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Does anyone know, or can hazard a guess as to why the Romans did not choose to adopt the 'composite bow' technology used by the Parthian mounted archers that beat them so decisively at Carrhae in 53BCE?
I know that the Parthians were eventually beaten (114CE?) by the Romans but surely this battle or indeed its outcome would have highlighted the need for the Army (predominantly Heavy Infantry) to have a strong cavalry component.

Had this have happened they would have been a formidable force, 'invincible' against any opponent I would have thought.

Was it arrogance that they didn’t make any major reforms since Marius's time or was the system working well enough in their eyes?
Quote:Does anyone know, or can hazard a guess as to why the Romans did not choose to adopt the 'composite bow' technology used by the Parthian mounted archers that beat them so decisively at Carrhae in 53BCE?

Composite bow is made of wood, sinew and bone. It will take YEARS to make one bow and the technology was not widely known in western europe. To make things even more complicated for romans the composite bow is very sensitive to humid conditions and not a suitable weapon to use in every climate...
Thanks Virilis,

Were these Parthian Bows similar to the ones that the Huns used much later on?

A.
The composite bow was known by the Romans, the problem was rather the Horse archer, that was not a question of making a weapon, it was the product of a living style, that of the nomadic people of Central Asia.
Well I don't agree. I think the composite bow bla-bla is to be considerably re-evaluated and downsized!

The parthain bow, the composite bow, was NOT invented by the parthians but instead had been around for a very long time! The Greeks knew of it, before they followed alexander into the persian empire, as it was well known in Greece itself and what is modern turkey; i.e. all well within the roman sphere of activity. So forget the foolish story that the composite bow was some unheard of weapon that the parthians used against the unknowing Romans.

Why Crassus lost and Mark Antony almost too is interesting and subtle and is not done justice by any composite bow bla-bla. Certainly Surena, the parthian commander, was very intelligent and less arrogant than Crassus. He kept his feet on the ground and figured he could keep the roman formation of Crassus pinned down and erode it away if he could supply his numerous archers with plenty of arrows. The romans did not expect this type of fighting, quickly lost the initiative and did not regain it. Indeed the battle was a tactical invention of Surena and not a typical parthian technique. Many ancient battles are won/lost this way, not so much because some secret weapon gave some outstanding advantage, but because the generals were more or less creative with what they had.

If you stop and think it should seem quite unlikely that surena's approach was a typical parthian way of fighting as this would require the romans to be incredibly foolish to ignore what everyone in that area presumably would have known! If the parthians really did fight that way then it is hard to understand that the romans made no resasonable effort to organize themselves and face a very plausible threat. I really do find that too hard to believe. The romans knew who the parthians were! The parthians were not aliens, certainly not little known as instead were the 5th century huns that really did come far away.

Indeed just a few years later when the parthians attacked Ventidius they did not shoot from afar like Surena did, but they charged and got their butts smashed. Its interesting that the parthians did not learn from their previous success while the romans did! Ventidius showed the way. The way to beat archers is not so much other archers but slingers (greater range and easier to train).

I written this before and will continue to every time the composite bow bla-bla shows up. It periodically does.
Quote:Does anyone know, or can hazard a guess as to why the Romans did not choose to adopt the 'composite bow' technology used by the Parthian mounted archers that beat them so decisively at Carrhae in 53BCE?

As Jeffery says, the Romans did use composite bow technology, as did the Greeks before them!

Quote:It will take YEARS to make one bow ...

It has been estimated that it would have taken about a year to complete a bow, because of the seasoning (or curing) process.
(Of course, it would take the same year to make lots of bows, too!)
Just to complete what has been said, there is no "composite bow" as a single, wonder weapon, there is a lot of different designs, using different materials and, of course, with different performance. However, and I always make this point, the essential is not the bow, but the archer, there is no use in a powerful, well balanced bow if there is not a good archer to shot it.
The more useful feature of the composite bow was its size, as it was a short but still powerful bow that can be easily shot from a horse. The main advantage of the Parthians was their Horse archers tribal recruits, they made the core of the Parthian lords retinues.
Quote:The parthain bow, the composite bow, was NOT invented by the parthians but instead had been around for a very long time! The Greeks knew of it, before they followed alexander into the persian empire, as it was well known in Greece itself and what is modern turkey; i.e. all well within the roman sphere of activity. So forget the foolish story that the composite bow was some unheard of weapon that the parthians used against the unknowing Romans.

