Middle-eastern mounted warfare


Archery is objective. Even if you can hit your opponent with a sparring weapon, without taking part in a real battle you cannot proclaim yourself a good swordsman. In archery you can hit or miss, your arrow will penetrate the target or not. Of course there must be difference between shooting at a target face or at men rushing at you, but as an activity it is the most objective and practicable in our sphere of interest.

One part of archery is quite obvious. Try to hit the mark with the strongest bow you can handle. The other part is not so obvious but also very important if someone wants to reenact a mounted warrior. It is the bearing of the bow and arrows, and the ability of fast reloading and changing them with other weapons. Period illustrations from different cultures and eras show the same way of carrying the archery equipment. Whether it depicts a Persian horseman from Shahname or a Turkish sipahi invading Hungary, the quiver is on the side of the dominant hand while the bowcase is on the opposite side of the waist, hanging from the belt. The actually used ones never hang from the horse harness, only spare weapons and quivers were attached to it.

The bowcase was usually set with its mouth backwards, so the bow is out of the way of other weapons and this position is comfortable for riding. After a little training I have realized that the bow can be easily drawn if I put it upside down in the bowcase. Therefore as I grasp the grip behind my back I can draw then turn it into shooting position with a continuous movement without taking my hand off the grip. Thus you don’t need to turn the bowcase forward to get the bow quickly. (Of course you can, because it is set forward on many illustrations.)

Putting the bow back into its case is a more difficult task. (just as a sabre is easier to draw than sheath :)) I don’t have pictures of original bowcases showing the mouth but I guess it were kept broad by manufacturing it so or putting something in the opening. I put a piece of leather in the mouth to keep it open.
You should practice to put the bow back with one hand, quickly. It is hard first, especially on horseback, but the swift change of weapons is very important. It is not a good solution to throw the bow away, if you suddenly need the sabre.
By the way if you know what did the Japanese warriors with their huge bows when they got into close combat on horseback, let me know it!

Now the next big thing is loading, a crucial task for a mounted archer. In modern horseback archery developed by Lajos Kassai the archer holds even 12 arrows besides the grip of the bow. Their rate of fire is amazing but in my opinion it is good only for such a competition. In battle you cannot shoot all the arrows continuously, you have to wait for the opportunity or you will shoot all the arrows into one shield.:) Or you have to wait for order, as for a succesful shower the archers should shoot simultaneously. The more you have to wait the more likely you have to put the arrows back to the quiver, or throw away if your unit is being rushed by enemy cavalry. Therefore the arrows must be in the quiver and we have to find the way of fast loading from it. There is no evidence of holding the arrows with the grip of the bow on period pictures, but Munyatu’l-Ghuzat mentions that the archer takes 5 arrows in his grip-hand and 5 other in the drawing hand. There are illustrations that show arrows in the draw-hand, this technique works well with thumb-shooting. So several techniques of holding the arrows in the hands existed but as I have said, in my opinion it is better to keep the arrows in the quiver and draw them one at a time quickly. You can see it on most of the pictures, the other methods are rather special techniques. With hard training an archer can reload very quickly from the quiver whether it is a flat one or a hourglass type.


The Mamluk Archery Test

As we practice with the bow, questions will rise: how accurate, how fast were the ancient archers and how strong was their bow? Saracen Archery will answer it. The „Mamluk archery test” is the following

First aspect: Accuracy
According to Chapter 25: the archer should hit a circle of 96 cm (38 inch) diameter from 69 m (75 yards).
All arrows have to hit the mark.

Second aspect: Strength
The bow should be strong enough to deliver a war arrow UNDER a rope which is stretched between two columns halfway on that 69 m at a height the archer can reach with his fingers. To assure such a trajectory (depending on the weight of the arrow) we need at least a 70#-80# horn-sinew bow regarding the measurements of the Hungarian Historical Archery Society.

Third aspect: Rate of shooting
And how fast did they reload? Taybugha wrote that if three arrows are shot, the last one should just leave the string when you can see the dust of the first while the second is in somewhere the air. Unfortunately the distance is not clear in this case. The text mentions clearly the "sixty bows" distance. According to the English authors it is 69 m (75 yards). However in this chapter there is a test to determine whether your arrows are fast enough or not. It also uses sixty bows distance and you have to count 6 while your arrow reaches the target. Well, if I shoot on 69 m with my average bow, I have to count really quickly to get to six. If I shoot on the maximum range, at 45 degree, I can count normally (1 count is around 1 s) to six.

If the fire-rate test is on that 69 m, the task is almost impossible. The arrow will arrive in 1-2 seconds from such a strong, therefore fast bow. To reload TWO arrows (from anywhere you want) and shoot them in 1,5 s seems impossible to me. Maybe I am not talented and trained enough but I don’t think that every archer in the army could do it. The test would also not be balanced. With constant training such accuracy and strength is obtainable, even today, even for a not professional archer, while this rate of fire is impossible. Therefore I think in this case the distance is the long-range, the range of the bow, which is around 200 m. From such a distance we have around 6 seconds to carry out the other two shots, which is of the same difficulty as the other two aspects of the test. Moreover you see only the dust of an arrow from 200 meters.;)

We can see from this test, that in battle none of the aspects is more important than the others. As Taybugha wrote the arrow missing the mark is totally useless, just as an arrow not able to penetrate the target.

Standing halfway on the Mamluk test range. None of us have succeeded yet...

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