The art of archery of early Eastern Roman period

By George E. Georgas, Fencing coach, Pammachon and Historical swordsmanship instructor

To my friend Spyros Bakas

The Byzantine martial art or better say the martial education of Byzantines is a very broad group of many things to study. One of them is the long distance combat that was very important in Byzantine high strategy. Many battles won with the correct use of the archers and the horse archers. But with what way the archers were using their bows? There are enough schools of archery in the world and each have their way. What equipment they had the archers? Are they footman or are they horse archers?
The books that described the high strategy of the Romans they give too may details of the equipment of the soldiers but the authors did not give details of what techniques used in training for melee combat neither for long distance combat. For this reason to know the way of exercises and how they were using their weapons, we study many sources. One of them is the work of Romans or foreign historians, scribers, doctors and others of each period that we want to study.

Procopius of Caesarea was a prominent of early Eastern Roman period from Palaestina Prima. He is one of the last major historians of the ancient Western world. He had an elite education in the Greek classics and also rhetoric at the school of Gaza or at Constantinople or at Berytus. Procopius became adsessor (legal advisor ) to the Magister Millitum Belisarius, who was one of the generals of Justinian the Great. Procopius is the author also of the History of the Wars (in Greek: Ὑπὲρ τῶν πολέμων λόγοι). On these books the author describes the war of emperor Justinian the great. From there we have a very important note because Procopios describes the Roman way of archery on this period. At the begging he describes how the ancient Greek archers they were fight and what equipment they use and then he describes how the bowmen of his days fought.

…But the bowmen of the present time go into battle wearing corselets and fitted out with greaves which extend up to the knee. From the right side hang their arrows, from the other the sword. And there are some who have a spear also attached to them and, at the shoulders, a sort of small shield without a grip, such as to cover the region of the face and neck. They are expert horsemen, and are able without difficulty to direct their bows to either side while riding at full speed, and to shoot an opponent whether in pursuit or in flight. They draw the bowstring along by the forehead about opposite the right ear, thereby charging the arrow with such an impetus as to kill whoever stands in the way, shield and corselet alike having no power to check its force.
Still there are those who take into consideration none of these things, who reverence and worship the ancient times, and give no credit to modern improvements. But no such consideration will prevent the conclusion that most great and notable deeds have been performed in these wars. And the history of them will begin at some distance back, telling of the fortunes in war of the Romans and the Medes, their reverses and their successes.’

Procopius of Caesarea, History of the Wars Book 1, I


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