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On the Structure and Affinities of the Composite Bow
Part 5 of 17

This method of backing must have proved a distinct advance upon the presumably older system of "free" backing. This compact and powerful weapon appears to have been especially adapted for use on horseback, as it has been favoured particularly by the horse-riding tribes. It is moreover the form which has been worked up to the state of greatest perfection on the Asiatic Continent. The sinew backing is sometimes reddened, sometimes blackened, or it may be left of its natural colour, as in the one figured. The Ossage and Modoc tribes and many others used this bow, and General Pitt Rivers has stated his belief that "occasionally it is used as far south as Peru."[9]

Of the Esquimaux and North-West American bows, I have described three prominent varieties:—1. That of the Eastern Esquimaux, with its simple backing laced from end to end, roughly made, and presenting a very primitive structure; 2. That of the Western Esquimaux, shewing well-made examples; the backing still of plaited sinew laced between the ends, with, in addition, a more or less complicated system of cross lacing, many of the bows being painted, though in none is the sinew backing concealed beneath an ornamental covering; the shape frequently betraying the influence of the proximity to the Asiatic Continent, in the appearance of the "Tatar" outline; 3. The North-West American form, in which the sinew is moulded closely on to the surface of the bow, and is sometimes painted over, these bows being usually short and very compact.

For the higher forms we must turn to the Asiatic Continent, and I will again only describe the more prominent varieties characteristic of different regions, without going into the details of the numerous subvarieties more than necessary.

The descriptions of bows by the early classic writers are more or less vague, and no mention, so far as I know, is made of sinew " backing," though, from the accounts of the shapes of many varieties, there is little doubt that this kind of reinforcement was in vogue at a very early period. In the Iliad[10] the bow of Pandarus, the Lycian, is described as of mountain goat's horn, without mention of other materials to indicate a composite structure. At the same time the poet ascribes to the bow of Odysseus[11] a prodigious power which is not easily reconciled with the material, plain horn of considerable length (I assume that both these bows are of the same type). The great strength and the effort and knack required for stringing and drawing such a bow, is more easily explained by supposing that those from which Homer drew his description were of composite structure, with a powerful reinforcement of sinews moulded on to the back and probably concealed by an ornamental layer of some kind. In the higher forms of composite bow, one of the chief characteristics is the artful concealment of their composite structure beneath coats of bark and lacquer. From the expression, , we gather that the bow-string was of sinew, and we also learn that the bow of Odysseus was carefully kept in an ornamental case,[12] after the fashion of Asiatic archers using the composite bow. The few examples of bows composed of horn alone, existing at the present day, do not appear to be of very exceptional power, and certainly not of sufficient strength to resist the efforts of men trained to the use of this weapon, as were the suitors of Penelope.

There is no doubt that the Parthian, Dacian, and Scythian bows of antiquity were "composite " bows of somewhat similar structure to those of modern Persia or China, as we have evidence that the Persians derived the bow, which they afterwards brought to such perfection, from the Scythians. According to Rich[13] the Scythian bow was shaped in two bays, one smaller than the other, and resembling the early Greek Σ. Hercules is figured carrying an unequally curved bow of this kind, possibly representing the one which he obtained from Teutarus, a Scythian shepherd, as opposed to that which he received from Apollo, which was necessarily a "Greek" one, and symmetrical. The Scythian bow as usually represented is symmetrical and, in the unstrung state, regularly curved in a C shape, resembling the type most characteristic of modern Persia. The unequally curved bows may have been so made for the purpose of enabling the archer to draw the arrow in a line from the exact centre, or the bows may have been distorted in the representation.