Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘archery’

Greek Missile Tactics

Missile-type weapons played only a very small role in connection with the hoplite phalanx. With the Greeks the bow was a traditionally respected weapon; the national hero, Hercules, was an archer. In the case of the Athenians, a special archer corps is mentioned in the campaign of Plataea. But since the time the phalanx was formed of spear-carriers, the bow was pushed into the background, since the two arms, even if not mutually exclusive, can be combined only with great difficulty. One can picture the archers, sling men, and javelin-throwers in front of, beside, and behind the phalanx. Whenever they were deployed forward of the front line, they must have disappeared before the clash of the two phalanxes, and therefore would necessarily have withdrawn around the flanks. If they attempted to push back through the phalanx itself, the resulting disorder and delay would cause much more damage than the advantage from the losses that they might have inflicted on the enemy. In order to be sure of passing around the two flanks, the sharpshooters would have to begin their withdrawal while the phalanxes were still several hundred paces apart. If the enemy had no sharpshooters and we sent out marksmen against him, to fire on him continuously during the approach march, that could of course cause him serious disruption. If both sides had sharpshooters, however, these two forces would, for the most part, only shoot at each other and would have no influence at all on the decisive phalanx battle. Firing obliquely on the approaching enemy from the two flanks of the hoplite phalanx, a number of marksmen could exercise an influence on the progress of the battle. But we find no recognizable traces of this kind of action, even in the later Greek battles.

Finally, if sharpshooters were stationed behind the phalanx, they could shoot out their volley from that position shortly before the clash. Fired in an arching trajectory, however, without real aiming, this could not be very effective, especially when, as is usually the case, our own phalanx was moving toward the enemy at the assault pace. Consequently, although we find such an employment of projectiles fairly often recommended in theory, nevertheless, from a practical viewpoint, it was used only infrequently, as, for example, in the battle that Thrasybulus fought against the thirty Tyrants in the streets of Piraeus (Xenophon). There, however, the troops of Thrasybulus stood only ten men deep, on a rise of ground, and waited for the enemy, who advanced up the street with a fifty-man depth. Under these special conditions the projectiles fired from above onto the thick mass were able to do very good service. Generally speaking, however, the marksmen formed only an auxiliary arm. The real combat force of the Greeks in the Persian Wars consisted only of hoplites.

Hans Delbrück, Warfare in Antiquity, pp. 54-55

Byzantine Cavalry

Most cavalry consisted of archers who trained first on foot, then on horseback. They could shoot in either the Roman or Persian manner, that is, using either a thumb lock or a finger release, the former adopted from the Huns. The Hunnic method afforded a faster delivery. Practice was to be carried out on a fast-moving horse, preferably on a route march to conserve the horse’s energy, and the rider should shoot both straight ahead and to the rear, both to right and left. Speed and dexterity were vital, the archer being expected to shoot, replace his strung bow in its case, grasp and manipulate the spear carried on his back, replace it, and once again take up his bow. He needed a level-headed horse who did not quicken once the reins were slackened, nor as the rider shifted his position for the various releases. Above all, whether the rider was loosing arrow, lance, javelin or spear, the horse had to keep a straight course, an even pace, and a lowered head and neck to facilitate the rider’s aim.

The full panoply of the higher-ranking Byzantine cavalrymen consisted of ankle-length hooded mail coat, gorget, small plumed helmet, bow and bowcase, covered quiver for thirty to forty arrows, two cavalry lances of Avar type, and sword. In his baldric the soldier carried an awl and a file for on-the-spot mending of gear and sharpening of weapons. His clothing consisted of a roomy tunic, fixed at the knee when riding (this helped to prevent the pinch and chafe of stirrup leathers), which suggests a garment rather like trousers. The outer covering was a large felt cloak, both for wet weather and to mask the gleam of mail when on patrol. It also gave some protection against arrows.

The horse’s tack consisted of a saddle with stirrups, a thick saddle pad, a good-quality bridle, a capacious saddle bag to carry three or four days’ iron rations, and spare bowstrings. No doubt other essentials were also carried, such as hoof picks, strips of leather [thong] for saddlery and personal gear repair, etc., plus some food for the horse along with the soldier’s own rations, and a lasso with a thong and a pair of hobbles. Wicker cages were provided for carrying mail coats when not in use. During battle or when on a raid one of these containers was attached behind the saddle of the soldier’s charger to protect the mail coat against the elements, and so that the soldiers could unburden themselves when they were not needed.

