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Home > Books > An Essay on Archery > Chapter XIII: Of Skilful Archers
Chapter XIII
Of Skilful Archers.
Part 1 of 5

I Shall now lay before my readers fome of the exploits of thofe heroes, who have individually fignalized themfelves as Archers.

Nations, as well as men, have been famous in antiquity, for their fkill in the management of the Bow. The Cretan Archers, were early employed by the Greeks, and were extremely valued by that people. The Perfians were celebrated in all ancient hiftories, and appear to have been very expert; trufting as much to their Arrows, as their fwords. The Parthians were remarkable for their dexterity in fhooting behind them, on an enemy preffing upon the rear, and whilft their horfes were in full fpeed.227 This art, however, was by no means peculiar to the Parthians, as the Scythians228 and Sarmatians are reported to have fhot in the fame attitude. The inhabitants of India, and thofe bordering on that country, were all characterized of old, as fkilful Archers.229

We muft not enumerate the Greeks or Romans, among thofe nations excelling in Archery, as they preferred the clofe attack; difdaining the Bow, as tedious and uncertain. The Roman, inflamed with the hopes of fignalizing himfelf by ads of perfonal bravery, ftood with impatience while the enemy were beyond his grafp. Nor could he but defpife that diftant encounter, wherein the fkill of every one was compleatly obfcured. He chofe the clofer combat. His javelin flew with unerring aim. His fword ftruck irrefiftable; while his firm, though battered fhield, glanced every well-directed weapon afide. This was the fchool wherein the Roman loved to ftudy, and which taught him to view the Archer with contempt.

Although the Legions of the Roman ftate were unaccuftomed to the ufe of the Bow,230 Archery was neverthelefs cultivated by many private individuals. The Circus was often the fcene where feats of this kind were exhibited; and even Emperors themfelves were actors. Domitian and Commodus, have been particularly celebrated for their matchlefs excellence in managing the Bow ; but at the fame time we admire the fkill of thefe performers, we muft allow, how little in character he muft appear, who acts the Archer in the Imperial purple.

It is reported of Domitian, that he would often place boys in the Circus at fome diftance from him, and as they held out their hands, and feparated their fingers, he would fhoot an Arrow through either fpace, without injury to the hand of him who acted-target.231

The feats recorded of Commodus, are numerous; and he appears to have been one of the moft expert Archers hiftory has made mention of.

It is faid by Herodian,232 that his hand was unerring both with the Javelin and with the Bow; and that the moft experienced Parthian Archers, yielded to his fuperior fkill.233 He would kill all kinds of animals in the Amphitheatre by way of exercife, and to fhew the fteadinefs of his arm. But it is obferved, that he, in thefe cafes, generally prefered to fhew his art, rather than his courage; as he fecured himfelf on a place elevated beyond the reach of any attack which might have happened from his opponents. Stags, Lions, Panthers, and all fpecies of beafts, fell without number by his hand; nor was a fecond Arrow neceffary, for every wound proved mortal. He would ftrike an animal in any particular point he wifhed with the greateft accuracy, in the head, or in the heart. A Panther was fometimes let loofe into the Circus, where a criminal was placed; and juft as the animal was going to feize the culprit, he would drive an Arrow fo opportunely, that the man fhould efcape unhurt. An hundred Lions have been introduced at the fame time upon the Arena, and with an hundred fhafts he would lay them lifelefs. He caufed Arrows to be made with heads curved in a femicircular figure, and with thefe he could cut off the neck of an Oftrich running in full fpeed.

This feat is, perhaps, the moft difficult of the whole number, the Oftrich being extremely fwift of foot, and having a neck of very fmall magnitude. Herodian obferves alfo, that when the Emperor amputated the head of one of thefe animals, the ftroke fevered the parts fo inftantaneoufly, that the body fometimes proceeded feveral paces, as if ftill living; the motion not being immediately checked.

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