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the founding of an empire. like the heavily armed and armoured Ghulam cavalry. Recreational use of archery is also demonstrated in a wedding scene in which the groom and his friends used the groom’s ring as a target in a little friendly archery competition. but. As such. eventually. in turn. they began to expel the Turkomans to the fringes of the empire. one of the aspects recorded by Marco Polo. east of the Caspian Sea. The brunt of the fighting was carried out by light cavalry. an archery contest. but also present in The Book of Dede Qorqut.Theme: The Seljuq THEME Turks advance Technological advantages of the Seljuq armies “Arrows. However. Kurds. the Seljuqs were no longer wild nomads. The Seljuqs and allied tribes who faced this mighty empire may already have had various troop types. Of course. and a wrestling match. Steppe traditions and nomadic lifestyle dictated early training in both horse riding and archery. before this could happen. she must rise. That. though they shared a common heritage. while the inherent political infighting that did much to weaken the Byzantine hold on the region encouraged an influx of raids and incursions by nomadic tribesmen. Armenians and Georgians. There are delightful demonstrations of this in The Book of Dede Qorqut (also spelled ‘Korkut’). the nomadic horseback archers were not the same as the Seljuqs. when the Seljuqs and Byzantines were headed towards collision in Anatolia. When he finally meets the girl he wants to marry. the Turkoman horse archers. these tribes would claim Anatolia as their own. Eventually. the Seljuqs of Rum (Eastern Rome) were to become semi-autonomous. An example of shamanist-ceremonial use of the bow and arrow can be found in the description of a groom releasing an arrow and building his first night’s yurt (hut) where the arrow landed. The horse archers of the Central Asian steppe have used very similar archery equipment and battle tactics throughout the ages. but the grasslands of Anatolia seemed far more attractive than the desert lands in the south. as they started to build a standing army made up of enslaved Arabs. she must Medieval Warfare I-1 3 . and. and other early Asiatic traditions. Huns. they could be defined as wild Turkoman tribes. Besides the adoption of Islam. when contemporary chroniclers had to record the identity of one or other of the tribes. they had difficulty in controlling the nomadic tribesmen. Another interesting point is the role of women as warriors in pre-islamic nomadic life. the Seljuqs considered Egypt to be their primary foe. mean that it is very difficult to clearly categorize different tribes and nations. which resulted in the gradual development of a political power base. The name Seljuq originated from one of the chiefs. but these were in a minority and were very expensive to maintain. sometimes called the Turkish Iliad. having little empathy for the Seljuq desire for political stability. whose initial role was that of mercenaries serving the powers that be. they also took on many Persian and Arabic habits and customs. of a group of Oghuz Turks who hailed from Central Asia. though the Great Seljuq Turks of Iran would try to impose some semblance of centralized control. so they were used only sparingly. The Seljuqs are a case in point. The Seljuqs started evolving as their numbers increased and they adopted Islam as their religion. he decides to do so after the two have had a horse race. They hoped that the tribes would head south towards Egypt. A character called Bamsi Beyrek tells his father that his requirements for a future bride include an array of martial skills. they could do little. led to their rise as a major player and. but has roots reaching much further back. Another character. This can sometimes lead to confusion. However. By Murat Özveri & Nils Visser This confusion is increased by the fact that the nomadic lifestyle and the fluidity of alliances. As long as the Seljuqs were dependent on the Turkoman tribes for military purposes. before I reach the bloody infidels’ land. Bows and arrows were interwoven in the culture in which a nomad grew up. This started early in childhood. as well as her ability to draw two bows at once. everywhere!” The roots of Seljuq archery go back to the first millennium BC and the practices of the Scythians. When they originally appeared on the scene in the Middle East. before I mount my well-trained horse. with tribal fusions and breakups. she must be on horseback. so that horseback riding and accurate shooting. the Byzantines had to be defeated. by this time. At this time. and did not think twice about dispossessing other peoples in the empire. namely Seljuq Beg. as well as a combination of the two. who were in almost continual need of new grazing grounds and war loot. not Byzantium. Kan Turali. also tells his father about his list of requirements: “Before I rise to my feet. Horse archers from the Steppes Let’s have a look at these horse archers. arrows. became second nature. which was probably written in the twelfth century.

