What is Archery?

Archery is the art of propelling arrows with the use of a bow. Historically  it was an important skill and used for both hunting and in warfare, however with the introduction of firearms towards the end of the medieval period, its use began to decline.

Today, the art is mainly used as a recreational pursuit though many people still hunt with a bow and arrow, believing it to be more sporting than using a gun.

Talk the Talk

A person who practises archery can be called an archer, a bowman or the term toxophilite can be used which was first recorded in a book called Toxophilus, published in 1545. Toxophilite is a composite of two Greek words; toxon (bow) and philos (loving).

 The History of Archery

The exact date when people began using the bow and arrow is hotly debated by academics and while it is known to have started in the late upper Palaeolithic era (late stone age), some say it was as long ago as 50,000 years while others maintain that the history of archery is only around 10,000 years old.

The weapon was developed by many pre-civilized people across the world; in fact the only continent where it was not developed independently was Australia.

The Ancient History of Archery

From the earliest civilisations, the bow and arrow was being used in warfare and it is known that the Egyptians, Hittites, Persians, Greeks and Romans all used the weapons in their armies.

The earliest known composite bow (a bow made from a number of materials) was used by Egyptian warriors on chariots and is believed to have been made by at least 2,800 BCE. The Greeks on the island of Crete had a particular flare for archery, which led to them making up an important part of the all-conquering Roman army during the first centuries BCE and CE.

Archery in Medieval History

The popularity of archery in European warfare seems to have waned after the fall of Rome and the onset of the early medieval period (c. 410 CE), though archers resurfaced in England by 1066 when King Harold and his opponent William are known to have used them in the Battle of Hastings. They were also popular with some Viking groups around this time but by-and-large the short bow was more likely to be used for hunting than against an enemy.

The short bows of the time were only three feet long and against medieval armour, had little effectiveness. More effective versions of the weapon would soon emerge however and both the crossbow and the longbow became popular in Europe during the latter middle ages. Native American tribes were relatively late inventing the bow and arrow and while the exact date is unknown, archery did not emerge there until around 500 CE.

By beginning of the early modern period in Europe and America, the firearm had begun to replace the bow and arrow on the battle field though in the Far East, it continued to be an important part of warfare up until the nineteenth century. In some parts of the world, in particular areas of South America and Central Africa, the popularity of the weapon never waned and it is still used today for both hunting and fighting amongst the tribes.

The Modern History of Archery

In modern times, archery is more of a sport than a martial discipline though is still a popular pursuit across the world, both for hunting and as an activity in its own right. In England, archery societies began to spring up by the 17th century, the oldest of which was the Ancient Scorton Arrow, established in Yorkshire in 1673. Later, the Royal Toxophilite Society was founded around 1790 to help advance the discipline and was patronized by King George IV.

It first appeared in the modern Olympics in 1900 and then again in 1904, 1908 (pictured below) and 1920, though would not appear again until 1972 from which time the popularity of the sport has grown and grown. As a sport, world archery has been dominated by the elite archers of South Korea, who  have taken thirty-nine Olympic medals up to and including the 2016 games, twenty-three of which were gold.

Throughout the twentieth century there were many advancements in the field of archery, some of the most important of which include;

  • 1931 – FITA (International Archery Federation) was established
  • 1937 – Bow sights were first introduced at the NAA National Tournament
  • 1938 – Archery equipment began to be mass produced
  • 1946 – Aluminium arrows were introduced
  • 1966 – The IFAA (International Field Archery Association) was formed
  • 1983 – The carbon arrow was introduced
  • 1995 – The compound bow division was included in the World Archery Championship for the first time
  • 2010 – New Developments in materials and technology produced lighter and stronger bows and arrows, increasing speed and accuracy

Further Reading

A brief overview - Archery has been around much longer than you think! [Internet]. 2013. Marymount University Archery Club. Available from: http://mublog.marymount.edu/MUBlog/stgermainclub/brief-overview/ [Accessed August 20, 2013].

Bland, R. [Internet]. 2013. History of Archery. Western Kentucky University. Available from: 
http://people.wku.edu/robert.bland752/HistoryofArchery.html [Accessed August 9, 2013].

Sonics History of Archery. [Internet]. 2013. Oregon State University. Available from: http://kidspirit.oregonstate.edu/sonics-history-archery [Accessed August 9, 2013].

The History of Archery. [Internet]. 2005. University of Southampton. Available from: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~archclub/bowhistory.php [Accessed August 8, 2013].

 More Archery History

Mongolian Archery

Archery has been integral to Mongolian culture for millennia and used for fighting, hunting and sport. The bows they used were amongst the best in the world and coupled with the archery skills of Mongolian warriors, allowed Genghis Khan and his descendants to build one of the largest empires the world has ever seen.....Read Article
The History of Archery in Korea 

The history of archery in Korea stretches back to pre-history and has been used in warfare there since at least the fifth century BCE. Elite archery experts helped unify the country and later would be instrumental in helping the country gain independence from China and today, South Korea are leading the way in world archery.....Read Article
Making the Native American Bow and Arrow

To make a Native American bow and arrow needed a large amount of skill. The process was complex but as it provided both food and protection to the tribe, it was a job that needed to be done to a high standard to insure optimum performance.....Read Article
Archery in Medieval England

English archers at the beginning of the later middle ages tended to be seen as lowborn and inferior warriors. However throughout the period, technological advances in bow making meant their importance on the battlefield grew, and gradually so did the social statues of archers.....Read Article

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