10 Awesome Acts of Archery Across the Ages

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By now we’re going to guess that approximately all of you have seen this video of Lars Anderson kicking more ass with a bow and arrow than all of Legolas’ scenes in the extended edition of the Lord of the Rings combined. While many have been quick to point out that Anderson’s abilities and claims in that video are hyperbolic, it’s still rekindled an interest in archery. So we decided to compile a list of some of the most awesome (verifiable) acts of arrow-based badassery from history.

10. Mongol Bowman Could Hit Targets Better Than Modern Riflemen

Few warriors from history, save perhaps the Spartans and maybe the Jedi, were as feared or respected on the battlefield as the Mongol archers. What made the Mongols so terrifying in battle was the fact that there was almost no range at which you were safe from being hit. There are reliable sources that state that Mongol archers could routinely hit targets over 500 metres away. To put that in perspective, the gun that the United States Army uses today has a maximum deadly range of about 600 metres, with a reliable kill range of about half that. Meaning technically, at distances over 400 metres, a Mongol archer would pose more of a threat to you than a US Marine.

9. English Longbowmen Had Buff Skeletons

The English longbow is one of those weapons where the myths surrounding it have become so intertwined with the reality that it’s hard to separate one from the other. Various legends exist about English longbowmen being able to hit a man in the crotch from 500 yards or let loose an arrow capable of punching through plate armor like it was made of knock-off iPhone screens.

Weirdly, it seems that there’s a surprising amount of truth to these legends. Historically recovered longbows have been noted to have draw weights (the amount of weight required to pull a bow string taut) in excess of 150 lbs, which is almost triple what you would find on an average bow today. This not only meant that longbows back then were able to hit targets from an astonishing distance away, but that the men using them were almost superhumanly strong. The skeletons of longbowmen are noted as being easy to identify because their right arms are almost always bigger than their left, being upwards of 50% more dense due to years of repeated longbow use. Longbowmen used bows so difficult to draw and shoot that they left behind buff skeletons.

8. King Amenhotep II and the Brass Plates

King Amenhotep II is notable for two reasons. First, his name makes him sound like a bad guy from The Mummy. Second, he was a total baller in his youth. According to historical artifacts recovered from across the ancient world, Amenhotep was well known for being a gifted athlete.

Along with being a great runner, wrestler and listener, Amenhotep was supposedly awesome with a bow and arrow and was famous for wielding an incredibly powerful, custom-made bow. According to legend, Amenhotep had the bow constructed specifically so that only he would be strong enough to draw it. Whether or not this is true is unknown, but what is known is that Amenhotep’s bow was sufficiently strong enough to fire an arrow clean through a thick brass (some sources say copper) plate. Legend has it that Amenhotep was able to make this shot four times from the back of a speeding chariot, while other sources state that he simply shot at the targets from a standing position. Either way, it’s almost certain that Amenhotep was packing some seriously over-sized guns for an Egyptian pharaoh.

7. Nasu no Yoichi and His Fan Shot

Nasu no Yoichi is a legendary figure in Japanese history, and almost every story about him involves at least three separate instances of archery based ass kicking. Perhaps the most famous story is the time he hit a fan from several hundred feet away because his boss told him to.

The story goes that at the Battle of Yashima during the Gempei War, Nasu’s superior, Yoshitsune, spied an enemy ship with a comically large decorative fan atop its mast meant to serve as a good luck charm to ward off arrows. Annoyed at the audacity, Yoshitsune ordered Nasu to wade into the water and shoot it down. Word of this quickly spread through the ranks and by the time Nasu was taking aim everyone had stopped to watch. Despite being hundreds of feet away and having to compensate for the wind, Nasu was able to take out the fan with a single arrow. That’s probably a good thing, because Nasu had said that he’d kill himself if he missed. Damn, dude. We hope he got to de-stress a little after the war.

6. Demosthenes’ Archers Made Spartans Surrender

The Spartans are largely considered to be one of the most fearsome and deadly fighting forces the world has ever known. They turned not giving a crap into an art form, and they perfected both sass and extreme sass. One of the reasons the Spartans were feared was because they just didn’t gave up — Spartans considered dying on the battlefield to be the ultimate honor, and in Spartan culture surrendering was one of the most embarrassing things you could do. Demosthenes, an Athenian, made Spartans surrender.

Demosthenes’ historic feat occurred during a battle on Sphacteria, a small island a few miles away from Sparta that Demosthenes figured would make a pretty good strategic stronghold. All he had to do was kill the 300 Spartans stationed there to defend it, because apparently there was no problem the Spartans felt required more than 300 of them. Demosthenes invaded the island with nothing more than archers and spearmen and, against everyone’s expectations, managed to pin down the Spartan warriors. Realizing the Spartans were as good as dead, Demosthenes offered them the chance to surrender, an offer they readily accepted. That made the battle the first time in all of history that a Spartan had surrendered. Prior to this a Spartan warrior had never been captured alive, and Demosthenes’ archers were able to capture a hundred of them in one go.

