Archery's Ancient Roots

why is archery called archery

The word archery comes from the Latin word arcus, meaning bow or arc. The term was likely applied to the bow due to its arced shape. The French, who were fond of using the longbow for battle and competition, later adapted the term to archier, which was then borrowed by the English and turned into the modern word archery.

Characteristics Values
Origin of the word archery Latin
Meaning of the word arcus Bow
French name for the practice Archier


Archery's Latin roots

The word "archery" is rooted in the Latin word "arcus", which means "bow". The Latin root of "archer" is "arcārius", which is an alteration of "arcuārius", derived from "arcus". The Latin word "arcus" is also the root of the Anglo-French word "archerye".

The Latin root of "archery" is also reflected in the Ancient Greek word "τόξον" (tokson), meaning "bow", and the Latin word "sagittandi", which translates to "archery" in English.

In Latin, an archer was called arcarius or sagittarius. The Latin word "arcus" is also related to the Ancient Greek word toxon, which means "bow", and is the root of the word "toxophilite", or "friend of the bow", used to describe a fan of archery.

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The English language's adoption of the term

From Latin, the term was adapted by the French, who were known for their use of the longbow in both battle and competition. They called the practice 'archier', which was then borrowed by the English and, over time, transformed into the modern word 'archery'.

The English language also adopted another term for a lover or expert of archery, 'toxophilite', from the Ancient Greek 'toxon' or 'bow' and 'philos' or 'loving'. This term was established in the language in the late 18th century as the name of an English archery society.

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The sport's ancient history

The sport of archery has a long and ancient history. It is believed to have originated in Africa during the Middle Stone Age, around 70,000 years ago. The oldest known evidence of arrows comes from South African sites such as Sibudu Cave, where likely arrowheads have been discovered. The bow and arrow were then introduced to Eurasia around the Upper Paleolithic, with the earliest definite remains of bow and arrow fragments found in Germany, dating back 17,500 to 18,000 years ago.

Archery played a significant role in both warfare and hunting throughout ancient civilisations. Classical civilisations such as the Assyrians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, Indians, Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese utilised archers in their armies. Archery was especially prominent in Europe during the later medieval period, with victories like the Battle of Agincourt cementing the longbow's reputation in military history.

The Sanskrit term for archery, "dhanurveda", became synonymous with martial arts in general. Archery was also an important skill in ancient Egypt, where it was practised for hunting and warfare as early as 5,000 years ago. Legendary figures from the tombs of Thebes are depicted giving "lessions in archery".

In China, archery was an integral part of ancient culture and philosophy. Confucius himself was an archery teacher, and Lie Zi, a Daoist philosopher, was an avid archer. The development of crossbows in China significantly influenced warfare, with Han Dynasty writers attributing Chinese military successes to the massed use of crossbows.

Archery was also prevalent in ancient Japan, where it was known as "kyudo". It was revered as both a method of warfare and a form of contemplative meditation. Practitioners of kyudo believe that archery is a means to attain "truth-goodness-beauty" through correct form, proper attitude, and accuracy.

In the late medieval period, archery began to be replaced by firearms in Europe. However, archery continued to be practised and valued in various cultures around the world, evolving into a competitive sport and recreational activity. Today, archery is a well-respected sport that has gained worldwide fame under its English name, with a rich history spanning thousands of years.

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Its use in mythology

Archery has been used in mythology for thousands of years and has been romanticised in stories since antiquity. In classical mythology, the best-known archers are Eros and Cupid, the Greek and Roman gods of love, respectively. They wield a bow with arrows that cause uncontrollable desire in whomever they hit. In Greek and Roman history, the term Olympian deity is granted to Apollo, who is credited for inventing archery. He is the child of Zeus, the god of sky and thunder, and Leto, the daughter of the Titan Coeus and Phoebe. Apollo owned a golden and silver bow, with the latter being used occasionally.

Artemis, based on ancient Greek mythology and religion, is the deity of the hunt and archery. She is the beautiful twin sister of Apollo and is often depicted with a bow and arrow, a quiver, a hunting dog, a stag, and the moon. In addition, Artemis was praised as the goddess of childbirth.

In Norse mythology, Ullr was the god of archery, hunting, skiing, and winter. He was probably the stepson of Thor, and it is believed that he lived in Ýdalir, which means 'yew grove'. In Chinese mythology, Hou Yi is the god of archery and is said to have shot down nine of the ten suns that had scorched the earth into a wasteland. In Hinduism, Arjuna is the most celebrated archer and is a central character in the epic poem Mahabharata. Arjuna was given the gift of a magical golden bow called Gandiva and two quivers that never ran out of arrows. The Hindu deity Rama is also invariably seen with a bow and is regarded as a divine human, a mortal god, personifying and exploring the characteristics of an ideal person.

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Archery's modern-day status

Archery was included in the 1900 Paris Olympics and became a permanent fixture at the Olympic Games in 1972. The sport is governed by World Archery, the international federation responsible for regulating, developing, and promoting archery. World Archery publishes an official Rulebook, maintains world rankings, and organises major events, including the World Archery Championships, the Archery World Cup, and the Indoor Archery World Series.

Archery equipment has evolved with the development of new forms of bows, such as the modern recurve and compound bow, which are now dominant in Western archery. The sport has also seen the introduction of sights, stabilisers, and other accessories to improve accuracy.

Archery has a strong following in countries like South Korea, which has produced many world-class archers and has a culture that encourages competition. The Korean Archery Association, founded in 1931, promotes the sport and provides a unified voice for Korean archers.

In addition to its competitive nature, archery also retains its traditional aspects, with traditional archery skills being revived and combined with modern scientific understanding. Traditional archery remains in use for sport and hunting in many areas.

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Frequently asked questions

The word "archery" comes from the Latin word "arcus", meaning "bow".

"Arcus" means "bow" or "arc" in the sense of the shape formed by a curved line.

The term was probably applied to the bow due to its arced shape.

The term was later adapted by the French, who were fond of using the longbow for both battle and competition, and gave the practice the name of "archier". This was then borrowed by the English and turned into the modern word "archery".

Archery is known as kyudo in Japan, and the Sanskrit word for archery is "dhanurveda".

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