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Archers in the Roman military

PostPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2008 4:32 pm
by Tarquinius Dionysius
Salvete omnes,

A few simple questions:

1) What was the amount of archers the Roman army typically employed in battle? And did this increase or decrease throughout the history of the Republic/Empire?

2) What was the status of archers in the Roman army? Were they even considered 'professional' soldiers?

3) Is it true that archery was looked upon as a 'lesser' military art, as opposed to sword-fighting or javelin throwing?


PostPosted: Sat Feb 23, 2008 12:37 am
by C.AeliusEricius

First my all too usual disclaimer and qualifier: I'm not in a position to look up my resources. But a fair amount of this will be my own theories, as developed from what I have read.

Solid fact, Archers were Auxiliaries. In the Republic the best were hired from Crete. Cretans archers had a reputation with the bow that matched that of Baleric slingers with the sling. Another way to put it might be that the Cretans were the Welsh archers of their day. They hired out to anybody who could pay their rates. When Rome (after the Hanabalic war) told Crete that the SPQR didn't want them working for anybody else the Cretans protested. Until they realized that they'd have all the work they wanted, and at their normal pay scale, from Rome.

In the empire the lists of Auxiliae have several cohorts with "sagitorrum" in their name. (Chessman is still THE book on the Auxiliaries of the Roman Army--still in print. )None of these are Cretan units. There are, however a number of Cretan cohorts. My theory is that the Cretans were still predominantly archers but they didn't bother say they were archers; everybody would know it. Just my theory, but I think it has validity. On this line, there are no units that are noted as being slingers. We know there were slingers, at the least from Trajan's Column. There are Baleric cohorts attested epigraphically and I don't think it unreasonable to assume they were using the traditional native weapon. Oh! the units that are marked as being "sagitarrum" are mostly Asian/Syriac. The Chessman book has the auxilliary units listed by place of origin and place of posting. If there were no archer units but the ones that are marked as being archers then there were bloody few archers in the Roman Imperial Army.

And I have to get back to work now. Lunch break is over. I hope this has helped some. If not, throw rocks. I'm used to it.

Optime bene.


p.s. mark the bad spelling and lack of proofing to my having to return to my oar.


PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2008 9:18 pm
by Tarquinius Dionysius
Thank you. That was very helpful. :)

PostPosted: Wed May 21, 2008 10:35 am
by Tiberius Iulius Draco
I wish to underline that most sagitarii were of asian (middle-east) or indo-iranian (sarmatian) and i dunno if in the 2 dacian cohorts they had archers, but what i do know that dacians were some of the best archers, axe-throwers and swordsmen (look below why). So although cretan archers may be some of the first archers to be encountered, they were not the best or most common... especially in later periods the middle-eastern archers and horse-archers and chariot archers were most common, and these were all from Egyptian and Persian areas...

Anyway, now back to my beloved people... in dacic tradition there was a festival in which a noble or royalty got married... and all maidens were "initiated" by their parents who were "tested"... Dacian girls grew long hair in a ponytail. They stood back to a tree, and their warrior father had to shoot his bow to hold the ponytail to the tree, and then they had to throw a hand-axe to chop the ponytail off... You can imagine what would happen if he hit the girl... dishonor and sorrow to death and beyond. If they missed the hair the girl could not marry... So you can logically deduct that they HAD TO BE the best in archery and axe-throwing if they had daughters :lol:
However considering they most often then not employed in guerrilla warfare and covert operations, archery, stealth, axe-throwing, and sword fighting was a huge must... and for this exact reason they used light armor (the heaviest armor was something similar to lorica squamata, with medium armor being lorica hamata).

Now the thing is that there's little info about the dacian cohorts so i don't know how many actual archer units there were, but give any dacian a bow and he'll shoot at least as good as a hun...

Forgot one thing... yes, archers were auxialiary units, as few romans (if at all) were archers and all foreign units were auxiliary.