RomanArmyTalk

Full Version: Archers in the Legions
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I really hope that I haven't developed a bad rep on this forum for asking so many dumb questions, but I have learned a lot here and plan to continue doing so!

That said, here's my next inquiry...

As far as I have seen, modern researchers ALWAYS depict Roman legionaries armed with shields, swords, javelins, and depending on the time period daggers. I understand that the dagger fell out of use and was reintroduced a few times, the shape of the shields changed, and by the 4th Century throwing spears may have given way to thrusting spears, but they seem to have used the same basic panoply up to the fall of Rome in the West.

But is there any evidence for soldiers belonging to legions fighting as archers? Or at least having archery training? I'm not talking auxiliaries or irregulars, I understand that plenty of them had archery equipment; I mean legionaries. Maybe were there small groups of archery specialists within a legion?

It would just make sense that the finest soldiers Rome had in the field would have training with every kind of weapon. Archery skills could come in handy, if nothing else, when it is necessary to catch one's own dinner Big Grin
There is evidence to suggest that some legionaries were trained to use the sling.
From Vegetius, De Re Militari, Book I, concerning his advice on the training of new legionary recruits:

"A third or fourth of the youngest and fittest soldiers should also be exercised at the post with bows and arrows made for that purpose only. The masters for this branch must be chosen with care and must apply themselves diligently to teach the men to hold the bow in a proper position, to bend it with strength, to keep the left hand steady, to draw the right with skill, to direct both the attention and the eye to the object, and to take their aim with equal certainty either on foot or on horseback. But this is not to be acquired without great application, nor to be retained without daily exercise and practice."

This relates to the later Roman army, of course (he wrote in the 4th century), but his 'advice' is supposedly based on the practice of the 'ancient army' - how ancient we don't know! I would hesitate before applying this evidence to the army of earlier centuries, therefore.

- Nathan
The later Roman army, from say Constantine onwards, deployed a legion with integral sagittarii - often in the rear ranks using a powerful recurve bow. The previous quote from Vegetius courtesy of Nathan Ross applies here. It is generally understood that a later legion fielded around 1,000 to 1,200 men in the line and deployed much more in a solid shield wall formation with medium thrusting spears, javelins, throwing darts and arrows. Front ranks were heavily armed with the rearward ranks less so. This allowed a concentration of missile firepower to bear down upon advancing enemies - and also allowed the lighter-armed troops in the rear to re-deploy into skirmishing and pursuing roles if needed. Archery had become integral as a main-stay weapon of the legion in the 4th century - so much so that I have read arguments that the Roman bow was superior to the Sassanid one both in its draw power, killing distance and the draw technique which the Romans used by the sixth century.

This appreciation of the bow spread across the Roman army into the cavalry as well - adopting Sarmation and Sassanian styles of cavalry lance and bow fighting.