however. This method required great skill in riding and archery. and birds on the wing. birds. now in Armenia. The reflexed limbs increase the early draw weight dramatically. The Turkoman archers were able to shoot in any direction from the back of a horse with pinpoint accuracy.” (Anna Oldfield Senarslan. or “Teach your children to read the Koran and arrow shooting”. Larger Turkoman armies probably included other ethnic groups. Like all the other Asian bows.) Before we look further into the tactical possibilities linked to these archers. Paterson (trans. depicting a Seljuk mounted archer executing the ‘Parthian shot’. and the one who shoots the arrow are destined for paradise”. Women Aşiqs of Azerbaijan: Tradition and Transformation.). already have got there and brought back a few heads.© Courtesy of Muharrem Kesik Theme: The Seljuq Turks advance A relief. only those who mastered the ‘Parthian shot’ – the prized ability to turn 180 degrees in the saddle and shoot backwards in a so-called ‘parting’ shot – were allowed to put white falcon wings or feathers on their helmets. As well as being shorter for easier use on horseback. This is caused by shrinkage of the sinew on the back of the bow. The increased draw weight is due to the strong reflex that sets apart the Turkish bow from its cousins. and were similar in shape to Mongolian bows. An eighth-century Arabic text describes these skills in some detail. p23). sinew and horn. and ed. Shooting backwards from horseback was the zenith of the nomadic warrior’s martial art. which is put on a par with worship. Shooting skills and composite bows Training would have continued as the young nomad grew older. Secondly. However. during their interaction with Islamic peoples. Latham and W. that Islam places considerable importance on archery. Islamic cultural emphasis on archery would have probably appealed to the Seljuqs and aided in the conversion to Islam. as a mark of rank. p. this Asian invention also has several mechanical advantages. a result of the nomadic lifestyle and culture. in which prey was driven forwards by mounted archers. the one who presents the arrow. called ‘ears’ (Siyahs). Kan Turali ends up marrying Saljan Xatun. loosing ten arrows before the Khilrijite [or Kharijites. J. Arabian religious extremists who were hostile to the Abbasids] can nock one. and enabled a longer draw length.D. some reliefs and pictures indicate that Seljuqs used ‘Eastern Turkestan type’ bows. and “Arrow shooting is better than the act of worship to no purpose” (Women Aşiqs of Azerbaijan. Note that the hunt was seen as an acceptable equivalent to war. men. The Arab writer al-Jahiz (776-869) wrote. Apart from a verse in the Koran. The pre-Islamic Seljuqs would have no doubt noticed. but was also seen as a way to train for war. an act or tacit approval or disapproval ascribed to the prophet Muhammad) in which people are encouraged to practise archery. was probably not homogeneous. “The one who makes the arrow. according to the story. It is intentionally increased by the bowyer by binding the tips to the grip. 23. Amongst the pre-Islamic Turks. and do so at full gallop to fore or to rear. in either battle or a hunt. These bows followed a recurve design with rigid all-wooden tips. hoops. “The Turk can shoot at beasts. there are also 50 Hadiths (a saying. The Turks preferred the drive. upwards or downwards. as hunting 4 Medieval Warfare I-1 for food was not only a necessity. This allowed for more stored energy in the same poundage and same draw length. therefore.F. the draw weight was higher than that of straight-limbed bows. to left or to right. The weaponry. p23). together with the initial curvature of the core and horn. the leverage effect of these siyahs avoided usual stacking problems caused by shorter limbs.” (Saracen Archery. let’s have a brief look at equipment and the usage of it. For example. who is such an expert archer that she can shoot two arrows simultaneously in opposite directions – at least. these composite bows were made from wood. dummies. even at full gallop. It’s quite possible that Seljuqs used other Asian- . sitting quarry. A young adolescent nomad could only make his name by demonstrating riding and archery skills. Firstly.