As you’d expect, even in surrender the Spartans weren’t happy. When asked what they thought of arrows, one prisoner sneered “The arrow would be quite a weapon if it just killed the brave.”

Maybe you had to be there.

5. Lu Bu Stopped a Fight With One Arrow

If you’ve ever played a Dynasty Warriors game, you know that you’re not supposed to pursue Lu Bu. For everyone else, Lu Bu is a famed, almost mythical figure from Chinese history who’s had more rumors spread about his physical prowess than Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee combined.

One of the more realistic feats attributed to Big Lu is the time he stopped a fight by showing off how cool he was. During a meeting with a two generals who were this close to ordering their men to slaughter each other, Baby Bu had a subordinate place a halberd a few hundred feet away from L-Dawg, who then pulled out his bow. LB then said “You will now witness me attempting to shoot an arrow at the branch of the halberd head. If I hit the target, you shall withdraw your troops. If I miss, you can remain here and fight,” only in Chinese and with a cool beard. The men, not believing the shot was possible, humored him and agreed to the terms. Without even taking aim, Big Poppa Bu notched an arrow and cleanly split it in two against the halberd’s edge. Impressed, and no doubt terrified that Bu would turn the bow on them if they kept making trouble, the generals withdrew their troops.

4. Minamoto no Tametomo Once Sunk a Ship With a Single Arrow by Accident

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Like Nasu no Yoichi up there, Minamoto no Tametomo is a figure from Japanese history famed for his bow skills. Unlike Yoichi, who was recorded as being a small, humble man, Tamemoto was known to be freaking huge. Seeing as he was roughly the size of a medium to large fridge, Tamemoto basically spent his time doing whatever he felt like. This culminated in him exiling himself to an island for reasons he never decided to explain. When the Japanese government asked Tamemoto to pay taxes on his fancy new island, he told them that since the island was his private property he’d do no such thing.

The government, not realizing how lucky they’d got off, decided to send a small fleet of warships to Tamemoto’s island in a futile attempt to intimidate him into paying up. In response, Tamemoto took out his bow and fired an oversized blunt arrow towards one of the ships. Instead of sailing harmlessly over the fleet to serve as a warning as he had originally intended, the arrow smashed violently into the side of the lead ship, putting a hole in its hull big enough to sink it. The rest of the fleet, realizing that Tamemoto just took out a boat with one arrow, by accident, decided to cut their losses and leave him alone.

3. Yue Fei Could Hit Nine Bullseyes in a Row

One of the most popular feats attributed to Yue Fei, a 12th century Chinese general, is the fact that he could hit nine bulls-eyes in a row from 240 feet away. While this may not seem impressive compared to some of the other things on this list, Yue Fei’s versatility is what landed him here. Along with being an archer competent enough to hit a dime sized target like it ain’t no thang, Yue Fei was a skilled boxer and martial artist, and was so feared in combat that it wasn’t uncommon for men to desert and swear allegiance to him in the middle of battle. There are many reasons he became a Chinese folk hero, but those have got to rank up there.

2. Finn, the Man Who Hit Another Archer’s Bow

Little is known about the archer known only as “Finn,” save for the fact that he pulled off one of the most outlandish archery tricks ever recorded — shooting the bow of another archer out of his hands. The details surrounding the time Finn told physics to take a day off happen to be well recorded because they took place during the Battle of Svolder, a famous sea battle between King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway and a greatest hits collection of his enemies. During the battle the King noticed that Jarl Eirik, one of the leaders of the opposing fleet, just so happened to be floating by. Spying a chance to turn the tide of battle, the King ordered his best archer to try and kill Eirik with a well-placed arrow to the dome.

The archer fired two arrows at Eirik. They both missed, but the second came just close enough for Eirik to note where it came from. While the archer was preparing to fire a third arrow, Eirik ordered his best archer, Finn, to return fire. Finn fired an arrow that hit his opponent’s bow, causing it to explode in his hands.

In case you’re wondering, Eirik won that battle.

1. Jebe, the Archer Who Shot Genghis Khan’s Favorite Horse

We started this article talking about Mongol archers, and we’re going to end it by talking about perhaps the coolest one of all — Jebe. Jebe is noted as being one of Genghis Khan’s finest and most loyal generals, which is kind of awesome when you realize that they first met because Jebe shot Genghis Khan’s favorite horse in the face.

The story goes that during a battle with a rival tribe in 1201, a warrior known then as Zurgadai shot and killed the horse Genghis Khan was riding on. After the battle, a furious Khan demanded to know which soldier had fired the arrow. To his surprise, Zurgadai stood up, which must have been tough considering the size of his balls, and proudly took credit for the shot. Rather than executing him on the spot like you’d expect, Khan decided to reward Zurgadai’s bravado by making him one of his generals. To commemorate the occasion he gave Zurgadai the new name of Jebe, which roughly translates to “Arrow.”

So the next time you think you’ve screwed up, just remember that one time a man shot the favorite horse of one of history’s most famously brutal leaders and was rewarded instead of punished. In other words, if you’re going to screw up make sure you do it right.

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