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Παρασκευή, 22 Μαρτίου 2013


" BATTLE IN THE SHADE "                                   
An analytical study of the Hellenic archery in the 5th BCE with many references to experimental archaeology based on historical accounts but also a personal interpretation of events and practices.     
by Aristodemus Nikiteas - Koryvantes

                                                          Photo 1.


                               THE HISTORY OF ANCIENT HELLENIC ARCHERY 

                                                        IN A SINGLE IMAGE                                           

In 1961 “The British Museum Quarterly” published an article by P.E. Corbett “A Vase by Altamura Painter” (Warrior Departing), Vol 24, No 3 / 4, December, pages 97-99. 470 – 460 BCE.
The Altamura painter  is an artist of the early classical period. The vase is of a less common variety with a heavy foot, rim and lug handles.
In this article the author describes the painting as  the story from the Iliad of Teucer and Ajax. There are many good points  that leads to his conclusion. The hoplite on the right is Ajax. He is wearing a possible Thracian type helmet and is holding in his left hand a shield ( οπλον ) emblazoned with a snake. He is an older man, bearded, wearing a linothorax with a short tunic under it. To the lower part of the shield a large piece of leather or even a heavy cloth is attached by three rivets. It is decorated with two bands of pattern, between which is a large apotropaic eye. This shield-apron appears in East Hellenic art soon after 550 BCE, and is still found as late as around 430 BCE. Its purpose seems plain – to protect the soldier’s legs from such missiles as arrows or sling-bullets.
The other warrior is younger, being beardless, he has a helmet of Attic type, with the hinged check–pieces turned up to leave his face free. P.E. Corbett suggests that the edge of the neck-guard is not drawn and that it is a deliberate attempt by the artist to create the effect of soft hair escaping below the guard and blurring the outline. He also wears a linothorax (cuirass) and a short tunic. His equipment is completed by a shield with a scorpion as a blazon and a bow case. The author of the article expresses his surprise at this combination of armour and claims that it is impractical, for no one could use a bow when his left arm was encumbered with a Hellenic type shield. He concludes that this young warrior .has to be Teucer because his main weapon was the bow - together with his elder half-brother Ajax the Greater setting out for the Trojan War. If so, the third man is their father Telamon and the woman is either Hesione the natural mother of Teucer, or Eriboia the lawful wife of Telamon and mother to Ajax.
Another possibility that indicates  this is the Trojan story is the size of the shields. Ajax’s shield is noticeably the larger of the two, and it will be recalled that in the Iliad the great size of his shield, “like a tower”, is emphasized in the painting.
The interesting thing is that on the vase are other sketch-lines that prove that the artist planned at one stage to show Teucer with his left hand raised, instead of his right, and this attitude implies that he was to have no shield, but only a bow-case. The decision to draw Teucer’s smaller shield is to make the Trojan story more evident.

In addition there are some other points that have been left unexplained. The  woman with a simple long tunic dress and her hair  bound up with a plain band, holds in her left hand a flower which was once white but has now faded. In her other hand she holds out a wine-bowl, for them to pour a libation to the gods before setting out. White was also used for three inscriptions; KAVOS written vertically between the woman and the left-hand warrior, and two meaningless sets of letters, VON and LONV, in the spaces between the heads of the three men ( to this day, these inscriptions still unexplained).
There is also evidence that the older man, Telamon, was holding a stick in the preliminary sketch but perhaps from carelessness or for aesthetic grounds the artist did not draw the only part of it which would have been visible, between the bottom of the apron and Telamon’s right toe.
On the other side of the crater, a girl plays the double flute, whilst two youths dance; she wears a tunic with wide sleeves and is crowned with a soft chaplet, probably of wool, and a white garland. The youths are naked save for a small cloak or wrap, and the right-hand one is infibulated; both of them wear wreaths and chaplets, like the flute-girl. Nothing more is mentioned about this scene by the author of the article. I have to say that this is a synopsis of the article by P.E. Corbett and all the important points have been mentioned. The article can be read in full if requested from the library archive of the British Museum. The above Photograph 1, of the vase,  appears as a cover in a book about the Greek vases, published by the British Museum.
This is all well if we believe that the artists of the time had nothing else to say except for the old stories, again and again. We accept the philosophies and innovations of the ancient world and even now we still study them and learn from them today. We think that they were remarkable people and that they gave the answer to almost everything. We even feel jealous of how they could have achieved so much without  the vast resources of  today.
We admire the artists’ power of the minds, but when we look at their messages, we usually try to explain them  in most predictable ways- perhaps because it is the easier way. And it is even easier if we don’t ask questions!
We have to see them as image makers who were metaphorically and symbolically expressing their concerns about the world they were living in, and quite often  messages were hidden behind common iconography. Some of them had hidden satirical and critical messages which were only for the most educated of the time to see, and some of them had more serious messages about war, death, human naivety, metaphors about technological achievements, or even ideas that could have been too dangerous to  express in the open and with a literal way.  For example I have found the following painting on a vase from the 6th BCE and what I 

Photo 2

see is the first amphibious and possible underwater attack of a marine force which could have been an idea of the artist, ( one which precedes by many centuries the idea of a submarine by Leonardo Da Vinci), and one that could only be expressed via a mythological story in order for the artist to avoid ridicule from inferior minds. Not only are the marines well armed but the dolphins also have a type of a helmet that indicates a possible strike on enemies vessels, and I like the shield’s blazon of the main character.  Applying some science fiction imagination of  the time, this could be the first propeller or propulsion system such as  the wheel designed for river boats. I am sure that what I am saying to many people may sound strange today and I am stretching my imagination beyond reason but we can not exclude the fact that the painters at the time could  think in symbolical or metaphorical ways.
I strongly believe that some of the artists of the Classical Hellenic world were as smart and perhaps more so than any philosopher or scientist of the time and as today use their own visual language to pass messages on for the people who are able to take the trouble to read them The artists’ work is not different from that of  our fictional world of visual propaganda that governs our civilisation and they also, like the philosophers,  used the metaphor and allegory extensively. 


And that brings me to the painting of “The Warrior Departing” by Altamura painter.
Trojan story?  Perhaps, but ….. maybe not.

                                                                 Photo 3.

One of the main points that supports the Trojan story is the size of the shields. I can see no reason to think that the painting is not composed properly  and if we consider the fact that the average height of a man in 5th BCE was 1.70 m, then the large shield is about 85 cm, the small 75 cm and the quiver 55 cm. - Photo 3.
The size of the large shield is not the “like tower” of Ajax. In fact the hoplite shield at that time was 90 cm to 100cm. The smaller shield is the right size for a light hoplite/archer warrior. The hoplite/archer, if he needs to use a bow can suspend the shield on his back with a leather strap. Of course I am only speculating here but this practice was used later by the hoplites of the Macedonian phalanx because of the need to hold the sarissa with both hands. Cleonenis (235-222) also raised 4000 hoplites and trained them to use a sarissa gripped by both hands instead of a spear, and to carry their shields by means of an arm-strap rather than only a handle.
It is quite possible – as the preliminary sketches show – that instead of the shield he may intended to have a bow in his hand, but I think that  there is a very good reason why the painter chose this particular shield and the only indication that the young warrior is in fact  an archer is the quiver.
For some reason the author of the British Museum article mentioned nothing significant about the symbols of the two shields - the scorpion and the serpent.
Let us start with the serpent which was a very common symbol used by many hoplite armies -  the Boeotians had a very strong connection with the serpent, as did the Spartans since the Trojan wars. Pausanias describes a painting by Polygnotos of the fall of Troy, a painter active in the second quarter of the 5th BCE, in which the Lacedemonian king Menelaus has a shield with a serpent blazon on it as a memorial of the monster which appeared on the sacrificed victims at Aulis.
The serpent would however, have been too widely used to be adopted as a ‘state’ shield device, but I cannot say the same for the scorpion.
The scorpion was the blazon for the Spartan Mora of Geronthron, a place situated today near the Laconian village Geraki. Later the scorpion was also used by the Roman Praetorian guard.
The scorpion was a symbol for the god of war Ares (Mars) and the poison sting in his tail a perfect metaphor for the “flying death” - the arrow.
It is therefore quite possible that the painting represents the alliance between the Spartans and Boeotians during and after the Persian wars and the other two figures in the scene, the woman and the older man are part of the ceremonial activities of the two warriors departure.
In actual fact, common knowledge has it that the Spartans detested archers. Their existence was contrary to the chivalry code of  hoplite warfare. It was not honourable to kill a strong and valid hoplite from a distance but only in hand to hand combat. It is a strange philosophy of the Spartans against archery  if you think that they were the descendants of Heracles – the most famous mythological archer – and Apollo and Artemis their favourite Gods, were also archers. I think that here we have to distinguish the propaganda from the realities of the war. Maybe Spartans had a limited use of archery in battle compared to   other Hellenic states, but archery was definitely an  important weapon, extensively and some times effectively  used by  the Persian armies of early 5th BCE who invaded Hellas. The Hellenes had to follow.  (It should be noted that it was the Athenian involvement in the destruction of Sardis - the Persian provincial capital - that led to the Persian invasion).