the precursor of the Seljuqs. © Graham Sumner style bows too. However. But. albeit resembling a pin-cushion. similar bows used by the Huns in the fifth century caused severe problems for the Roman and Sassanid (Persian) wellarmoured heavy cavalry. The Seljuqs themselves had assimilated into the Persian and Arab cultures of the empire that they now ruled. holding a shorter bow with siyahs. Eurocentric historiography has always had a tendency Medieval Warfare I-1 5 . there is no archaeological evidence to support this. unfortunately. adopting the troop types they found there to form a new more heavily-armoured backbone for their armies. Bedreddin Lulu. There is an old picture of a Seljuq atabeg (high official). as well as composite bows. and the Roman infantryman’s two-layered chain-mail and heavy oak shields proved to be insufficient protection. Therefore. These accounts are assumed to indicate that the Seljuq (or Saracen. rather than modern Eurocentric representations of the Seljuqs. in the Kitâbü’l-Agânî (1218). Some accounts of the crusades describe European knights galloping through an arrow storm and coming through unscathed. The artist based the apparel and equipment on theVarqa and Gulshah romance. pretty much dismissing the effect of longbows predating this period. as the Europeans called them) arrows lacked the ability to pierce armour. the armourpiercing capability was available to those Two Seljuk warriors. The archer on the right most closely represents the Steppe horse archer. By the time of the Battle of Manzikert. most Steppe horse archers would have hailed from other Turkic tribes. There has been much debate about the armour-piercing capabilities of arrows shot from these bows.Theme: The Seljuq Turks advance to highlight the military success of the English longbow in the Hundred Years War. as well.

This way. This grip assures great stability during the entire shot sequence. nocking the arrows is faster. thumb-release is considered a more accurate and contemporary term. Huns and Blue Turks. especially because it shows what flexibility the thumb-release could provide. and accessories. later Ottoman practices (the Ottomans could be said to be the inheritors of Seljuq archery) make a clear distinction between flight shooting and target shooting. one after another. the two limbs are glued to the grip. horseback shooting. While there is insufficient evidence for very early use of thumb-release in Turkic culture. the strength of an arrow (the ‘spine value’) matches a bow’s strength. Moreover. Since the ‘archer’s paradox’ (i. Finishing the bow: the back is covered with birch bark. There are some advantages provided by this technique. . It takes time to wait for the drying of each sinew layer. One variation worth mentioning is the fard/qirat or jarmakee (as it is called in eastern sources) technique. and flawless path to the string. Normally. this difference may be of great importance. deep place. but. Gluing the horn laminates to the belly of the bow (wood core): both surfaces are carefully vertically grooved with a special tool called taş’in (pronounced ‘tush-een’) so that the glue surface is increased. variations. in Turkish). who preceded the Seljuqs. such as a well or cistern. which can be nocked and shot faster. leather or only with varnish in some rare examples. the arrow follows a more direct. a general term that is preferred by contemporary authors. strung with wolf-sinew. The bow was being seasoned up to 1 year at this stage. . the leg tendons of oxen were preferred and the horn on the belly came from water buffalos. a higher initial arrow speed. so that the arrow shaft bends less. including Africa and America. The same can obviously also be said for increased accuracy. allowing the archer to re-use other arrows he may find on the battlefield with better accuracy. when mention is made of Dirse Khan taking up his strong bow. The shrinkage of the sinew bends the bow gradually to a full circle and bending is aided by tightening ropes connecting the tips to the grip. It is not inconceivable that the Turks. it is certain that Seljuq archers shot with this technique. The string hand is closed in a special manner to form a lock (mun-dull. The string is drawn . Ibn al-Faqih noted that the Turks shot so accurately that they could hit the pupil of an eye. Shaping the 3 (sometimes 5) pieces of maple that will become the wood core of the bow. The latter was subdivided into puta shooting (puta being a particular type of target). with the bow canted in any direction and at any angle. During the shot. Another advantage of a shaft that bends less is a decrease of lost energy and. unlike the Mediterranean release. consequently. sup- ported by some written sources. The