Archery is one of the oldest arts still practised today. The evolution of archery began at the start of mankind’s history, and evidence of ancient archers has been found around the world.
Although archery probably dates back to the Stone Age – around 20,000BC – the earliest people known to have regularly used bows and arrows were the Ancient Egyptians, who adopted archery around 3,000BC for hunting and warfare.
In China, the earliest evidence of archery dates to the Shang Dynasty – 1766-1027BC. A war chariot of that time carried a three-man team, a driver, a lancer and an archer. During the Zhou (Chou) Dynasty that followed – 1027-256BC – nobles at court attended archery tournaments that were accompanied my music and interspersed with entertainment.
When Chinese people introduced Japan to archery in the sixth century it had an overwhelming influence on culture.
One of Japan’s most well-known martial arts, originally known as “kyujutsu” (the art of the bow), is known as “kyudo” (the way of the bow). Modern kyudo is practised primarily for physical, moral and spiritual development. After certain ritual movements, a kyudo archer steps onto the shooting line to shoot at a target 36cm in diamter, 28 metres away, set in a roofed bank of sand. The kyudo bow is 2.21 metres long and made of laminated strips of bamboo.
In the Greco-Roman period, archers in both warfare and hunting settings were frequently shown on pottery.
Middle Eastern superiority in archery equipment and technique reigned for centuries. With bows like those of the Assyrians and Parthians, who were probably the first to master archery from horseback, Attila the Hun and his Mongols conquered much of Europe and Asia, and Turkish archers threw back the Crusaders.
The English longbow became a force in the middle ages and was used in many famous European battles such as Crécy and Agincourt. A law in England that forced every man of adult age to practise archery every Sunday was never repealed, though it is presently ignored.
The first-known archery competition relatable to modern times was held in Finsbury, England in 1583 and had 3,000 participants.
Since the advent of gunpowder, archery’s importance in warfare decreased – and it instead developed into a recreational and competitive sport.
Image: Nottingham’s official Robin Hood, Tim Pollard.
Archery is featured in folklore around the world, Robin Hood being probably the most famous. Based in Nottingham forest, he used his bow to steal from the rich and give to the poor, while combating the evil Sheriff of Nottingham.
Odysseus, who returned home to Ithaca after 20 years at war in the Greek epic The Odyssey, was also an excellent archer. He was the only one to be able to draw his bow and shoot an arrow through 12 rings to claim back his wife, Penelope, and fend off a host of suitors.
In modern literature and films, elf Legolas in The Lord of the Ringsand The Hobbit, the Green Arrow in TV series Archer and Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games series have all been credited with boosting archery’s popularity, especially with younger generations.
Archery was first included in the Olympic Games in 1900. It was also featured on the programme in 1904, 1908 and 1920 before a 52-year hiatus until 1972, when it returned. It has remained on the Olympic Programme ever since, with competition in men’s and women’s, individual and team, recurve archery.
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Para archery was one of the original sports at the Paralympic Games in 1960, and has been featured on the programme ever since, with men’s and women’s individual competitions. Three-athlete team events were replaced by mixed team competitions at Rio 2016.
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