Going back in time, archery was used in war extensively in the days of the Achaeans and Danaans ( the “Hellenes” was used only once by Homer - a good start!). The Iliad opens with the god Apollo aiming his bow at the Achaeans and the epic is full of mythical heroes using arrows (mostly poisoned). Menelaos was wounded by a Trojan arrow and Machaon (son of Asclepius) had to suck out the poisoned  “black blood”. In excavations in Crete and Troy bronze and iron arrowheads have been found (Photo4 and 5). 

                                                          Photo 4

                                                        Photo 5

In order to try and establish the correct weight of the Trojan war era arrowheads, I have made some of my own,  very similar in size and design.

                                                                  Photo 5 a.

                                                                   Photo 5 b.

In Photo 5a, you can see a copper cut-out of 1 mm thick, that is the exact copy of the arrow head of Photo 4, and next to it a stainless steel broad head at approximately the same size but 1.4 mm thick. The original bronze arrow head in Photo 4 is about 2.5 mm to 3 mm at its centre  and judging from  the comparison I made with my test samples,  the average Mycenaean era arrow head had a weight of around 165 to 200 grains (11 to 13 grams). Not very different from a Medieval “bodkin” or “small war” arrow head. This arrow head with the additional weight of the shaft ( only speculation, no findings have survived) should be in total arrow weight of around a minimum of  500 to 600 grains ( 32 to 39 grams) depending on the wood or reed of the shaft. For good results on this arrow weight a minimum of  #50 + bow strength must have been used, in my opinion more like #50 – #60 bow (following the rule of 10 grains per #1 bow strength). This kind of weapon will have been adequate to penetrate heavy “tower like” oxen skin covered shields and leather body armour with the occasional bronze or copper plates (depending of course on the status of the warrior).  In my opinion, throughout the age of the hoplite wars, and in order to be effective against the bronze shield and armour, no lighter arrows should have been used.
A bronze arrowhead was made by melting two metals, tin and copper, and mixing them at a ratio of approximately 10% tin and 90% copper. To be more specific bronze specimens have been found dating from 8th – 10th BCE, from the Near East, composed of 87% copper, and 7.2 % tin. A Roman bronze from 40 – 68 CE, had 89% copper, 7.1% tin, 2.7% lead and traces of zinc, iron, nickel and silver.

Hittite bronze arrow heads (1600-1200 BCE) had length up to 100 mm, weighed up to  14.2 grams ( 220 grains) and perhaps used to shoot horses in an Anti-cavalry role. The majority of Eastern civilizations used cane / reed / bamboo arrows and because of this  the bronze arrowheads were fashioned with a long slender tang, which could be inserted down into the hollow cane. Also they could be formed with a socket on the back of the head for mounting on to a tapered wooden shaft. This was very common with the Scythian and European archers and later became the standard fitting for the Europeans in Medieval times. Now, if something large was to be attached to the front of the arrow, something large was also needed to control the rear of the arrow. The bigger the feather, the slower the arrow speed and shorter the arrow’s distance. Therefore the need  for a strong bow was an important factor  in order for these arrows to be effective at a distance of 150 – 200 metres. It is important to say that long feathers of 5” and above, increase the accuracy of the arrow. Almost all hunting arrows with broad heads of 100 grains and above use feathers no shorter than 5” in length. Fletchings has traditional been made from wings and tail feathers of various birds, practically any bird locally available to the arrow maker, like : eagles, hawks, owls, vultures, crows, guinea fowl, pheasants, chickens, turkeys and geese.

After the heroic era of the Mycenaean civilisation, and during the dark ages, trading routes disappeared and amongst other goods, bronze also became scarce. We  know very little of what happened for a few hundred years. Mycenae was abandoned around 1100 BCE. There are explanations found in different areas of the collapse of the Mycenaean civilisation and that may be due to  earthquake, disease, famine, climate, war, drought, depopulation, plague, attack from outside. In many places the archaeology has suggested a complex interrelation of such factors, rather than any one cause. In any one case of such factors the very basic structures of society are too fragile to cope and  break down, “their resistance gone like a living organism which has lost its immunity”, recalling the words of the great medieval history Arab scholar Ibn Khaldun.
At Knossos and Pylos archaeologists have found massive quantities of very expensive materials which, in the case of the copper, tin, and gold, could only have been obtained through war trade. In other words, both the labour force and the means of coercion could only have been sustained by trade or violence: a truly vicious circle. The study of this period is possibly a theme for another paper but the fact is that archery as a hunting tool or weapon of war survived  to the archaic period.

Returning to my main theme, at the end of the 6th BCE,  and thanks to other visual recording artists of the time we have a magnificent red-figure wine cup from Athens 520-510 BCE that depicts an archer testing shaft and point of arrow (Photo 6 ).

                                                                          Photo 6

                                                                          Photo 6a

What we have here apart from the obvious is that the arrow point appears identical to the Mycenaean era types, - i.e. Λ  shape  with barbed ends which indicates a “war arrow”. Hunting arrows usually had round smooth edges so they could be retrieved from the game. This is not a rule but a common practice, and with a quiver covered in metal scales it could not be for anything else but for war. The armoured quiver with bronze (or copper) scales were without doubt heavy but also offered a protection on the right side of the archers’ body especially in the kneeling position. What is also very important is that our archer is a Hellene and the name ΚΑLΟS ( I think) is written on the bottom of the cup. Obviously it is not just the name but also his dress that indicates his Hellenic origins ( according to Spartans : “Real men don’t wear trousers”, referring to Persians, Scythians etc), and as in Altamura’s  painting there is no bow to be seen. This is not the case in Photo 6a, from 500 BCE, which has a similar theme but with the composite bow  next to the archer. The careful inspection of the arrow indicates knowledge of ballistics, aerodynamics, and penetration power.
Well, this man is also going somewhere, not for practice – again you cannot retrieve arrows with barbed arrowheads from targets – but possibly, he is also preparing himself for  battle. Notably this man also has a very expensive quiver and  only wealthy  families could supply this kind of armour to their fighting men.
So we look again at our archer in the Altamura painting. Full armour and a quiver, - a light hoplite/archer – and if a Spartan that would make him a young officer from the Mora of Gerothron commanding a unit of Perioikoi Lakedemonias (members of an autonomous group of free but non-citizen inhabitants of Sparta) or a unit of mercenary archers. Either way the structure of the well oiled Spartan military machine would never have allowed any other commanders except their own.

We must talk about the possibility of  mercenaries in the Spartan armies,  which is general opinion, but it is also  opinion that because the Spartans detested archery in war they  used others to do the dirty work. The truth is that they had archery skills. They were good hunters, bred good horses and above all – with reference to Xenophon “On Hunting” -  they had the best hunting dogs, and archery was used for hunting and for military training. Of course later,  as with most of the Hellenic armies, in the Peloponnesian wars and with Persian money and the need for numbers, hiring mercenaries was the necessary solution and one that lasted down to the last days of Sparta when Cleomenes (235-222) in the battle of Leuctra outside Megalopolis, against Lydiadas, used Tarentines and Cretan mercenaries. There is a very interesting point I would like to make here. In Plutarch’s translation “On Sparta” the translator Dr. Richard J. A. Talbert in the notes section  and on the chapter “Cleomenes” makes the following point. – “13. Tarentines and Cretans: Names given to troops of mercenaries – light cavalry and archers respectively – who did not necessarily come from Tarentum or Crete.”   If Cretans were not from Crete where were they from?

