Theses Doctoral

Archery in Archaic Greece

Davis, Todd

Despite a renewed interest in scholarship about archaic warfare, hoplites, Homeric society, and several other related areas, archery in Archaic Greece has managed to escape comprehensive study for half a century. Scholarship on the subject stands in urgent need of update and revision. Certain erroneous beliefs about archery have become canonical and are dangerous impediments to academic progress in those areas of study that require an accurate and nuanced understanding of archers or archery. I conclude that, contrary to popular opinion, there was no point in Greek history when the bow was not used. Rather, it was used in a variety of ways to support, supplement, and complement heavily armed infantrymen. Although archery could be effective, especially against horses and light-armed men, the bow was not as effective against heavily armed infantrymen for the simple reason that arrows would not often have been able to penetrate Greek armor. This factor did not, however, mean that the bow was impotent or "the feeble weapon of a worthless man." My study of wounds, their treatment, infection, and the potential use of arrow toxins adds a fruitful and previously unexplored perspective on the risks involved with facing an archer and some of the psychological considerations of doing so. In a form of warfare wherein armies were so heavily dependent upon morale and so easily compromised by fear, an arrow was a weapon of terror. Moreover, dying six days after a battle of tetanus did not accord with the hoplites' ideal of a `beautiful death' - one of the prospects that fortified a warrior as he girded himself for what was surely a horrifying ordeal. I also argue that the identity of archers changed over time. Early on, warriors might use a variety of weapons and the bow might have been used by just about anyone. Later, with the advent of the hoplite phalanx, archers became light-armed specialists. While convention holds that these archers were Scythian or Cretan mercenaries, I prove that there is no compelling reason to believe that this was so. The archers were Greek and likely derived from the lower classes of citizens. Moreover, despite its ideological demotion among the elite, the bow did not carry an actively negative association until the Persian Wars in the early 5th century B.C.E. In sum, the treatment of archery in the Archaic period is considerably more nuanced than many scholars have allowed.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Classical Studies
Thesis Advisors
Billows, Richard
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 30, 2013