Persian Archery and Tactics

The article “Persian Archery and Tactics” was originally posted by the Legio I Lynx Fulminata outlet on February 10, 2014. The version printed below has been slightly edited. Kindly note that the images displayed below do not appear in the original Legio I Lynx Fulminata posting. readers interested in this topic are also referred to the following article on Sassanian archery published in the prestigious peer-reviewed RAMA (Revista de Artes Marciales Asiáticas) journal (download in pdf):

Farrokh, K., Khorasani, M. M., & Dwyer, B. (2018). Depictions of archery in Sassanian silver plates and their relationship to warfare, RAMA (Revista de Artes Marciales Asiáticas). Volumen 13 (2), Julio-Diciembre, pp. 82-113.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Persian armies had many traits that made them some of the most feared and most successful armies of all time.  The Special Forces of the Persian armies were a huge reason why they were so successful; some of the most important special force soldiers were the archers. Archery was a huge part of the Persian Army, it often times was the deciding factor in wars that were fought. I am going to focus on the tactics that the archers used.

 تندیس آرش کمانگیر در مجموعه سعدآباد تهران – Statue of Arash Kamangir (Arash the Archer/Arash who grasps the bow) at Saadabad Palace in Tehran (Source: Drafsh Kaviani [درفش کاویانی] in Public Domain).

In his Landmarks Herodotus stated:

They used volleys of arrows that darken the sun.” (7.218.3)

Persian archers would shoot thousands of arrows at the same time into the sky.  Archers’ job wasn’t to hit specific targets, but to weaken the line opposing them.  You didn’t necessarily have to have a good shot to be an archer for the Persian army.  In the Landmarks Herodotus it says, “ Persians launch arrows tipped with burning hemp at walls of Athenian Acropolis.”(9.49.1)  So fire arrows were developed to weaken and distract the opposing forces.  These were brilliant tactics to use in war, because oftentimes whoever’s front line broke first would lose the fight. I imagine it would be quite difficult to keep in perfect formation while flaming arrows are setting a blaze to your surrounding and hitting and burning you.

Exhibit of Achaemenid archers (Image Source: Ancient Origins). 

Archers couldn’t just be exposed to enemy fire, so a tactic that the Persians used was  setting up wicker shield walls which sheltered archers as they shot volleys of arrows at their enemies. A Persian archer would not have been very effective on their own. That is why there were lines of archers that all stood in formation and shot at the same time to take down enemies. The arrows they used were often times made out of light wood or reed, so archers actually didn’t have as much range as we think of archers having today.  Also since the arrows were so light, more than one was usually required to kill an opposing Greek.  Tactics were very important for Persian archers. They had to work with each other in order to be effective.