots mounted by archers. Their bows were
quite similar to those of the Hittites and Assyrians. Unbraced, these
bows looked as if they were broken, while braced they formed a perfect
Ramses’ historians claimed that the Egyptian bow was superior to the
Hittite bow, though this information should be regarded as
questionable, since Ramses employed skilled scribers in order to build
himself a respectable image.
Greeks and the Archery
The ancient Greeks considered their god, Apollo, an excellent archer,
who introduced archery to the Greeks. The first Olympic games featured
a sacrifice to Herakles, the first Greek archer but they considered
archery a sport and never realised the military importance of the bow.
Later too, the Roman army was based on their heavy infantry and
considered archery as a means of physical exercise.
The first mounted archers in history were the Assyrians. Before this,
chariots required two persons to operate, one who handled the horse(s)
and the chariot and one who shot the bow. The first horseback archers
attacked in small groups, riding very close to each other.
The Scythians and Syrians were natural born horseback archers. Their
small composite bows were ideal to be used while mounted. They could
aim towards the front, the left and even the rear of the horse, using
the Parthus technique. The shooting technique of the Parthus is now
known as the ‘good-bye shot’. They used thumb-rings for drawing the
string and it enabled them to shoot as many times as they wanted to
without exposing their thumbs to injury. The thumb-ring of the mounted
archer indicated his military rank too.
The Roman archery
The fact that the Roman Empire was easily destroyed by the tribes
coming from the east is a proof of their military superiority and
especially the effectiveness of horseback archery. Their mobility
enabled them to approach the enemy, shoot, reload and shoot again in
the meantime keeping a safe distance from the enemy’s heavy infantry.
By the fifth century A.D. the Romans realised how the vast and skilled
Hun army posed a threat to their empire and offered the Huns large
sums of money in order to keep them at bay. During the Roman era
graves in Wales sometimes contained Hun bows, which were given to the
local Welsh soldiers by the Romans, since they could not figure out
how to use them properly.
Asian horseback archery nations
The Hun bow is asymmetric, which gives extra speed to the arrow.
Mongolian bows had stringpads for efficiency, while the Turkish bows
were very fast due to their excellent C-shape. The Koreans engineered
the most advanced, state-of-the-art bows, crafted even today to
ancient standards. However, their O-shaped bows are too sophisticated
for warfare use.
Greeks and Romans and the archery
While the Greeks and Romans did not realise the importance of
horseback archery, the Germans and Scandinavians hung small bows above
the cradle of male babies to raise their spirits.
The Vikings and the archery
It is a less known fact that the Vikings also used bows, however
primitive, besides the axe and sword. Their bows resembled the very
simple and easy to use Saxon bow, known today as the longbow.
For two centuries, the Vikings had the British isles under siege,
capturing and executing King Edmund in 870 A.D. They strapped him to a
tree and the Viking archers shot him to death so when he was
unstrapped he remained nailed to the tree. The place of the execution
is known today as St. Edmund’s grave.