Here is a very interesting little statue that has many similarities with other small statues showing Spartan hoplites, photo 7, 8 and 8a with Athena Promachos.

                                                           Photo 7
                                                            A Dorian (Spartan) archer (?)

The text below in Italics explains the finding.
In photo 7, - 540 - 530 BCE. Naked youth with a bow, probably(?) Apollo. Bronze figurine in the Corinthian style dedicated to Zeus (inscription in Corinthian alphabet on the base naming Etymokledas) ca. 540–30 BC. From Dodona in EpirusLouvre/ Paris.

The word “probably” in Photo 7 description should ring bells and that means that the archeologists of the museum are not sure who it is, but they chose a predictable answer, and that is “Apollo”. This looks more likely to be a Spartan youth with a composite bow in his right hand and possibly where the hole is in the left hand he would have been holding a  spear. Please pay attention to the photo 7 and photo 8 figurines. There are few of many on the same style and apart from the strong athletic bodies, and the facial features, the hair style is the undisputed signature of the Spartan warrior and indicate that the work was made in Laconia in the Archaic period, circa 540 BCEUnlike the full armour hoplite (shield is missing), the naked youth with the bow does not need an armour to complete his job. Both should have a spear ( Δὸρυ – Doru ) in the right hand, the ethnic mark of a Dorian (Δωριεας ) and the statue in Photo 7 was found at Dodona in Epirus, the North West part of Hellas, which is the place that the Dorians came from.
The word Dorian has two possible origins – Dorian from Doris that means woodland like Dourios Hippos (Δουρειος Ιππος) – meaning the Wooden Horse (of Troy) and the other is - Dorian from doru (Δὸρυ) meaning spear-shaft, i.e. the people of the spear, or “spearmen”. 
Regardless of the origin of the name the statue has to be a Spartan or belonged to a Spartan pilgrim at Dodone - the place that his ancestors came  originally. If this is an offering to the Oracle seeking protection or thanking the gods, it has to be an image that represented the pilgrim and  his name is “Etymokledas”.  He is offering himself for protection or service to the gods and in this case he is a strong athlete, warrior, or hunter with his weapons in his hands – the composite bow and spear.

                                                                        Photo 8
                                                          Spartan hoplite. 6 th BCE

                                                                           Photo 8 a.

540 BCE.  An Athena Promachos / Louvre
As indicated by the groove running around the lower edge of the tunic, this bronze statuette was mounted as a decoration for a utensil or fine piece of furniture. It depicts the goddess Athena as a warrior, wearing a helmet and originally armed with a spear and shield. Although it was found at Kirrha near Delphi, the type of helmet depicted, the facial features and the style of clothing indicate that the work was made in Laconia in the Archaic period, circa 540 BC.

                                                              Photo 9
                                                              Apollo. 5th BCE

Now, the Photo 9 is Apollo, and is exactly how the god should look like. Well dressed and the bow in his hand is the type that is mostly depicted him holding in statues and on pottery.

It is very important to mention that the composite bow has a very strong tradition in Hellenic culture and goes back to the Mycenaean civilisation and perhaps earlier. Particular on the island of Crete, the Minoan culture had developed composite bows possibly as early as 2000 – 1700 BCE. Crete as an island had developed a  strong tradition in infantry archery (with exception the chariots) from the Minoan civilisation to Medieval times. It is important to look at the possible fact,   that as the centre of archery and mercenary employment throughout the ancient world the island would have attracted all kind of archers from the countries which face the basin of Mediterranean. Crete’s position was the most perfect as “the recruiting place” and the archers from Crete were not necessarily Cretans.

I think that we can very safely now start talking about the composite AchaeanDanaan or Hellenic bow that has  similarities with  the Scythian design but with  the strong difference that the Scythian bow was developed in the first place for horseback archery and it was generally a light bow with light arrows, in contrast to the Hellenic bow that was larger and heavier for strong arrows with large heavy arrow points. The archaeology proves this fact from the size of arrow points that have been found. In addition,  horseback archery was the war of the open spaces, of the hit and run battle tactics, but  almost impossible to practise successfully in the mountain terrain of Crete and the Hellenic peninsula. Saying all this I am sure that archers of ancient Hellas were able to shoot from a horse, something that they would have practised whilst hunting but there is no evidence of horseback archery Hellenic units in any of the armies. Also I am sure that the Scythians had also  developed  a strong bow for  infantry archery when they started to face well armoured warriors.
These practices by the Scythians and other horse fighting tribes were regarded by the Hellenes as “the way of the coward”  and never developed in the Hellenic armies because no army in the archaic or classical period wanted to carry that stigma. Horses were used by archers as a means of transport in order to respond to raids and emergencies. They were called generally  “mounted archers”, but the name has also been used for archers shooting from horses (Thucydides). Even the Spartans (fast learners of war tactics)  in the Peloponnesian war and after the disaster at  the island of Sphacteria next to Pylos in 425 BCE, created cavalry  and “mounted archers” as a fast response to the Athenian navy raids with marines in Lakedemonian territories.

It is interesting to look at a point that the most famous contemporary horseback archer Kassai Lajos makes about the construction of one of his popular bows that he sells.

Every professional horseback archer knows that in order to achieve the right level they have to use a light 30-40# bow. The great number of shots and the tough trainings do not allow using a stronger bow without damages. This is the main guideline in the development of horseback archery bows: to get the most out of the bow within that range of power. Not so in Europe; they funnily said that 40# means strength for girls and little children, but not for real men; they need bows of 70-80#.”

Scythian mercenaries (Scythians unsuccessfully invaded by the Persians in 512 BCE.) were used in all the major battles of the Peloponnesian wars.  Apart from Thermopylae where the Scythians together with others  had sitting targets to hit, they had no effect against a strong hoplite army - horse or infantry archers with  poison or non-poisoned arrows – at Marathon and Plataea. Their long range arrows which had small arrowheads and were light could outrange others using non-composite bows. If horseback archers had been used – small chance of that because they had nowhere to escape with their hit and run tactics – and with reference to Kassai, the 30-40# bows and arrows would have had no effect  on a heavily  armoured hoplite. A hoplite in a kneeling defensive position would be totally protected from projectiles.
Cretan archers,  on the contrary, used large, heavy arrowheads, which could do more damage but had a shorter range, perhaps 150 – 200 meters. This practice would have excluded them from any horseback archery battle activity if Kassai Lajos is right!
I would like to make it clear that I am not excluding the construction of very strong bio- composite bows that may have been used by the Persian armies, and in fact from the days of the Trojan war Hittites had arrows with heavy iron heads which would have meant strong bows. Iron was discovered in Anatolia and used during the bronze age. What I am saying is that there is no evidence of effectiveness by the Persian archers at the battles of Marathon and Plataea when they are against a well organized and trained hoplite force. What we know is that the Persian immortals use heavy arrowheads against the Phocian hoplites in the battle of Thermopylae but because of light bows the arrows had only 100 to 150 metres effective range.