I think that Bows in the Illiad are described as having horn in their construction [I only have access to the translation, so I'm not certain]; that might suggest knowledge of Composite Bows at least as early as Homer is writing.

It is very strange, in my opinion, that Roman Republican Armies did not incorporate the Bow into the Velites. They certainly seem to have made use of Slingers and Cretan Archers as Mercenaries / Allies. Does anybody know if the Italian Allies made any use of the Bow?

Matthew James Stanham
Composite bow construction seems to have been pretty common all over the place - by the 13th century horn bows are mentioned as equipment a scandinavian noble should have available to him (and get mention in laws regulating craftsmen), for example, and as for recurved-shape bows, they can be seen in medieval manuscripts at least as early as the 9th century.

Crossbow lathes seems to have started going through a laminated-and-horn stage at some point in the 12th century as well. Technically, the term "composite" bow is often used in a misleading way - many flatbow and longbow finds are composite, for example - laminated together of several layers of different wood when ideal woods were not available. Also, a bow can easily be recurved/reflexed without being composite - in the Complete Bowyers Bible vol.2. there are several example - so what people tend to refer to as "composite bows" are often composite reflex/recurve affairs instead. Composite bows is just the opposite to self bows - bows made from more than one material glued together as opposed to bows made from a single material (typically wood).

Quote:the essential is not the bow, but the archer, there is no use in a powerful, well balanced bow if there is not a good archer to shot it.

And of course, a more powerful archer can pull a more powerful bow! Many people seem to imagine bows to be like modern guns - a "all-in-a-package" weapon that performs identically when wielded by anyone. Also, when it comes to horse nomads (and likely tribal societies everywhere), most bows seems to have been home-made, which means the bow quality will be variable depending on the individual's skill and available materials. Workshop constructed bows also could be of variable quality - the many medieval laws regulating and ordaining quality of bows made by craftsmen is a typical indication that quality control was a must and that many workshops cut corner to make that extra penning Big Grin
Quote:
Goffredo:j0l6kaiz Wrote:The parthain bow, the composite bow, was NOT invented by the parthians but instead had been around for a very long time! The Greeks knew of it, before they followed alexander into the persian empire, as it was well known in Greece itself and what is modern turkey; i.e. all well within the roman sphere of activity. So forget the foolish story that the composite bow was some unheard of weapon that the parthians used against the unknowing Romans.

I think that Bows in the Illiad are described as having horn in their construction [I only have access to the translation, so I'm not certain]; that might suggest knowledge of Composite Bows at least as early as Homer is writing.

It is very strange, in my opinion, that Roman Republican Armies did not incorporate the Bow into the Velites. They certainly seem to have made use of Slingers and Cretan Archers as Mercenaries / Allies. Does anybody know if the Italian Allies made any use of the Bow?

Matthew James Stanham
I think the answer is tradition. Archers were not trained in military facilities, they practiced it as part of a form of life. Italic shepheds were slingers rather than archers.
As several people have pointed out, it wasn't the composite bow that the Romans lacked, but the tradition/system/strategy of using it effectively.

One of the things I'm trying to find out right now is when the composite bow was invented. One thing is certain - it was a very long time ago!.

The earliest indisputable examples I'm aware of come from Siberian graves tentatively dated to 2000-5000 BCE (Selby S. (2000), Chinese Archery, HKUP). The 32 composite bows found in the the tomb of Tutankhamun (c.1324 BCE) were all of the fully developed horn-wood-sinew construction that was going to be more or less standard until the advent of modern materials in the 20th century (McLeod W. (1970), Composite Bows from the Tomb of Tut'ankhamun, Oxford). I am trying to find the source now, but I have come across prehistoric rock paintings which seem to show composite bows that may predate even the Siberian finds. Wherever you see a reliable image of a bow that does not form something close to a segment of a circle when drawn, it is a pretty safe bet that it was composite, even if, as Endre points out, the layers were all wood.

My own suspicion is that, if the simple bow was invented on Sunday, someone had knocked up a prototype composite by Friday afternoon! :wink: