The English word archery derives from the Latin word arcus, meaning ‘arc’ or ‘bow’. Archery is an ancient sport, practiced by many cultures, for tens of thousands of years. Historically, archery was used in hunting and warfare. Today, archery is predominantly used for competition and recreation.
The earliest archaeological evidence of archery dates back 10,000 years ago, between the upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras. However, recent published research suggests archery may have been used to hunt game about 54,000 years ago in Europe.
Many ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians and Mesopotamians, used archery primarily for warfare. Archery was prominent in Europe and Eurasia. The mounted warriors in the Mongol armies of Genghis Khan used recurve composite bows as weapons. In medieval Japan, the early Samurai were horse archers who practised mounted archery or ‘yabusame’. The Vikings employed shortbows on land and at sea to kill or injure their enemies at close range.
The most well-known mythological and romanticized figure in archery is Robin Hood, who dwelled in Sherwood Forest. He wielded a longbow in his legendary exploits as outlaw defending the common man, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.
Today, archers sometimes perform a rare feat, usually by accident, called the ‘Robin Hood’, where an arrow already embedded in a target is ‘split’ with another arrow shot from the same position.
WCA Members performing the rare feat of the ‘Robin Hood’.
The invention and introduction of firearms in the sixteenth century led to the decline of traditional forms of archery but the practice was revived in the 1960s when American engineers designed early prototypes of the modern compound bow.
References to archery are often found in Greek mythology.
The gods of Love, Eros (in Greek mythology) and Cupid (in Roman mythology), wielded bows whose arrows caused those whom were shot to fall madly in love.
Paris, a mythological figure in the Trojan War, shot the arrow that killed Achilles (the suspected site of his wound was the heel, and this is where we get the term ‘Achilles Heel’ from, which means a vulnerable part of the body).
Artemis is the Greek goddess of wild nature, the moon, animals, chastity and childbirth (her Roman counterpart is Diana). She is both Huntress and Protectress, hunting game for sport, yet protective of the wild places and the animals that dwell there. Her symbols include the bow, arrow and quiver. She is a natural archer, at home in the wild.
In Book 12 of ‘The Odyssey’, Odysseus proves himself a highly skilled archer when, disguised as a shepherd, he draws his own bow and shoots an arrow through twelve rings, heralding his return to his wife Penelope, after a long absence.
Archery has featured in many historical and modern films, including ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ (1938), ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ (1991), ‘The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring’ (2001), ‘The Last Samurai’ (2003), ‘The Hunger Games’ (2012), ‘Mulan’ (2020) and ‘Tsurune: The Movie – The First Shot’ (anime) (2022).
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