From the depictions on Geometric vases archery was very common – at least in Athens – in the later 8th BCE, but there is a great lack of evidence for archery in the 7th and 6th BCE. It seems that there was a continuing doubt about the suitability of killing an opponent from distance. It was not regarded as brave or heroic, and, to help stamp it out, some city-states even made formal agreements not to use such weapons. This of course was well suited to the middle and upper classes of hoplite warriors because a poor farmer with the bow could have been able to kill an aristocrat. More or less that was the age of chivalry in ancient Hellas. It was the age when very few died in battle, never pursue the loser, build a trophy on the battlefield and any prisoners could be ransomed. The most perfect example of this is the “Battle of the Three Hundred”  around the middle of 6th BCE. According to Herodotus, after a fight between 300 men on each side, only two Argives and one Spartan remained alive. The two Argives left the battlefield and went to Argos to announce their victory, but the Spartan claimed that he had won the battle because he stood his ground and did not desert his position. Subsequent argument over which side should be considered as victorious led to a further battle which Sparta won.
The same occurred in Medieval Europe – The age of Chivalry – where noble knights fought honorable duals in order to decide the winner of the battle and the aristocrats were very “visible” on the battlefield with their colours and banners, in order to make the opponent think about ransom money. Dead were worth nothing (well quite often money was exchanged even  for the remains of a dead knight). All that until the 15th CE and the Conquest of Normandy and the 100 year war, where peasant farmers with the longbow – the medieval Kalashnikov -  were able to kill a noble knight and even take him prisoner for ransom.
This all changed with the Hellenes and the Peloponnesian war and by the middle  5th BCE , Athens had its own corps of archers. Cretans, Locrians, and some Thessalians mercenary archers were in great demand until the end of the Hellenistic period and beyond.
To mention some of the battles the Athenian archers were used in are the following: Athenian expedition at Peloponnesus, 431 BCE,  the battle of Aegitium 426 BCE,  of Olpae 426 BCE, of Sphacteria 425 BCE, Alcibiades expedition in Peloponnesus 419 BCE, Battle of Melos 416 BCE where they also deployed 20 mounted archers, and  Syracuses 415 BCE.
The Spartans as well, in 429 BCE besieged the city of Plataia and we know that they used fire arrows because the Plataians protected their wooden palisades with what would later become the standard defence against flaming projectiles – they hung curtains of un-tanned animal skins over the walls. Also, after the fall of Cythera and the losses of Pylos and the men at Sphacteria, they reacted by organizing  a corps of four hundred cavalry as well as a troop of archers in 424 BCE.  By the 4th BCE they also had regular units of archers, mostly Lacedemonias and foreign mercenaries   but not necessarily Spartans apart from the officers of those units.
We do not have to go as far as the Peloponnesian wars to see strong units of archers in battle during the 5th BCE. At the battle of Plataea, 479 BCE, and according to Herodotus, the Spartans had 5.000 hoplites, another 5.000 Perioikoi Lakedemonias, and at least no fewer then 35.000 Helots, who not only served as batmen and auxiliary personnel but also as light troops.
Mardonius began the battle with a cavalry attack, playing to his main strength. The Hellenes responded with archers, one of whom struck the Persian cavalry commander’s horse (in detail here:  http://stefanosskarmintzos.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/a-noble-lord-dies-in-plataia-battlefield-479-b-c/), and the Persians were repulsed. It is not quite clear if the Helot light troops were also archers but definitely organized units of archers were used under the overall Spartan command.
Here I would like to make the point that after the Hellenic archer’s response, and the Persian archers counter response it is without hesitation that the battlefield would have been littered  with arrows, some broken, some intact, with very sharp arrowheads and knowing the way the Persian archers were fighting, many of them  would have been poisoned. The theory of barefooted hoplites hit the sack. This opinion is open to debate and is possibly a theme for another study!  
Also, archery in the Persian wars wasn’t only used for land battles, but also  used at sea. Ships carried one or two archers whose job it was to pick off men in opposing ships. To guard against incoming arrows, the upper parts of the projecting ship ribs were covered with screens of leather. Archers were present at the naval battles of Artemissium and Salamis in 480 BCE.


“If the Persians hide the sun with arrows, we shall have our battle in the shade”
                                                                            Dieneces- Thermopylae 480 BCE

I would like to have a look at the Persian army archers and their equipment.
According to Herodotus and other historical sources  the Persian army was a mixture of many tribes, weaponry, and in our case a mix of archery equipment and techniques. Before I start please consider the fact that Herodotus wrote all this after talking to veterans of these wars, possibly most of them of 60 or 70 years old at that time.

They were first of all the Persians :  long arrows with reed shafts, Medes (Arians) - the same equipment as the Persians had and also the same as the Cissians, and the Hyrcanians. The Assyrians had no archers. The Bactrians had horseback archers and carried native reed bows as did the Parthians, Chorasmians, Sogdians, Gandarans and Dadicans. The Sacan Scythians had locally made bows and horseback archers. The Indians carried reed bows and arrows and had horseback archery cavalry and the Caspians carried local reed bows. The Sarangians, Pactyans, Utians, Arians, Mycans and Paricanians had bows but there is no other information about their bows or arrows, but were very possibly from reed. The Arabians used a double-curved bow (!) and the Ethiopians’ bows were made of palm wood no less than four cubits long (1 cubit = 45.72 cm i.e. a long bow ), and small reed arrows with points of sharp stone instead of iron. The Libyans, Paphagonians, Phrygians, Armenians,  Ligyans, Matienians, Mariandynians and Syrians had no bows. The Lydians had no bows but their armour was like the Hellenes. The Mysians, Thracians, Moschians, Tibarenians, Macronians,  Mossynoecians, Marians and  Colchians had no bows. The island people from Erythraean had bows like the Medes. It is not quite clear if the Meionian Cabelians or Cilicians had bows.
In the sea the Lycians carried cornel-wood bows with featherless reed arrows.

From this parade of names I can say that the Scythians, Dacians, Arabs ( later Moors), Ethiopians and Africans in general, Parthians, and Indians had toxic archery. We must remember that the word toxicity comes from the Hellenic word “τοξινη” (toxine) and from that the Hellenic word for bow “τοξο” (toxo) and the act of shooting (poison ! ) arrows “τοξοβολια” (toxovolia).
The most famous of all for their toxic cultures are the Scythians (man eaters, according to Herodotus) and in fact they had a poison named in their honour, “Scythicon” . It was viper venom and Scythian territory is home to several poisonous snake species e.g. Vipera ursinii renardi – steppe viper, Vipera kasnakovi – Caucasus viper, Vipera berus – European adder and Vipera ammodytes transcaucasiana – sand viper.
The recipe for Scythicon can be reconstructed from statements attributed to Aristotle  and  probably the information came by the Scythian archers serving Athens in the 5th BCE. Briefly the poison constitution was in  part from decomposed bodily fluids of vipers and also the serum from human bodies (possibly plasma), animal dung and human faeces (for biotoxin and contamination).

It is very important to mention that the Hellenic mythology is full of poisonous creatures and “toxovolia”. To mention a few examples.  Heracles and Hydra (poison arrows with venom from Hydra), the killing of the Centaurs by Heracles, the story of Philoctetes after he  inherited the poison arrows from Heracles, the use of poisonous arrows by Odysseus (poisoned arrows from plant toxins) after Athena suggested to him to dispatch  the gang of suitors.
In the Trojan war, Achilles had smeared his spear point with poison and when Telephus was accidentally struck by it, it developed into an incurable festering wound.
It was Achilles of course who died from the poisoned arrow of Paris, Odysseus died from the poisoned spear of the  son he had with Kirke , Philoctetes suffered for many years on the island of Chryse near the island of Lemnos, from an incurable poisoned wound, and Heracles died from the poisoned blood of the rapist Centaur Nessus. Heracles’ wife, Deianeira, then applied the blood of Nessus to a beautiful tunic which she gave to her husband . She gave it to him to wear with the hope that it would work as a love charm !!! Perhaps I may be  pushing it too far if  I can say that Heracles wasn’t sexually active because of what we call today “occupational hazard” and a “side effect” of a life in contact with poison. Obviously to Deianeira’s mind our strong man had a “problem”!  

In some ways all these mythical stories work like a lesson in ethics. “if you kill with venom, you will die from it “. Not really very different from the Roman and later Christian version “if you live by the sword , you die by the sword”. Even the myth of the poison maidens - women who were introduced to toxins from a young age were used to kill opponents through sex or by a simple kiss –this story transferred to Christianity produced the most famous toxic maiden of all times, Eve.

It is perhaps that with the Indo-European thinking and ethics that  not only archery declined after the dark ages but also the poisoned ways of killing in battle. We cannot say the same for the  Indo-Asian way of thinking and killing. From the Scythians to King Mithridates – (a brilliant toxicologist and the creator of mithridatium, an antidote to poison, who coincidently also died from poison by committing suicide in 63 BCE) - many Indo-Asians developed a culture of toxins that was responsible, not only for many deaths but also with the use of various pharmaka ( φὰρμακα ) pharmacology  developed the act of treating the effect of poisons and other illnesses. This knowledge was obtained  from the Romans and combined with their own knowledge in medicine used as a defence against poisons all the way to CE.
It is very important to make a distinction, even if it does not exist officially in the history books, between the words of the Indo-Europeans and Indo-Asians.
Simply put, Indo-Europeans came to  Europe and together with the influence of the Hellenes developed a different culture with that of the they chose to leave behind. I am not in position to expand on he Indo-Asian culture because it will be out of context for this study but I can say with confidence that in our case the Persian wars was a conflict between rival and incompatible cultures. The culture of free thinking  and freedom versus  the suppression  and autocracy of the Great King. I am not saying  that the Persian culture historically is not admirable and that the arts and sciences were not also of great importance, but I simply say that we chose different ways, the ways that have come to dominate the European world since then. Therefore the Indo-Asians are not Indo-Europeans and vice versa. Arguments of genetics are stupid and I dare the supporters of these to go and have a DNA test and will possibly be in for a big surprise about themselves. It is all about culture adaptation, ethnic consciousness and above all how well it is defended.

