Amongst the great peoples of ancient history the Egyptians were History in war. the first and the most famous of archers, relying on the bow as their principal weapon in war. Their bows were somewhat shorter than a man, and their arrows varied between 2 ft. and 2 ft. 8 in. in length. Here, as elsewhere, flint heads for arrows were by no means rare, but bronze was the usual material employed. The Biblical bow was of reed, wood or horn, and the Israelites used it freely both in war (Gen. xlviii. 22) and in the chase (xxi. 20). The Assyrians also were a nation of archers. Amongst the Greeks of the historic period archery was not much in evidence, in spite of the tradition of Teucer, Ulysses and many other archers of the Iliad and Odyssey. The Cretans, however, supplied Greek armies with the bowmen required. In the “Ten Thousand” figured two hundred Cretan bowmen of Sosias’ corps. Rüstow and Köchly (Geschichte des griechischen Kriegwesens, p. 131) estimate the range of the Cretan bow at eighty to one hundred paces, as compared with the sling-bullet’s forty or fifty, and the javelin’s thirty to forty. The Romans as a nation were, equally with the Greeks, indifferent to archery; in their legions the archer element was furnished by Cretans and Asiatics. On the other hand nearly all Asiatic and derived nations were famous bowmen, from the nations who fought under Xerxes’ banner onwards. The Persian, Scythian and Parthian bow was far more efficient than the Cretan, though the latter was not wanting in the heterogeneous armies of the East. The sagittarii, three thousand strong, who fought in the Pharsalian campaign, were drawn from Crete, Pontus, Syria, &c. But the Roman view of archery was radically altered when the old legionary system perished at Adrianople (A.D. 378). After this time the armies of the empire consisted in great part of horse-archers. Their missiles, we are told, pierced cuirass and shield with ease, and they shot equally well dismounted and at the gallop. These troops, combined with heavy cavalry and themselves not unprovided with armour, played a decisive part in the Roman victories of the age of Belisarius and Narses. The destruction of the Franks at Casilinum (A.D. 554) was practically the work of the horse-archers.
In the main, the nations whose migrations altered the face of Europe were not archers. Only with the Welsh, the Scandinavians, and the peoples in touch with the Eastern empire was the bow a favourite weapon. The edicts of Charlemagne could not succeed in making archery popular in his dominions, and Abbot Ebles, the defender of Paris in 886, is almost the only instance of a skilled archer in the European records of the time. The sagas, on the other hand, have much to say as to the feats of northern heroes with the bow. With English, French and Germans the bow was the weapon of the poorest military classes. The Norman archers, who doubtless preserved the traditions of their Danish ancestors, were in the forefront of William’s line at Hastings (1066), but contemporary evidence points conclusively to the short bow, drawn to the chest, as the weapon used on this occasion. The combat of Bourgtheroulde in 1124 shows that the Normans still combined heavy cavalry and archers as at Hastings. Horse-archers too (contrary to the usual belief) were here employed by the English.
Yet the “Assize of Arms” of 1181 does not mention the bow, and Richard I. was at great pains to procure crossbowmen for the Crusades. The crossbow had from about the 10th century gradually become the principal missile weapon in Europe, in spite of the fact that it was condemned by the Lateran Council of 1139. As early as 1270 in France, and rather later in Spain, the master of the crossbowmen had become a great dignitary, and in Spain the weapon was used by a corps d’élite of men of gentle birth, who, with their gay apparel, were a picturesque feature of continental armies of the period. But the Genoese, Pisans and Venetians were the peoples which employed the crossbow most of all. Many thousand Genoese crossbowmen were present at Creçy.
It was in the Crusades that the crossbow made its reputation, opposing heavier weight and greater accuracy to the missiles of the horse-archers, who invariably constituted the greatest and most important part of the Asiatic armies. So little change in warfare had centuries brought about that a crusading force in 1104 perished at Carrhae, on the same ground and before the same mounted-archer tactics, as the army of Crassus in 55 B.C. But individually the crusading crossbowman was infinitely superior to the Turkish or Egyptian horse-archer.
England, which was to become the country of archers par excellence, long retained the old short bow of Hastings, and the far more efficient crossbow was only used as a rule by mercenaries, such as the celebrated Falkes de Breauté English use. and his men in the reign of John. South Wales, it seems certain, eventually produced the famous long-bow. In Ireland, in Henry II.’s time, Strongbow made great use of Welsh bowmen, whom he mounted for purposes of guerrilla warfare, and eventually the prowess of Welsh archers taught Edward I. the value of the hitherto discredited arm. At Falkirk (q.v.), once for all, the long-bow proved its worth, and thenceforward for centuries it was the principal weapon of English soldiers. By 1339, archers had come to be half of the whole mass of footmen, and later the proportion was greatly increased. In 1360 Edward III. mounted his archers, as Strongbow had done. The long-bow was about 5 ft., and its shaft a cloth-yard long. Shot by a Welsh archer, a shaft had penetrated an oak door (at Abergavenny in 1182) 4 in. thick and the head stood out a hand’s breadth on the inner side. Drawn to the right ear, the bow was naturally capable of long shooting, and in Henry VIII.’s time practice at a less range than one furlong was forbidden. In rapidity it was the equal of the short bow and the superior of the crossbow, which weapon, indeed, it surpassed in all respects. Falkirk, and still more Creçy, Poitiers and Agincourt, made the English archers the most celebrated infantry in Europe, and the kings of England, in whatever else they differed from each other, were, from Edward II. to Henry VIII., at one in the matter of archery. In 1363 Edward III. commanded the general practice of archery on Sundays and holidays, all other sports being forbidden. The provisions of this act were from time to time re-issued, particularly in the well-known act of Henry VIII. The price of bows and arrows was also regulated in the reign of Edward III., and Richard III. ordained that for every ton of certain goods imported ten yew-bows should be imported also, while at the same time long-bows of unusual size were admitted free of duty. In order to prevent the too rapid consumption of yew for bow-staves, bowyers were ordered to make four bows of wych-hazel, ash or elm to one of yew, and only the best and most useful men were allowed to possess yew-bows. Distant and exposed counties were provided for by making bowyers, fletchers, &c., liable (unless freemen of the city of London) to be ordered to any point where their services might be required. In Scotland and Ireland also, considerable attention was paid to archery. In 1478 archery was encouraged in Ireland by statute, and James I. and James IV. of Scotland, in particular, did their best to stimulate the interest of their subjects in the bow, whose powers they had felt in so many battles from Falkirk to Homildon Hill.
The introduction of hand-firearms was naturally fatal to the bow as a warlike weapon, but the conservatism of the English, and the non-professional character of wars waged by them, added to the technical deficiencies of early Decline as weapon. firearms, made the process of change in England very gradual. The mercenary or professional element was naturally the first to adopt the new weapons. At Pont de l’Arche in 1418 the English had “petits canons” (which seem to have been hand guns), and during the latter part of the Hundred Years’ War their use became more and more frequent. The crossbow soon disappeared from the more professional armies of the continent. Charles the Bold had, before the battle of Morat (1476), ten thousand coulevrines à main. But in the hands of local forces the crossbow lingered on, at least in rural France, until about 1630. Its last appearance in war was in the hands of the Chinese at Taku (1860). But the long-bow, an incomparably finer weapon, endured as one of the principal arms of the English soldier until about 1590. Edward IV. entered London after the battle of Barnet with 500 “smokie gunners”