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The myths about horseback archery in the Greek armies. Part B

27/12/2012

After the posting on the subject of mounted archery in the Greek armies, I received many commends from friends who asked clarifications on the subject and I am happy to oblige them.

There is no report concerning mounded archers in Thrace. The barbaric tribe of the Getae who are reputed to be horse archers lived in dug pits and preformed human sacrifices according Herodotus and Strabo are clearly not Greeks. And Euripides in his tragedy “IFIGENEIA” mentions that:” law forbids these vile things to the Greeks”.

Centaurs in the Hellenic Legend are an example of uncontrollable bestial appetites as they are all drunkards, rapists and murderers (Nessus). The wise Cheiron, tutor of heroes, is the shining exception that confirms the rule.

Centaur armed with rock and tree trunk

Centaur armed with rock and tree trunk

The Ancient Greek Legend says that Centaurs fought by casting rocks and striking their enemies with tree trunks, while the foremost Greek Hero Hercules faces them on foot armed with a bow or throwing improvised missles at them.

It’s worth noting that Centauromachy is a favorite subject for artists, after the Persian Wars, where the Lapithes symbolize the Greek hoplites that crushed the Asiatic horse-archers.

Hoplite & KENTAUROS  Museum Collection: Antiken-sammlungen, Munich, Germany

THESEUS & KENTAUROS Museum Collection: Antiken-sammlungen, Munich, Germany . Source THEOI.COM

It’s also notable that Centaurs with bows appear first time in the coins of Emperor Gallienus, when the Romans had already incorporated mounted bowmen (equites sagittarii) in their armies.

Galienos coin with Centaur

Galienos coin with Centaur

Influenced by roman icons, later artists picture Cheiron as a bowman.

Cheiron

Cheiron by Delacroix

Roman iconography influenced also the Asiatic cultures in the depiction of the Centaurs.  A good example are the Urtukids of Messopotamia, a Turcic Dymasty.

CENTAUR bowman Urtukids

CENTAUR Shooting Bow – Islamic, Urtukids of Maridin, Nasir al din Urtuk Arslan, 1201 – 1239

In Plato’s “LAWS” a Cretan and an Athenian talk about how to setup a future colony. In book one the Cretan Cleinias says that Horses are not highly esteemed in Crete because the island is not flat like Thessaly.

In book eight the Athenian who has experience of the Scythian mercenaries employed by his city, urges Cleinias to arrange training programs and equestrian sports in order to create create cavalry and horse-archer units  in the new colony. It is clear that the Cretans have no mounted archers of their own and the Athenian (Plato?) suggests their formation.

The Thessalians also are never mentioned to use bows on horseback. The equestrian sport of the Greeks during their training maneuvers later copied by other cultures is casting javelins from horseback.

Greek horsemen trainig with javelins

It is likely that in the Pontic colonies idle rich people and their friends could perhaps spent time trying to imitate the Scythians but it’s worth noting that Pontic colonies never developed indigenous mounted archers but hired Scythians.

The greatest Greek general, Alexander the Great, the only unbeatable commander in history, campaigned in Asia without horse-bowmen.  He also hired Scythians when the need for such troops arose. It would be ridiculous to think that Alexander would not have employed Greek mounted archers if they were available. Sources and archaeological evidence do not mention horsearchers in Alexander’s army before his entrance in India.

Mounted archery is a great martial art but it is not a Greek martial art

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