So, in archery terms how did these tribes in the Persian army fight the Hellenes. Most of the archery equipment they had with them would have been totally ineffective against the hoplites – reed bows and arrows against bronze covert shields…. I don’t think so,  and also what about the poison arrows?.  We have no accounts of hoplites suffering death from poison after the battles and if there were injuries from infections, either they were too insignificant to be recorded or were cured like any other infection. Arrows shot from distance, if they were light they incurred no damage on the Hellenes. Horseback archery, out of the question and if in existence totally ineffective. 
But, and there is always  a but, there are paintings on ceramics that show  Scythians fighting hoplites at a very close range. Photo 10.

                                                           Photo 10.

Two points to pay attention to - the blazon on the fallen hoplite’s shield – the serpent  - and the heavy arrow point of the archer. As for the bow, it is composite but a rather deformed shape in order to fit the round shape of the ceramic. I have seen a few other illustrations of the same kind. Scythian infantry archers fighting naked (light) hoplites at close range was perhaps the only way to inflict damage. Infantry archer with a strong bow, heavy arrow with large barbed arrowhead at point blank range. These Scythians must have been very brave warriors but in the end they did not manage to turn the battle in their own favour. There are many illustrations showing hoplites killing Scythian and Amazon archers as well as some of the Amazons on horseback.

It has been suggested by one of the historians in my research that the symbols of toxic animals such as the serpent and scorpion had a superstitious significance and was a form of  intimidation against the enemy. Superstitious in that “my scorpion” or “serpent” will protect me against your venomous arrows, and intimidation  “if you come close, you will get the same treatment”. Well, what do you think these hoplites would  do to these Scythians (if in the first place they survived) if they had been caught? What do you think they would have done  to the archers that had not only shot arrows from a safe distance but they were  poisoned ones as well  ?  I have no account of such an event but be sure that the Geneva convention would not have  applied.
I  know what happened to archers in the days of the crusades and this has been established by forensic tests on skeletons (shown on a TV program) discovered at Jacobs Fort just a few km from Jerusalem, built by the Knights Templar during the Crusades at the time of the Leper king and Saladin. The skeletons of the knights prove that they had died violent deaths as a result of slashing actions from scimitars but it was the scalp of the archer that was the most interesting point I would like to make. First the archer’s scalp was recognized by the  two front teeth that had  been worn with an Λ shape in the middle of them as a result of putting the bow string in his mouth to soften it  with saliva and then to gently pull it out, soft and straight. The bow string was made from organic materials and if hard (especially in the heat of the desert ) it would  have been in danger of breaking. This action was practiced for many years of practicing  by archers and resulted in  this deformity of the front two teeth.
The scalp had the markings of several hits from scimitars, not deep enough to result in instant death but definitely pain, agony and a prolonged death. In a few words the Saladin fighters hated him because he was killing strong, valid men from a safe distance which enraged the Muslim warriors.
I can only imagine where the poisoned  arrows of the captured  Scythian archer  would have gone to make him to rot from his own poison from inside out. The blazon on the shields should have been a warning to him.
Of course this is all speculative but judging human behaviour throughout  the history of warfare does not leave  too much to the imagination. The graphical accounts of what soldiers do to each other are evident through history from prehistoric times to the present. In war all civilized behaviour is suspended.

So what happened to the horseback archers during the Persian wars? Amazons on horses shooting arrows, yes, but perhaps they were  just mythological women practicing fighting techniques of a far away culture.  The answer is “nothing much”!  No evidence (or if any, totally insignificant) on the Hellenic battlefields during the archaic and classical period, and horseback archery was never used as an effective weapon by  Hellenic armies.
What I know is  what Xenophon has written in his book “The Duties of a Hipparch”, and why is Xenophon so important ? He is important because he was one of the few men that encountered these horseback archers coming from Asia along with 10.000 men. He was constantly harassed  by them and  had to employ some of them as mercenaries in order to keep the “baddies” away. You would think that when he wrote his book  on “The Duties of a Hipparch “ he would have tried to include horseback archery in with the fighting cavalry units. But no, nothing!
It is quite clear from his book that he constantly talks about “hurling the Javelin”, “position of the lance”, and in the leaders’ accomplishments he writes : “Beginning with the simple art of mounting on horseback, let him so train himself in all particulars of horsemanship that, to look at him, the men must see their leader is a horseman who can leap a trench unscathed or scale a parapet, or gallop down a bank, and hurl a javelin with the best. These are accomplishments which one and all will pave the way to make contempt impossible. “
Xenophon must have known that this kind of warfare was not workable in the topography of the Hellenic landscape and that the economics of the day  demanded rich Athenian citizens that can afford horses in war and that  was limited. The honour of fighting with a lance instead of a bow, was preferable for the ethics of the time and they  knew that horse bows were not strong enough to inflict damage on a hoplite enemy force. So, the Athenians employed some Scythian mercenaries  to police the streets of Athens of the occasional drunk barbarian visitors – a job that was not honourable  to do as a citizen of Athens.
Considering the economics of horseback archers and in general nomadic armies, for example, when the Huns settled on the Great Hungarian Plain (CE 410-465) they ceased to be nomads, and thus ceased to fight as cavalry. In ecological terms which are  the most valid, the Great Hungarian Plain could only feed  about 150.000 grazing nomad horses. By analogy with the later Mongols, it is considered that each Hun needed ten horses, and thus there could have been only 15.000 Hun cavalry in this period.
To make an analogy the “great Hungarian plain is 52.000 km/square almost half the country and modern Greece is 131.990 km/square and the terrain – mostly mountains and islands.
On the financial side no “polis” in Hellas could have sustained a serious fighting force of horseback archers but they would have preferred cavalry with lancers as that would have been more effective in the warfare of the region.
There was a general western  taboo against eating horses, and without adequate harnesses they were far less effective draught animals than oxen. Moreover, to feed a single horse  was equivalent to eighteen months of labourer’s wages – and over three times more expensive  than the hoplite panoply. (I discovered this myself as the owner at one time of three horses). In most Greek expeditions cavalry numbered little more than 5% of the total combatants. Thessaly had cavalry but nothing great and there are  no references to horseback archers.
Later Philip the Macedonian  developed cavalry with proper armour for horse and rider, and pike instead of javelin or swords were used effectively against hoplites that sew disorder and poorly protected sides and backs, as Alexander did in Chaeronea in 338 BCE, and secondly,  riding right into the ranks of poorly protected armoured eastern infantry. Even Alexander fighting inside the motherland of horseback archery never saw the need to develop such units.
The only reference that exists is to “mounted archers” in the Athenian forces, by  Thukydides referring to Pericles’ proclaimations of the Athenian forces at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war (431 BCE). It translates: “Pericles also showed them that they had twelve hundred horses including mounted archers, with sixteen hundred archers unmounted, and three hundred galleys fit for service.” He talks about a force of two hundred that Athens “employed” in the late 5th and early 4th BCE  and they are described as being closely attached to the hipparchs and having the honour of charging the enemy first. After this they do not appear again as part of the Athenian military organization. Therefore, sometime between the 390s and 360s BCE, it is probable that the Athenians disbanded their corps of mounted archers and replaced them with prodromoi, (mounted scouts) perhaps also numbering two hundred.

An Athenian named Alkibiades the younger served with the horse archers, which was considered insulting  and not a place for Athenians to serve. The people that Athenians employed as mounted archers were the Scythians.
There are several possible explanations for the change to prodromoi . Definitely not the use of bow and arrow, which in fact became a fixture in ephebic training from 330 BCE, down to Hellenistic period but simply the combination of horse with archer. Why ? It requires many years of specialized training, and was usually viewed as a non-Hellenic weapon of war. In addition the costs were almost double to pay and maintain a horse archer as opposed to  a regular hippeus  (cavalry warrior) in the 4th BCE. The Athenians may have concluded that it demanded less time and less money to field a light cavalry force than one of mounted archers. Besides, prodromoi , could provide more or les the same tactical benefits as their predecessors.  Finally, as I have mentioned before, the absence of grasslands and pastures would have increased the  cost of keeping horses.

