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Ancient Greek shooting position

Posted: Thu Nov 26, 2015 10:41 am
by Stephen Lalor
Why do some half-kneeling ancient Greek archers not place their knee on the ground. One can see it on the vases (and on a few cylinder seals) but it is unambiguous on statues which have supports under the shin to keep the knee above the ground. My attempts to copy the technique were agonising. The issue is not huge but it does appear to have escaped notice before.

I can think of two possibilities.
1. the body and leg position was the result of the need of the archer for balance, stability or mobility in the specific moment of the battle.
2. the position might have been adopted for rapid shooting to the rear, as with some depictions of archers standing, but one picture shows an archer who has had time to hang his cloak on a nearby branch, which I thought not something that would happen in the heat of battle and wonder if the fact that he is nude might imply that he is taking part in some organised games, although archers could definitely be naked on the battlefield and there is no evidence of official archery contests on Archaic or Classical Greece. (the only surviving reference of an organised archery-game comes from Iliad.)

Neither possibility seems compelling.

An image of such an archer is attached below.

Does anyone have any ideas as to how I might take it from here?

Stephen Lalor

ps. My thanks to Spyros Bakas and Karl Randall for their most informed comments on this issue.

Re: Ancient Greek shooting position

Posted: Wed Dec 02, 2015 3:13 pm
by admin
Stephen, I am afraid your image was nowhere to be found; however I think we are all aware of the stance to which you refer - and you are right, it is a puzzle. Having said that there are many stances throughout history which to our eyes look decidedly odd. One which comes to mind appeared (I think) on the cover of the British Archer many moons ago and was a lady archer (if memory serves, Korean) who appeared to have her legs crossed and her knees bent. I tried that one and it was fairly easy and not uncomfortable. There seems to be an opening here for an examination of various stances - for a paper perhaps ? Or an article for the Journal ?

I do hope you get more responses, but sadly not enough of our members visit here or contribute.


Re: Ancient Greek shooting position

Posted: Fri Dec 04, 2015 3:13 pm
by buemaker
Sitting cross legged works also.

Re: Ancient Greek shooting position

Posted: Thu Sep 29, 2016 2:25 am
by Bede
It is unfortunate that growing up with chairs has meant that many people are not as flexible as our ancestors were. Middle Eastern manuals list many squatting and sitting positions for shooting. Some of them were designed to present a small target to the enemy, whether in approaching or retreating. Others, like the "square" seat (sitting cross legged), were to help precision shooting in contests where a maximum height for the trajectory of the arrow was prescribed. This was shooting under the rope, know also in England in mediaeval times. Mardi at-Tarsusi tells of a particular way of squatting that Qarluq archers used so they could completely cover themselves with their shields in between shots.

Some kneeling stances appear to be popular in particular cultures as shown by the half squatting, half kneeling position adopted by many Mongolian herdsmen when having a conversation on the steppe.

I know of several kneeling positions from Greek vases and statues, so I cannot directly comment on this one without a picture. Some are undoubtedly designed to protect the knees on rocky terrain. The common Asian squatting technique with both feet flat on the ground and the knees in front of the chest was advocated in England in The Archer's Craft as an excellent hunting posture since you could hide behind a small bush while drawing the bow. However, the author admitted that not everyone was flexible enough to achieve it.

Re: Ancient Greek shooting position

Posted: Mon Aug 14, 2017 4:32 pm
by admin
I am putting a short piece in the next Arrowhead on this subject, as I cannot equate the kneeling positions of various statues (or reproductions of statues) with the report of Herodotus on how "the natives" shot their bows.

9. trojan archery.jpg
9. trojan archery.jpg (46.65 KiB) Viewed 5004 times


Re: Ancient Greek shooting position

Posted: Wed Aug 16, 2017 10:10 am
by Bede
The statue is in a standard posture that is mentioned in most Arabic manuals and seen in Persian paintings of the 15th century. The arm position, while common in Greek art, is totally impractical and does not fit the descriptions in the Greek historians. As a part of a fuller motion, it would work, but the Greeks often preferred a short draw (and matching short arrows).

This stance is stable and allows accurate shooting. As a bonus, you can rapidly rise and run forward or backward. It also allows the archer to hide behind small obstacles. Remember those many accounts of how archers had to stand upright to shoot?