The thick saddle pad protected the horse’s back from saddle sores and pressure galls, which could have put it out of action, and also gave some protection against arrows or other weapons.

Ann Hyland, The Medieval Warhorse, p. 27

Compound Bows Were Superior But Expensive

[Bronze Age] composite bows were also notoriously expensive. Such a bow was a very effective weapon, having double or triple the range of a self bow, but its manufacture was costly and difficult (the layering and lamination of wood, horn, and sinew was done at long intervals, and a properly aged bow would leave a bowyer’s shop five or ten years after he had brought in the raw materials from which it was made).

Robert Drews, The End of the Bronze Age, p. 110

Silk Shirts Lessen Arrow Wounds

After the conquest of northern China, the Mongols were issued silk shirts to wear under their clothing. Silk is tough and will generally follow an arrowhead into the wound without breaking. The silk can then be tugged gently from the wound, drawing out the arrowhead without enlarging the injury.

Erik Hildinger, Warriors of the Steppe, Chapter 7, p. 121

Furthermore, as the silk did not break or tear, no foreign matter was left in the wound. This greatly reduced the chance of dying from infection.

Imagining the Centaur

The power of the steppe was based on the individual pastoral unit, the man on horseback. By all accounts, he was a unique creation, singular in his abilities and outlandish and terrifying in the eyes of victims, so much so he frequently defied description. Aesthetically, he left much to be desired. Clad shabbily in boots and trousers—both inventions of the steppe—kept supple through liberal portions of leftover butter and grease, he was likely a pungent warrior, especially since he himself never bathed. Upper garments were composed of crudely stitched pelts, valued only for warmth and protection. Strapped to his back was a quiver full of carefully crafted arrows and his formidable bow, both encased against the elements due to their extreme vulnerability to moisture. A well-cast bronze dagger would have completed his personal arsenal, since the steppe’s rich copper and tin deposits were exploited almost from the beginning of penetration.
It was horsemanship that set the pastoral trooper apart. Under ordinary circumstances control was exerted by reins attached to a bit—sometimes copper or bronze, but also bone or hemp. Saddles were blankets and hides. There were no stirrups, not before 500 [C.E.] at the earliest, so balance was based on experience and skill. Over time a horseman’s thighs and knees grew so sensitive to his mount’s movements that it became possible to maintain a firm seat at full speed using legs alone. The net effect was a union that left some wondering where the man left off and the horse began—the Greeks, for instance, imagined a race of centaurs, wild and unpredictable, humans and equines joined at the hip. Others were less fanciful, but nearly all who crossed his path were amazed by the steppe horseman’s ability to let go the reins and launch a rapid-fire barrage of arrows at full gallop through an arc of 270 degrees or more. He was as dangerous in retreat as moving forward—his fabled rearward Parthian shot brought an end to a legion of pursuers. No one was more lethal in the ancient world.

Robert L. O’Connell, Soul of the Sword, p. 50

Emphasis mine.

I never understood why centaurs were envisioned as forest creatures. Horses and ponies live on plains, steppes, and savannas.

I occasionally regret creating the Rellugai as turkic humans instead of centaurs. They would have been more difficult to write, but my writing can sometimes be too human-centric.

Archer-Pair in Assyrian and Persian Warfare

The Assyrians had made major and highly effective use of a tactical feature common in Near Eastern warfare for many centuries. This was the archer-pair, consisting of a spearman bearing a very large, light but sturdy shield made of leather and wicker, and an archer; the spearman faced the enemy and held up the shield, behind which the archer hid and fired off volleys of arrows. The Persians called such shields spara and so named these tactical units sparabara, or “shield-bearers.” Typically, the Assyrians had lined these units up side by side, forming a single row of shield carriers backed by a single row of archers. [The Persians] increased the depth of the formation and also the number of archers per shield, producing a heavier concentration of arrow shot.