After all this information we may ask ourselves the question of how these famous horseback archers really fought wars in Europe and what is the connection with the painting of our main theme? From the thousands of small bronze arrow heads found at the battlefields of the Persian wars the common picture is that they were trilobites or dilobates  mostly with sockets but very light. Average length of 3 cm and weight of 46 grains (3 grams). Archaeologists claim that they used light arrows with small poisoned  heads so that the arrows could break on the battlefield and were not to be used again against them. The main effect of their action was not an immediate death but a long and slow death from poison or infection and that would  have an adverse psychological effect on the enemy.  In a study by R Miller, E. McEwen, C. Bergman titled “Experimental Approaches to Ancient near Eastern Archery” (available on the net) they talk about Tetanus infection from arrows and poison from plants well known to the Eastern tribes and Egyptians. 

Between 1929 and 1995 archeological excavations in the Altai Mountain region of Siberia uncovered a number of tombs known as Kurgans. The ancient tombs are known as the burial mounts of “Pazyryk”. They date from around 400 BCE and contained artifacts, including several bodies known as Ice Mummies superbly preserved with grave goods. Tattooists from all over the world copy the designs from the mummies on to the  bodies of enthusiasts of this culture. Unfortunately many of the Scythians graves have been  looted in the past and  valuable artifacts removed from  the graves and in some cases contaminated by  items the robbers left behind. That is also the case  of burial mount 3 which was excavated in 1948. Amongst other burial items they found fragments of decorated arrow shafts. Archeologists and researchers claim that the decorations on the wooden arrows (some of them 30” long) were trying o imitate the patterns and colours of venomous snakes. Painted with black and red designs they intended to create panic and despair to the victim and subsequently to anyone around him. The arrow attached to the body of anyone would send the message of certain death from a very long distance. From an ancient inscription at Olbia on the Black Sea, we know that a Scythian archer named Anaxagoras (!) won a prize for long-distance shooting. His arrow traveled 500 meters, far exceeding the average range of an ancient Hellenic bow, estimated at 250-300 meters. I say  to the historians that have never shot an arrow in their lives that – “that means nothing”. Most of us know about the Turkish  flying arrows but for the few that don’t, briefly  it is a small light arrow – which very often needs an extending arm device for full draw – is balanced at 50% of his length from the knock and even better if it is less, so it  is rear weighted, and when its kinetic energy dies, it glides with its small feathers like a glider plane and goes the distance. Effectiveness in war, zero, except if the arrow scratches you with poison. Well….. stories for gathering around the fire. We all know that propaganda is not a new thing.

To be realistic about war bows and arrows and to be effective in the 5th BCE against hoplites we should consider the following facts that come from real experimentation and testing of materials. If we are talking about arrow heads that need to penetrate effectively a bronze plate of 1.2 mm, and what I mean by effectively, I mean to penetrate inside  human flesh at a  depth  of more than 3” in order to hit a vital organ and all that from a 20 m distance, we need an arrow of total weight of about 1200 to 1400 grains (1 grain is 0.06479 of a gram), arrow speed from 134 to 157 feet/second  (40 m to 47 m per second -that is 147 to 172 km per hour speed) and kinetic power from 67 feet per pound to 76 feet per pound. What exactly do all these numbers mean  ?  A # 145 bow at 32 “ pull. Unfortunately there are still archers who believe that horse bows can take down Hellene hoplites in full armour or in a more comical way Medieval Knights in full armour with 1.2 mm iron armour. You need bio-composites or long bows designed for ground use in order to achieve this. There are #  200 war longbows and composite bows of around #  150. We must not forget that in order to use these weapons effectively, archers started training from the age of 7 years old and it is yet untested how many shots can be achieved successfully before muscle failure.

When we talk about Scythian  horseback archers we understand the usage of light bows with light arrows and small arrow heads and when we talk about Trojan war and hoplites of the 5th BCE we understand the use of heavy bows and large barbed Λ shaped  arrow heads. We should also consider the fact that we may talk about one strong bow with many different arrow points for different targets. The arrow spine has tolerance for up to #15  or even more below the strength of the bow. I have successfully shot arrows with a  #53 bow and arrow  spine from #45 to #32. In excavations in Israel a quiver has been found dating from 1200 BCE with 26 different arrow points. Some for long and some for short distance with the appropriate damage to the target and the rare possibility that the archer with the quiver had more than one bow! Personally I would only consider as a Hellenic arrow point the classic design of the Λ shape (photo 4 and 5 ) which is strong enough to penetrate the hoplite armour and is also  economical in its material and easy manufacture. The trilobate and dilobate socked arrow heads are mainly from eastern design and of course have been used by Hellenic archers especially with and after the Persian wars when they were found in abundance.


Finally,  what kind of warrior is our light hoplite/archer from the Altamura painter crater, and what is the story of this illustration? Could he really be an archer and holding a shield? Thinking about all the things that I have said, maybe, it is a story from the Trojan war, maybe he is a young Spartan officer on his way to war, but really it is not important who he is and I don’t think that the painter tried to specifically pinpoint his story to a particular region or event. Perhaps archeologists try to stick on a label which makes  most sense because this is the way museums work and the public wants a reliable answer, but things can be more complicated.
Consider that what we have here is the age of innocence on the other side of the bell-krater with the young girl playing the double flute and the young boys dancing. The same flute would  play tunes on the way to battle and  if we think about Spartan society where young boys and girls exercised together in the gymnasium, a scene such as  this is very possible.

The main side has the three ages of a warrior in a sequential order and narrative. The older man from the right is  not weak  but strong and  without a stick in his hand (the painter left it out deliberately ), and has just finished giving advice to the two warriors before departure. A very common theme on Athenian pottery of the 5th BCE. The physique of the older man suggests that he is also strong enough to  hold weapons if necessary to defend his “polis”.  In many Hellenic societies and especially the Spartan one you were a soldier up to 60 or 65 years old ( the accounts differ). The man in the middle is more mature and experienced offers protection and encourages the young man to move forward. In archery terms he is the perfect partner for our young hoplite/archer. He will protect him while he is using his bow. Our archer will be safe behind our warrior with the serpent on his large shield and the curtain attached to it. No enemy arrows or slings can hit them. Our middle warrior also has his helmet closed around his face, another indication of total protection. The large eye that is painted on the curtain  together with the blazon on the shield would attract the enemies eyes and in the enemy’s mind that would be the target to hit and this is what our warriors wanted – i.e. the enemy’s arrows to land on the shield and possibly, even better, on the curtain because the power would be absorbed and the enemy’s arrows may fall on the ground intact. More ammo for our young archer. You may also have noticed how lightly the curtain is attached to the shield. If our hoplite has to fight in close combat then the curtain should be able to be pulled away easily from the shield because should  he step on it he will unintentionally bring his shield down or, he will fall. It is similar to  try and run with a rain coat / poncho or climb a hill wearing  a very long coat.  He is holding a lance to defend himself in close combat and I am sure behind the shield there is also a sword.

Now can our young light hoplite/archer fight with a shield in his hand? Well why not? When he shoots the arrows he can place the rest of his armour on the ground or hang the shield with a strap round his shoulders, and then when he is finished with the arrows he will take the role of a hoplite if necessary. A sword can be -and I expect it  to be - hidden behind the shield.

                                                                           Photo 11

                                                                             Photo 12

The Photo 11 shows a mythical Amazon peltast (πελταστὴς) fighting against Heracles with a javelin and light shield and at the same time she has a quiver, and the Photo 12, again shows a heavier armored warrior or possibly again an Amazon (hence the Parthian shot ), with greaves and quiver, some kind of body armor maybe light,  javelin and the classic hoplite shield (possibly with two dolphins as a blazer) are on the ground while shooting the arrows. Well that answering the question, which is - if our archer can also have  a shield. Maybe it is not a common knowledge,  but certainly has been practiced.

Persian core troops, when they attacked, it was according to a pre-arranged plan. First they advanced to within bow range of the enemy formation. Here they halted and lay down their shields and spears. The bows were then used to shower the enemy with a dense flight of arrows. The Persians were famed for their high rate of shooting, rather than for their accuracy. By sending forward around 20 arrows per man in perhaps as little as three to four minutes, the Persians hoped to inflict casualties on the enemy that would cause them to lose formation. Then it was time for a full attack and by snatching up their shields and spears,  the men charged forward in a dense mass.

In an experimental archeology demonstration in Australia, a group of 50 heavy armoured hoplites advanced against a group of archers who were shooting blank arrows against them. Amongst the group of 50 hoplites  were physically very fit men, and despite the exhausting efforts to cover the 200 m distance speedily and still remain  in formation, they were able to reach the enemy lines within 4 mins. During the 4mins the Persian archers –core units or light infantry – should have shot thousands of arrows against the hoplites but  because of the fast movement of the hoplite unit most of the arrows missed their target. The archers in this experiment found it  hard to calculate the exact position of the hoplites whilst they were advancing fast against them on the same geophysical level. The archers also had to calculate a vertical  drop of the arrow in order to inflict damage on the hoplites since a direct hit was ineffective against the hoplite armour. This tactic is known as “The Hoplite Run”, and many theories have been written about how it was practised during the Persian wars  if ever it was, but this demonstration of experimental archeology shows how this tactic could engage the enemy fast enough before serious damage could have been inflicted on the Hellenic armies.  We must not forget the panic which would start at the last 50metres of the hoplite run when the Persians saw this wall of bronze  seconds away from their own lines.  We also know that archers were used by Hellenes, and this would have helped the hoplites’ effort, because  the Persian units compared to the Hellenes, were a light armoured infantry.

The Persian army tactics, including those  of the elite troops “immortals”, was to drop the shield and spear on the ground and then shoot arrows to suppress the enemy which would have been very effective with other Asian armies. It is very possible that when the unthinkable happened at Plataea i.e. the Hellenes were only 50 meters away and were still coming fast, the Persians had very little time to pick up their weapons off the ground and get in line for the battle. As a resultof this, they were smashed by the hoplites. Not all Asian armies used to do this. The Assyrian archers had a fully armed attendant next to them in order to protect them with a full body shield, but also the fully armed attendant was  ready to fight any unexpected attack from the enemy. The same tactic that the Assyrians used with their own horse archers. They had a mounted attendant, not for protection but for constant supply of arrows for prolonged fighting.

The “hoplite run” worked very well at the battle of Plataea with the Hellenes  having a very disciplined and well armed hoplite force. That wasn’t the case for the Phocians at the battle of Thermopylae when they were surprised by the Immortals of Hydarnes helped by Ephialtes. The Persians going over the mountain encountered  the Hellenes and the confrontation took place in an open space of around 75 meters and the Phocians formed twelve men deep phalanx. Of course this is an assumption and the exact place of the battle has not yet been identified precisely. The fact is that the Immortals as a well drilled army formed their lines fast and with discipline. They marched forward whilst the Phocians hurried to form a dense phalanx. At a distance of around 100 metres (effective distance for the small composite bows) from the Hellenes, the Persians came to a halt. They laid their wicker shields and short spears on the ground, then pulled out their bows and arrows. Herodotus records “the arrows flew thick and fast”.  The Phocians never encountered archers like this before and to make things worse for them, it seems that many of them had not yet had the chance to wear their armour. The rest is predictable and with many hoplites facing death and serious injury, panic set in within the Phocian lines and whatever the reason they abandoned the path they were supposed to be guarding. Thereby proving that  missile weapons were very effective against unprepared and ill disciplined  troops.

Just for the sake of Nemesis…..it is good to know that Ephialtes, the man from Malis who showed Xerxes the route over the mountain to take Thermopylae from the rear, was head hunted by a man from Trachis named Athenades for a reward placed on the head of Ephialtes by the Spartans. He was killed at Anticyra and his head was taken to Sparta. Our young archer is also wearing a helmet of Attic/Corinthian type with the cheek-pieces turned up to leave his face free not for us to see his beauty but because he needs to have full peripheral vision when he is shooting.  He  very enthusiastically waves goodbye and shows how keen he is to fight. His face shows the naivety of his age and possibly the fact that he is going to battle for the first time. Now look at the sequence of the three men from left to right  and imagine that the painter had created a kind of time narrative in his painting. The message is optimistic by showing the three stages of a man’s life - that he will fight for his polis when he is young, and he will grow to be a strong, mature and experienced fighter, and then he will offer protection to the future young, and finally when he is an older man his advice will be valuable and the “polis” will honour him as the protector of men!  

The woman on the far left maybe making an offering to the gods but what I think she is doing, is offering to the departed warriors a ceramic ball with her right hand and a white flower with her left which is what any warrior needs on the battlefield to clean his wounds. A bowl, and the  therapeutic plant which  maybe the one that is called “ Achillea “ - it is white and contains chemicals that help blood to clot. Perhaps the iconography of our ancient image makers  is not all about Gods and Heroes but about real life events and propaganda for the benefit of the “polis”. Perhaps the customer of this bell-Krater wanted to have something that had an optimistic message, but be aware that there is a sting in  the tail of this story. Our warriors’ blazons depict two very dangerous and venomous creatures. Maybe the scorpion has nothing to do with the Spartan Mora, but this is a painting created with the experience of the Persian wars and nothing is in there that is not intended to be there. Our civilization had been exposed to poison before but because of these wars became well known.

So, be aware hoplites, the enemy is toxic but we can  also learn some of his ways and we can give him a warning as well with our symbols on our shields. We say to our enemy that “we  can do the same to you, so stay away”! All this is  very well, but lets look at the hierarchy of the visual elements in this picture. Without any doubt, this is totally about archery in war  in the middle of the 5th BCE, but what  is the first thing that you will see?  Not the story that is unfolding after some thought about the three men and the woman, not even the ways of fighting. What you do see, is the Viper and the Scorpion and if you are a prominent man  sitting in a drinking party and you know deep inside you that most of your friends around you are your mortal enemies, when the slave brings the bell –krater full of watered wine for you to drink, look at the symbols on the shields and do not forget to be kind to your slave. Give him to drink first a glass of wine to show your appreciation for his service!



                         Kylix, red figure, attributed to Oltos painter, made in Attica, 510 BCE.
                         British Museum 

Spyros Bakas (Dienekes) on his research trip to British Museum came across  this Kylix, 12.7 cm height and 33.02 cm in diameter. This finding is another proof of the use of shields as part of an archers' armour, and the significance of this painting is that it was made pre-Persian wars.
The British Museum's explanation of the illustration is again unrealistic and somehow predictable. The curator claims the possibility that the archer is an Amazon because he/she is ... beardless, and therefore has to be a woman?

The main Spartan light hoplite/archer character in my paper is a young beardless warrior - the archers in photos 6 and 6a, and definitely not Amazons. I dare to say if we could establish more finds with young "beardless" archers, perhaps we would be faced with the fact that many of the archers were young for reasons that need to be researched or, very simply a  beard and a  bow string is a bad combination(Ouch!!!). Besides, the anatomy of the archer in this kylix shows no evidence of a female body. Apart from that we have the fact that the kylix on the outside has a narrative with many males involved - not armed - and they all have Hellenic names like : Χὶλων (Chelon), Νικὼν (Nikon), Σὸλων (Solon), Θὰλινος (Thalinos), Ξὰνθος (Xanthos) and Μὸλπις (Molpis).
The main character in the centre of the Kylix - the archer - has the name, ΜΕΜΝΟΝ ΚΑΛΟΣ (Memnon Kalos) written all around him from left to right. There are many references to all the other names but they are difficult to pinpoint to a particular historical character but  maybe the archer's name  is significant.

The name ΚΑΛΟΣ according to LIDDELL and SCOTT is:  - the beautiful, fair, and is often subjoined to the name of a person. So, here we have ΜΕΜΝΟΝ ΚΑΛΟΣ, i.e. Memnon the beautiful / fair / good, generally indicates that Memnon was somebody to be admired, perhaps a hero.
Who was ΜΕΜΝΟN? Well our Memnon is an important archer and the only reference I can find (for the time being) from LIDDELL and SCOTT again,  is that he was son of Eos and Tithonus, leader of the Ethiopians, killed by Achilles and his statue at Thebes was said to "sound musically" when struck by the light of the rising sun. But is he our archer?  There are references to the heroic era of the Trojan war and the important information that his statue was at Thebes. Also, the musical sound can be the hit of a bow string when Apollo the archer and Sun God  struck the statue. Well, maybe a far- fetched hypothesis but worth thinking on!
In conversation with Stefanos Skarmitzos (Stefanos Dorieas) he offered some very valuable information that brings some pieces of the puzzle closer to forming the picture.

