Archery in the Ancient World

In a week or so, Ancient Warfare XI.1 returns from the printer. It's my 33rd regular issue and my 1st as old-new editor of the magazine. It feels good to be back, and of course I hope you'll agree. This new issue is focused on the bow and arrow on the ancient battlefield and features a broad range of archery-related articles.

Archery in the ancient world

After the Preliminaries, which I'm trying to liven up a bit with a 'Required reading' section (just in case you've got an empty shelf left in the house) and one or two other items, Murray Dahm kicks off the theme with a general look at archers and how they were valued. Archers seem to occupy extremes. They are cowardly killers-at-a-distance on the one hand, but a perfect shot also establishes the identity of none other than Odysseus in the eponymous epic. In the Source, archaeologists Natasha Mazins and Nicholas Wright track a unit of Cretan archers by the monogram stamped into their arrowheads; a rare example of being able to follow a particular unit in the Hellenistic era.

Cristian Violatti turns to the Far East with a short look at Chinese, mass-produced crossbows as reconstructed from the trigger mechanisms found with the 'soldiers' of the Terracotta army. The ability to churn out standardised weapons in huge numbers may have been the crucial factor in the emperor Qin's victory. Next, and speaking of crucial factors, Paul Elliott looks at the adoption and mastery of the composite bow by the Egyptians. The Hyksos, using that 'ultimate weapon', had brought an end to the Middle Kingdom. Learning from the enemy allowed the 18th dynasty to throw them out of Egypt and establish the New Kingdom. Moving forward chronologically, Phillip Garland looks at archers as the core of the Assyrian armies. Present in many flavours and ethnic origins, they were an essential part of a very flexible style of warfare.

Carrhae and Roman archers

We turn east yet again for a short look at a reconstructed armoured Sogdian warrior. The Sogdians lived in Central Asia, astride the silk-route. In that location they were very well-placed to grow wealthy and use that wealth to adopt military traditions and inventions from all over.

Obviously the Battle in this issue can be none other than the ultimate archer-victory: Carrhae (53 BC). Matt Bisek shows how Crassus' Roman army was gradually worn down in its march through the desert. The Parthians then engaged Crassus with a combination of horse-archers and cataphracts. After a day of fighting, seven Roman legions were essentially done for.

The Romans had learned the value of archers before, but it wasn't until the early Empire that we see large numbers of specialised archer cohorts being raised. Interestingly, most of those come from the eastern provinces. Melody Stach, finally, rounds out the theme with an extensive look at composite bows and horses. It seems that without the composite bow, the horse archer would not have appeared.


The features open with a new regular contribution from our wandering hoplomachus, entitled 'Tactically Speaking'. These articles will look at battlefield tactics, tricks and formations throughout the ancient world. The second article in the 'Roman army in detail' series looks at the history and the 'known-unknowns' of that quintessential Roman armour: the so-called Lorica Segmentata. Gareth Williams breaks down some myths about the battle of Marathon and the reputation of Miltiades. Our 2011 Special on the battle might be required reading... And finally, there's another new regular feature, 'Grave Matters'. This section will look at the life and career of an ancient warrior based on the data from his tombstone. Every article also features an illustration by Graham Sumner. For this first edition, it was inevitable that we'd look at one of the most famous stones, the memorial to Marcus Caelius.

And that, as they say, is it. A new Ancient Warfare full to the brim with bows, arrows, tactics, soldiers and battles. It truly should have something for everyone. Get your copy here, or subscribe!

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