Archery, art, practice, or skill of using a bow and arrow for hunting, warfare, or as a sport. Modern bows, used to propel arrows, generally are constructed of wood, fibreglass, or graphite or carbon composites with a taut cord or string connecting the bent ends of the bow. Arrows are usually made of either aluminium or carbon graphite, pointed at one end and with flight-stabilizing feathers at the other end. A notch in this butt end is fitted to the bowstring. As the string is pulled back, the bow bends for maximum tension, and when the string is released, the arrow is propelled.
Some authorities date the origin of archery as early as the Aurignacian period, about 25,000 years before the modern era. The earliest people known to have used the bow and arrow were the ancient Egyptians, who adopted the weapon at least 5,000 years ago. In the time of the earliest pharaohs, the Egyptians practised archery in hunting, as well as in warfare against the ancient Persians, who were then equipped only with spears and slingshots. Soon afterwards, however, the bow and arrow was used extensively in the ancient world. The Assyrians and Babylonians depended on the weapon, and the Old Testament refers several times to archery as a characteristic skill of the ancient Hebrews. In China, archery dates back to the Shang dynasty (1766-1027 BC). A war chariot of that time carried a three-man team: driver, lancer, and archer. During the ensuing Chou dynasty (1027-256 BC), nobles at court attended archery tournaments that were accompanied by music and interspersed with elegant salutations.
The Romans owed much of their military superiority to armies of skilled archers. At the beginning of the medieval period the Romans were in turn defeated by the more highly skilled archers of the Goths, Huns, and Vandals. During the Middle Ages the most notable European archers were the English, whose longbows proved decisive at the battles of Crécy (1346) and Agincourt (1415). Medieval ballads celebrate their feats in hunting, fighting, and sport. Outside Europe, in the same period, peoples of the Middle East excelled in archery. Archery also played a role in the folklore of the Middle Ages. According to legend, 14th-century Swiss marksman William Tell was ordered by an Austrian governor to shoot an apple off his own son's head with a bow and arrow. In addition, the story of Robin Hood, the heroic outlaw, originated in the late 14th or early 15th century. Robin Hood, glorified for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, wielded a bow and arrow. He was famous for his accurate marksmanship, including the ability to split one arrow with another.
Accounts of European travellers during the Renaissance indicate that the bow and arrow was the most important weapon used in East Asia, the Americas, Central Africa, and the Arctic regions. However, the introduction of gunpowder gradually made the bow and arrow obsolete, especially in western Europe. In the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the English in 1588, for example, 10,000 English troops were experimentally equipped with firearms, while the Spanish relied on archers; the success of the English forces played a major role in convincing military theorists that archery had become a relatively inefficient method of waging war. Nevertheless, peoples of East Asia employed archers in warfare as recently as the 19th century, and the use of the bow and arrow in hunting and intertribal fighting continues in central Africa and South America to the present day.
Archery as a Sport
Archery has long been popular as an amateur sport, particularly in England. The oldest continuously held archery tournament still extant, known as the Ancient Scorton Arrow, was founded in Yorkshire in 1673; and in 1781 the Royal Toxophilite (Greek, toxon, "bow"; philos, "loving") Society was formed to advance the sport. The Grand National Archery Society, the official organization of British archery, was established in 1844, and it has conducted championship contests since that year.
Ascham, Roger (1515-1568), English scholar and author, a major intellectual figure in Tudor England. Ascham was born in Kirby Wiske, Yorkshire, and educated at St John’s College, University of Cambridge. In 1540 he became the first Professor of Greek at Cambridge.
Ascham published a popular treatise on archery called Toxophilus in 1545. This work, which was a defence of physical recreation for scholars, was dedicated to King Henry VIII of England. The essay pleased the king, who granted the author an annual pension. Ascham was appointed tutor to Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I, in 1548. His instruction was at least partially responsible for her proficiency in Latin and Greek and her lifelong love of the Classics. In 1550 Ascham travelled through Europe with a diplomatic mission. Thus, he was able to visit schools and scholars on the Continent. After returning to England in 1553, he became Latin secretary to the new queen, Mary I. Upon her death in 1558, he was appointed secretary to Queen Elizabeth, a post he held for the remainder of his life. He was the author of several scholarly writings, including The Scholemaster (published posthumously, 1570).
Archery was held in the Olympic Games of 1900, 1904, 1908, and 1920. It was then discontinued until it again became an Olympic sport for men and women at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Modernized in 1992 to promote interest, the Olympic round consists of a ranking round, an elimination round, a finals round, a team elimination round, and a team finals round. The individuals' event includes 64 archers, all shooting at the same time at targets 70 m (230 ft) away. Archers with the highest scores after various elimination heats compete for medals. The competition is conducted according to the International Archery Federation's rules.