The first possibility is,  that the "Crow" (ΚΟΡΑΞ ) on the archers shield is a common hoplite symbol, normally with his wings closed, and in Pausanias writings 'About Viotia"  we may connect the symbol with Plataea. According to Herodotus, around 510 BCE, Plataeans made an alliance with Athenians in order to fight against the Vioteans and Chalkideans. It is not clear where the battle took place, but quite possibly near Plataea.  Thebes was the main kingdom in the region of Viotia. Together, Stefanos and I  came to a hypothetical  conclusion that the kylix was commemorating that battle in which archers (hence perhaps the Crow or bird of prey in flight) had a leading role and the reference to a local hero from an epic age,  i.e. Memnon and  the Trojan war,  was something very common in the military psyche of the Hellenes. More or less an item of propaganda! 
Another possibility for the symbol on  the shield is that of a "Raptor" . 

It is not very clear due to the damage of the pottery but the bird looks as if it has a cord attached to its legs or a snake. If it is a cord, this is possibly an indication of a trained bird, a hunter - perfect for  an archery unit. The fact is that according to Stefanos and after examining a the colour image from the British Museum that Spyros took, if it is a snake it should have been painted with the colour aesthetics  of the time i.e. white or red and not black.  Symbolically, if it is a Hawk / Falcon (ΙΕΡΑΞ), this was the bird used as the messenger of Apollo who in turn is one of  archers' Olympian Gods, and, if the bird is an eagle, then even better because the "Eagle"(ΑΕΤΟΣ) was the Royal bird of the Thebans. If it is an Eagle with a  snake then this possibly means a big change in the political and social structure of the region, i.e. a New Order!  Too many possibilities  but more or less whatever  the answer the symbol is connected to archery and the chronology strongly supports our hypothesis.

The fact remains that the painting is about battle practices of Hellenic archers,  pre-Persian wars, and strong evidence that the technique  of shooting arrows with your bow while the shield is attached to your arm,  is a fact rather than fiction. This is something that Spyros Bakas and myself  tried with a shield that I have made (there is a small article on this blog about this) and  found it  possible. With practice,  a very effective way of fighting!

So, let's see what this image tells us.  Our archer wears some-kind of armour, possibly the light form of linothorax to allow him fast movement and he is wearing greaves. He is barefooted, an indication of hard training and bravery but I "personally" believe that this is propaganda. His quiver is on the left side of his body like our Spartan hoplite/archer, with a soft leather or cloth for a cover in order to protect his arrows and also to clean them if they are retrieved  from  blood or dirt. The shield is very possibly wooden with copper sheeting on the outside. There is a very good reason for this. Unlike the very light warriors "peltasts" with shields made from wood and leather,  he is also ready to be involved in hand to hand combat if necessary with other hoplites. A strong indication of this possibility is his full Corinthian helmet, which has been propped on  top of his head for good visibility.
What we have here is again a "hybrid". A light hoplite/archer like our main Spartan warrior. The shield - as our tests have shown -  of this size is around 4.5 to 5 kilos in weight and not difficult to hold on the arm whilst shooting arrows.  The "Crow/Eagle" symbol has his wings spread. This  is not an uncommon symbolism of warriors fighting with projectiles - i.e. attaching wings to different symbols.  Our archer  possibly holds a small composite bow of the Hellenic type and from his body movement he is pulling  the arrow  to his chest. This was common practice with "small" bows and  possibly around a  60 cm ( 24" - 25") pull, and maybe not stronger the #45 ( just a personal estimate, always open to discussion).
Finally ΜΕΜΝΟΝ ΚΑΛΟΣ is happy and well satisfied with himself and there are all the good reasons to inspire other young men to heroic acts. His body language is of one that moves forward with care but steady, well protected with his shield and armour. The enemy is on the run. His arrows penetrate the rears of their bodies. The satisfaction of winning is written all over his face, and with his wide open eyes our hero is not only handsome but with his sharp vision  never misses his target.  An Eagle- eyed warrior!!

In alphabetical order

IN THE KORYVANTES WE TRUST. Many thanks to Antonis Aliadis (Adonis ), Spyros Bakas (Dienekis), Dimitrios Katsikis (http://www.hellenicarmors.gr/),  Yiorgos Katsos (Dienokratis), Stefanos Skarmitzos (Stefanos Dorieas) and all the Koryvantes hoplites that I have met in our historical adventures for the support and the valuable exchange of ideas that  helped me and motivated me to write this paper.
Also a great “thank you” to Lyn Rees from the British Museum archive for her exceptional help with my research. 


*BARKER, JULIET- Conquest.
*BOARDMAN, JOHN – Athenian Red Figure Vases/Archaic Period.
*BOARDMAN, JOHN – Athenian Black Figure Vases.
*BUGH, GLENN R. – Cavalry Inscriptions from the Athenian Agora (American School of Classical studies at Athens.)
*CARTLEDGE, PAUL – Alexander the Great/The Hunt for a New Past.
*CARMAN, JOHN and HARDING, ANTHONY – Ancient Warfare.
*CARTLEDGE, PAUL – Thermopylae/The Battle that Changed the World.
*CARTLEDGE, PAUL -  The Spartans/An Epic History.
*CORBETT, P.E. - "A Vase by Altamura Painter" (Warrior Departing) , published in The British Museum Quarterly, Vol. 24, No 3/4 , December 1961, pages 97-99.
*EVERTON, TIM – Warfare in Ancient Greece/Arms and Armour from the Heroes of Homer to Alexander the Great.
*HANSON, VICTOR DAVIS – The Wars of the Ancient Greeks.
*KAGAN, DONALD – The Peloponnesian War.
*Mac DOWELL, D. M. – Spartan Law.
*Mc GLYNN, SEAN – By Sword and Fire/Cruelty and atrocity in Medieval warfare.
*MATTHEWS, RUPERT – The Battle of Thermopylae/A Campaign in Context.
*MAYOR, ADRIENNE – Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs/Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World.
*SIDEBOTTOM, HARRY – Ancient Warfare/A Very Short Introduction.
*SOAR, HUGH D.H. – Secrets of the English War Bow.
*STRAUSS, BARY – The Trojan War/A New History.
*THE TRADITIONAL BOWYER’S BIBLE – Volume Two/Composite Bows by Dr. Bert Comstock and Steel Points by Glenn Parker.
*THE TRADITIONAL BOWYER’S BIBLE – Volume Four/Arrows of the World by Mickey Lotz.
*PLUTARCH/Dr. Richard J.A. Talbert. – On Sparta.
*SCOTT, DAVID A. – Metallography and Microstructure of Ancient and Historic Metals.
*XENOPHON – On Horsemanship, The Duties of a Hipparch and On Hunting.


*ART, CULTURE & HISTORY IMAGES - http://www.bridgemanart.com/
*Crusaders back from the dead -  http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=38e_1315843724
*Experimental approaches to ancient Near Eastern archery –
*Hellenic Armors - http://www.hellenicarmors.gr/
*KORYVANTES – “The shields in the ancient Hellenic World” and “Archers against Hoplite Phalanx” (Text in Greek)  http://www.koryvantes.org/koryvantes/
*MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS BOSTON - http://www.mfa.org/
*THE GREEK AGE OF BRONZE / Arrows and Bows –         http://www.salimbeti.com/micenei/weapons3.htm
*THE BRITISH MUSEUM - http://www.britishmuseum.org/
*THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART - http://www.metmuseum.org/en


As the author of this article I reserve the right to add or detract parts from this text according to new historical and archeological findings.
The author has made every possible effort to make sure that the historical facts in this study  are correct at the time of writing.

6th-5th BCE, Archaic Laconian lead figurine of an archer. From Sparta, the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia.

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A noble Lord dies in Plataia battlefield 479 B.C.E.

Use of shield by Ancient Greek Cavalry.