Mamluk-Kipchak, The Skill of Archery

This text, known as the Munyatu’l-Guzat, or Wish of the Warriors of the Faith, is a fourteenth-century chivalric arts manual written in Mamluk-Kipchak.  The work was originally in Arabic, but that version and the Mamluk-Kipchak have several differences.  The use of several types of weapons are described here, including swords, lances, and bows.  The section below gives its section on the use of bows and arrows.

The Fifth Skill: Archery

If one learns it with a weak bow, he should also draw the same amount with a strong bow, so that he will learn it like the other one. Then he should also practice with arrow(s) at the butt. First with a weak bow and then with a strong (bow) until he learns it fully well. Then go out to an open field and practice very hard shooting at a target. Shoot much until you shoot as well as you do at the butt, but be careful not to lose your (accurate) shooting. The worst thing is to try to shoot as well as your previous shot. (If you do) then you will lose (your accurate shooting). So you must not desire to shoot as well as (your) previous shot, but rather you should seek to better your shooting.

The bow of the archer should be in accordance with his strength, so that he will be able to use his bow, and it is also necessary that his arrow(s) will be in accordance with his bow in length. The bow should also be in accordance with the arrow. The length of the arrow is from one tip of the bow to the other, with the exception of the grip. If the arrow is longer than the bow, the archer suffers and many faults become apparent. If the bow is longer than the arrow, according to the measurement that I have told you, the arrow will fall off the grip before (the bow) is fully drawn, and so (the archer) will not be able to draw it properly. His draw will look bad.

Know that the length of the arrow should be as long as the arm of the archer and is as long as the length which the archer is able to draw. The bow must be as long as the arrow. One should know the length of the arrow first and then obtain a bow according to that. The grip of the bow must be eight fingers long. This grip (length) is better than all the others. The thickness of the grip should be in accordance with the grasp of its owner. If it is (too) thin, he should wrap something around it. In this subject there are many things (to be said); we have mentioned only what was necessary and have not mentioned the rest, saying that in this chapter this much is sufficient, saying let our book be not too long so that the one who reads it will not be distressed. We have abridged some of its excesses. And only God knows better.

A chapter on the quality of the bow (with which one) aims at high burcas and shoots at fortresses and at something that overlooks.

This chapter relates the quality of a bow that is (used) for shooting at people in high places and fortresses.  Such a bow should have a longer upper limb and tip than the necessary length so that, when it shoots at a high place from a lower ground, the strength of the lower limb will be more when the arrow is loosed. The bow with which you shoot down from a high place should have a shorter upper limb and tip. All the other bows should have (both limbs) equal. But the upper limbs and tips of the ordinary bows should always be longer than their lower (limbs and tips).  The arrow-pass should be at the halfway point of the bow equally. The nocking-point on the string should also be like this equally. And that is that.

A chapter on the arrow.

This chapter relates the arrow. The (expert) archers have differed on the qualities of the arrow. Some of them said that “the long arrow is good,” and some have preferred the short arrow. But they all have claimed that the long arrow leaves the bow more slowly, and the short arrow leaves (the bow) more quickly.  They have claimed as such. And that is that.

A chapter on attacking fortresses.

During a war, if you wish to shoot at (those) in a fortress while standing at the base, you should stay under your shield and then draw the bow. When you bring (the bow) to full draw, raise your hand(s) upwards, aim at your opponent and then shoot. And that is that.

A chapter on shooting in war from the top of a fortress at (the people who are) at the base of the fortress.

If you wish to shoot from the top of a fortress at the people who are at the base of the fortress, follow your opponent closely, move the lower tip of the bow over to your right side, hold the bow across and draw it downwards. Bend your back a little, hold the arrow (that is drawn in the bow) between your two legs and shoot it. Beware not to shoot from one place in a war, but rather walk from one place to another, watch your opponent and then shoot, and that is that.

A chapter on drawing the bow.

This chapter relates how to draw the bow. The principle of drawing the bow is that you should draw it to your eyebrow and you should pass your index finger over your moustache because the master (archers) have recommended it as such. You should draw the strong bow to your moustache and hold (it on that anchor-point). When you draw, you should not raise your hand upwards. Let it also be known that the waiting time when the bow is at full-draw is to count until five. You should pause for a count of five. Some (of the expert archers) said that you should hold and (then) release (the arrow) before your face and eyes turn red. Minimum waiting time (at the full-draw position) is to count until three, but the best way is to remain silent until counting three and shoot it, and that is that.

A chapter on shooting short arrows with a guide.

This chapter relates how to shoot (short) arrows through the hollow of a guide. This is a good skill to shoot at the people in high fortresses and the people who are far away and for many other things. Because an arrow like this travels a long distance; it travels about one thousand arshins and even more, they say. The length of an arrow (to be used with) a navak (arrow-guide) is one span, and the length of its head is four fingers. They also shoot this arrow in Khorasan, and they call it `aus in their language there. Its head is smaller than a nail. The arrow guide is also called nazil. The arrow guide is made out of many things. It is made out of a thin reed, a Persian reed or a willow tree and light and soft trees similar to these. It should be thicker than a whip. Its length should be as long as the length of the ordinary arrow (or) two fingers longer than that. Open it from its one side as much as one-third of it. Both its sides should bend inwards, so that it will not allow the arrow to go out. Then put a leather band on it and put it on your finger. Then put the arrow inside the guide and nock. Draw it as you draw an arrow in the bow. When you draw it, hold your wrist, upper arm and lower arm straight, as if all of them are one bone. When you are shooting the first arrow, pause a little (while) your hand is over your shoulder, then shoot. After that do not pause. The Muslims have invented the arrow (shot through the hollow of a) guide. It has a strange story. It has been said that a person called Tabari had related it. And that is that.

A chapter on shooting arrows from on top of a galloping horse. It has various graces.

This chapter relates how to shoot arrows on horseback. It has many graceful things. It is necessary that you should have a proper horse. I have described before the horse that is good for shooting. When you wish to start shooting arrows on horseback (while) riding, you should take a weak bow and arrow(s) which are good for this skill. Then erect five barcas that are following each other.  The distance between each of them should be forty arshins. Then take five arrows, ride your horse fast and shoot these one after the other. When you become good at shooting at these, make the distance between them thirty arshins. Every time reduce (the distance between the barcas) like that, until the distance is seven steps. When you also become skillful at this, try to shoot fast. This (seven steps) is the limit in this practice. Then erect (them) in another way,  that is to say, three barcas on your left side and opposite to them two barcas on your right side. Then ride (your horse) fast, come and shoot first at the ones that are on your left side and then at the ones that are on your right, if you can. When you become skillful also at this, take a strong bow and shoot with it in the same way that you had done with a weak bow. Once you have perfected your accurate shooting, from then on you will shoot accurately everywhere, that is to say, in the time of war, while shooting deer and in the hippodromes. From then on you will not be afraid of shooting arrows.

Then erect ten barc is, five of them on your left and five of them on your right in various places. The distance between each of them should be in accordance with the limit that we had mentioned earlier. Take ten arrows that are suitable for this practice. Hold five of them together with the grip (of the bow) and insert (the other) five between the fingers of your right hand. When you finish shooting the arrows that were between your fingers, take the arrows next to the grip and insert them between your fingers, then shoot them as before. These arrows should be thin, so that they will fit between your fingers while you shoot. And only God knows better.

This text is from Munyatu’l-ghuzat, A 14th Century Mamluk-Kiptchak Military Treatise, translated by Kurtulus Öztopçu (Sources of Oriental Languages and Literatures 13, 1989).  We thank the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of Harvard University for their permission to republish this section.

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