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A silver coin with Athena seated on a throne holding a round shield with a word in Greek and a B-shaped bow behind her

Although the bow was rarely the most prestigious weapon in the Aegean, it was still an important part of life and warfare. Museum label: “Tetradrachm. Obv. Head of Philetairos right. Rev. Athena enthroned left with shield and spear, legend: ΦΙΛΕΤΑΙΡΟΥ, bow, ivy left, monogram. The Pergamene Kingdom. Attalos I Soter, 241-197 B.C. Silver, chasing. Provenance, 1952.” Photo by Sean Manning, September 2015, of an object in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

On New Years’ Day I was sorting through some old papers from my time in Calgary and found something which set me to cursing. I was looking for an article which I had ordered while I was writing my MA but never done much with. As it was delivered on paper, and I never typed up the citation, I did not have it in Innsbruck and could not find it again. A.D.H. Bivar’s “Cavalry Equipment and Tactics on the Euphrates Frontier” mentions in passing that:

There is support for the general hypothesis that the so-called “Mongolian draw” was used by the Huns, and from them taken up by the Byzantines, in a passage from the anonymous sixth-century chapter on archery, περὶ τοξείας. (p. 284)

He cited a German translation and commentary with the Greek text attached. I was intrigued because the sources on archery in the Mediterranean which are most often used are written in Arabic and date between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. I now have it in arm’s reach, and it is indeed a treatise on archery, and it does date to the first millennium CE.

The manuscript divides the treatise into four sections, an introduction, a chapter on shooting accurately, a chapter on shooting powerfully, and a chapter on shooting quickly (that is, the ability to shoot as many arrows in a given period as possible). The whole treatise fills three or four pages in modern print.

The amazingly hellenic Philip Rance has written an article on the larger text in which this treatise is embedded and suggests that the date is closer to the ninth century than the sixth. On the other hand, he refuses to suggest how much earlier the archery treatise is, except that the apparent description of the ‘Mongolian draw’ might date it after the first Roman encounters with the Huns. Like most of the surviving Greek military texts from antiquity, it was preserved by being included in MS Laurentianus Graecus LV 4 which is now in Florence; two other medieval manuscripts and a large group of Renaissance copies also survive, but each manuscript is missing one of the four chapters. He mentions in passing that it sits next to a fragment on naval warfare which defines the diekplous and periplous and may contain material from one of the missing works of Aeneas Tacticus in the middle of the fourth century BCE (!) I still can’t spare enough time for either. But even on the well-trodden drillfield of Roman military history, there are many important sources which are little known to specialists, let alone the general public.

Further Reading: Philip Rance, “The Date of the Military Compendium of Syrianus Magister (formerly the Sixth-Century Anonymus Byzantinus),” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 100/2 (2007) p. 705 n. 12 (link), Otmar Schissel von Fleschenberg, “Spätantike Anleitung zum Bogenschießen,” Wiener Studien 59 (1941) pp. 110-124. I have not read the follow-up which he promised for volume 60 but Rance states that it was printed despite the war. Rance also suggests G. Amatuccio, Peri Toxeias. L’arco da guerra nel mondo bizantino e tardo antico. Bologna 1996, pp. 67 – 80 (a collection of sources translated into Italian available from the author’s academia.edu page) which I have not read.