Don Nardo, The Persian Empire, pp. 27-28

Persian Spirit, Skill, and Resourcefulness

The basis of the [Persian military and political] system [circa 500 B.C.E.] was the spirit, skill, and resourcefulness of the Persians. An important weapon was the bow, used effectively by both cavalry and infantry. Insofar as possible the Persians avoided close-quarters infantry combat until their foes had been thoroughly disorganized by swarms of foot archers from the front, and the daring onrushes of horse archers against flanks and rear. The Persians were versatile in adapting their methods of warfare to all conditions of terrain. They respected the shock action of the Lydian cavalry lancers, and incorporated this concept into their mounted tactics.

Subject peoples were required to render military service. The garrisons scattered throughout the empire were principally composed of unit from other regions…but always contained a Persian contingent. Imperial expeditionary forces were also multinational. The Persians received a surprisingly high standard of loyalty from these diverse peoples, due largely to their policies of leniency toward the conquered, and of carefully supervised but decentralized administration.

R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History, p. 22

Hunnic Bow and Mongolian Release

The Byzantine horsed archer was an expert, capable of loosing arrows from either side of the horse while at full gallop, either shooting a fleeing opponent, or defending himself by a ‘Parthian’ shot over the horse’s rearquarters if he himself was fleeing. The method used was a full draw to the right ear which imparted greater poundage to the arrow. The penetrative quality of Roman equipment used at the battle of Callinicum was due to the adoption of the Hunnic bow and the Mongolian release. The Mongolian release, which uses a thumb lock, is faster, whereas the Mediterranean release, using the fingers to draw, is slower and with an oriental bow the fingers would be crushed. Procopius says the bow used by the Persians at Callinicum was much weaker and the arrows unable to pierce armour, even though the rate of delivery was greater.

Ann Hyland, The Medieval Warhorse, p. 22

Emphasis mine.

The Bow Was the Chief Weapon in Japanese Warfare

For centuries, the bow and arrow was "the chief weapon of the fighting man in Japan". Even after the introduction of firearms and the extended period of enforced peace under the Tokugawa [Shogunate] had greatly reduced its strategic relevance, archery was still considered a noble art. Known generally as shagei (accomplishment in archery) or, more specifically, as kyujutsu (the art, or technique, of the bow), it was a fully developed art with a complex system of practices and techniques, an initially wide variety of styles which slowly merged into a few major ones, and a deep theory linking the art to the very birth of the Japanese nation. Inspired as it was by the mystical, esoteric dimension of that culture, it is not surprising to learn that, in the twelfth century [C.E.]…"people in high positions were delighted when their ability as archery was acclaimed but made every endeavor to have their prowess with the sword hushed up."

Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook, Secrets of the Samurai, p. 226

Emphasis mine.

An All-Around Mounted Warrior

The 6th-century [C.E. Byzantine] soldier was in fact much more than a cavalryman: he had become an all-around mounted warrior. With his bow he could skirmish at a distance, but he was also heavily armoured and well equipped for close mounted combat. When a steady force was needed to hold ground, he was quite happy to dismount and fight as a heavy infantryman. On many occasions Belisarius took only cavalrymen with him, and when Narses needed steady infantry, he dismounted his cavalry.

Simon MacDowall, Late Roman Cavalryman: 236-565 AD, p. 24

Early Iron Age Armies

…From the late seventeenth to the late thirteenth century [B.C.E.], for the eastern Mediterranean kingdoms warfare was a contest between opposing chariot forces, and the only offensive infantrymen who participated in battle were the ‘runners’—the skirmishers who ran among the chariots…. Although there is distressingly little information for the centuries following the Catastrophe [in the 12th century B.C.E.], what there is suggests that all over the eastern Mediterranean the principal role in battle was now borne by offensive infantrymen. Thus chariot warfare, which in the Late Bronze Age had distinguished cities and kingdoms from the barbarous hinterlands (where horses and a chariot were a luxury that few, if any, could afford), did not survive into the Iron Age, and even the wealthiest kings had now to depend primarily upon footsoldiers.

It is generally recognized that the chariot was less important in the Iron Age than in the Late Bronze Age. By the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III [of Assyria] (745-27 [B.C.E.]) the light, two-horse chariot rarely appeared on the battlefield, since by that time the tasks hitherto assigned to chariots were normally carried out by cavalry. As a result, the Neo-Assyrian chariot became an enormous and cumbersome vehicle, carrying a variety of passengers and drawn by three or four horses. Such vehicles had little in common with the war chariot of the Bronze Age and seem to have served as prestige conveyances for the king and lesser dignitaries. In classical times (if we except the dreadful but ineffective ‘scythed’ chariots of the Persians) the chariot was associated almost entirely with status, parades, and recreation. We may thus say that in the Iron Age cavalry ‘replaced’ chariotry as an effective military arm.

The earliest representations of archers shooting from the backs of galloping horses are ninth-century Assyrian reliefs. These reliefs show the cavalry archers operating in pairs: one cavalryman holds the reins of both his own and his partner’s horse, allowing the partner to use his hands for the bow and bowstring. The early cavalry teams thus parallel exactly the charioteer and chariot archer. The cavalry archer was undoubtedly less accurate than his counterpart on a chariot (bouncing on a horse’s back was less conducive to a good shot than standing—knees bent—on the leather-strap platform of a chariot). But in other respects the cavalry teams were surely superior. They were able, first of all, to operate in terrain too rough for wheeled vehicles. And their chances for flight, when things went wrong, were much better: when a chariot horse was injured, both crewmen were in immediate danger, but if a cavalryman’s horse was killed or injured the cavalryman could immediately leap on the back of his partner’s horse and so ride out of harm’s way. Yet another advantage of cavalry over chariotry was economic, since the cost of purchasing and maintaining a vehicle was considerable. The Chronicler claims…that in the tenth century [B.C.E.] the chariot itself cost twice as much as the team that pulled it.

How early in the Iron Age kings began to use cavalries in place of or alongside chariotries cannot be determined, since there is so little documentary and pictorial evidence for the period 1150-900 [B.C.E.]. By the middle of the ninth century cavalries were obviously well established, since at the Battle of Qarqar Shalmaneser III faced many men on horseback (and some on the backs of camels) and since he himself claimed to have 2,002 chariots and 5,542 cavalrymen. For earlier centuries all we have are Hebrew traditions, and although they are hardly trustworthy it must be noted that they routinely associate cavalries with the kings of the period. Solomon was said to have maintained twelve thousand parashim; David was believed to have defeated enormous horse troops consisting of both chariots and cavalrymen; and Saul was reported to have been slain on Mt. Gilboa by Philistine parashim.

Robert Drews, The End of the Bronze Age, pp. 164-65

Tactical Capabilities of Medieval Weapon Systems

With heavy infantry specialized to resist heavy cavalry and light infantry indispensable in sieges and finding its most effective employment in the field against light cavalry, the art of war about the year 1200 [C.E.] had these clearly distinguishable capabilities (using the symbol → to mean was superior to):

heavy infantry → heavy cavalry
heavy cavalry → light infantry
light infantry → light cavalry
light cavalry → both heavy infantry and heavy cavalry.

tactical schematic in two dimensions: infantry vs. cavalry, heavy vs. light

These relationships are conveniently summarized in schematic [above], in which A means ability to attack successfully in the direction of the arrow and D means ability to defend successfully in the direction of the arrow. Attack includes the capability to compel the attacked to fight; defend implies only the capacity for successful resistance but no ability to force action. The schematic assumes a flat surface.

The ability of the cavalry to dismount modifies this diagram. When the heavy cavalry dismounted it became heavy infantry, and confirmed the generalizations that the man on foot is superior to the mounted man and [that] the defensive is stronger when the same weapon systems confront one another. Light cavalry could gain comparable advantages by dismounting, and in each case the dismounted cavalry in the defense could easily take advantage of terrain or artificial obstacles, something more difficult to do mounted. Medieval soldiers grasped and often exploited the value of dismounting heavy cavalry but, lacking light cavalry, could never make use of this transformation. They did occasionally mount bowmen, giving them the strategic mobility of the light cavalry. They more rarely resorted to a similar mounting of heavy infantry, probably because of their ample supply of heavy cavalry. Yet to have mounted heavy infantry on nags would have been a far more economical solution had knights customarily fought on foot. It would have saved the considerable cost of a robust war horse and the expensive, but unused, skill in fighting mounted.

Archer Jones, The Art of War in the Western World, p. 145-46