Book of Dede Qorqut seems to indicate this. Short composite bows and the thumb-release created their own technical extensions.e. For sinew backing. . with decreased bending. shorter. . Therefore. The wood core was mostly made of various maple species (Aceracae). Verses from Qur’an or archery related sayings written by calligraphers were not rare. and its variations. The bows were sometimes decorated with gold paint and a lyric text. and darb (piercing) shooting. While such race-based classification was considered normal among the European scholars of the late nineteenth century. This technique enables the archer to shoot at targets in a narrow. the bow is ‘loaded’ from the right side. The crusaders made note of the long-lasting showers of wellaimed arrows. as these arrows would have lost much of their force by the time they reached their target. Another important aspect of Seljuq archery is the so-called thumb-release. and the other fingers of the hand are involved in reinforcing the hold. the string hand can hold extra arrows. Bending the tips to form the recurves: ancient bowyers boiled the wood for this purpose. It is possible that the crusaders who came through the arrow storms unscathed were targeted by long distance flight archery. Bow shooting techniques evolved with the needs and demands of the people who used them. In combat or hunting situations. on foot or horseback or in a kneeling position. It defines a pull-andrelease technique where the major work is done by the thumb. Its accuracy is primarily due to this technique’s wider distribution around the globe. in which every bit of energy counts. so that the arrow is held in place with a slight pressure of the index finger. Gluing the pieces to make the wood core: mostly. the archer’s paradox occurs not only in the opposite direction. The bow-making process can be summarized as follows: . today. Nearly all of the bowyers signed their work. like other Steppe horse archers such as the Mongols. . where traces of different forms of thumb-release can be found. with the arrow held in place between the upper and second fingers). The archer pulls and releases comfortably. a wider spectrum of spine values can be used. The latter was based on piercing hard objects and equipped practitioners with the skill to pierce armour. called ‘secondary’ and ‘tertiary’ draw by Edward Morse. for instance by Xiung-nu.Theme: The Seljuq Turks advance Composite bows Turkish composite bows are little power-packs and require high skill of crafting and the highest quality of materials. but also in a less acute manner. shot from surprisingly long distances. as can be seen in many visual depictions. This is different from the pinch or ‘primary’ draw. had different bows and arrows for different purposes. . for example. All materials were glued together using collagen-based glue derived from animal tissues. Additionally. Tillering of the bow is done by heating the limbs and binding them to special wooden forms called tepelik. Morse’s preference in naming the thumb-release technique the ‘Mongolian release’ was based on his mistaken belief that it belonged to the Mongols. the inability of an arrow to point straight at a target due to the bow limb being in the way) occurs in the opposite direction to the Mediterranean release (pulling the string with three fingers. Sinew backing of the bow.

not only in the quiver but also in the bow case and boots. which would attack a mounted hunter during a drive and cling on to the horse’s back. trans. links or gaps would be exploited to the full. it meant that. On the other hand. It is mentioned that this technique is also used to shoot at lions. the target should be just next to the left heel of a right-handed archer. Here. He is a regular contributor to Medieval Warfare. albeit possibly consisting of a combination of different tribes. the arrow pointing straight down. they can mow down a thousand horse. In the meantime. might break rank and pursue. Mention is made of each warrior having a spare horse and spare bow to hand. and ed. In that case. the second nature of horse riding and shooting. This led to political instability. an English version and exposition of a Mameluke work on archery (AD 1368). watches as her lover Varqa (centre) and his rival Rabi fight on horseback. and shooting techniques meant that the Seljuqs were able to field remarkable archers. that a new power would rise from the ashes: the Ottomans. weapons that would replace the bow and arrow as the charges finally impacted upon the disheartened enemy. releasing arrows all the while. he added that the Turks were just as dangerous in flight. and being replaced by a new group of riders. Gulshah (right). . . The Seljuqs fought in the manner of the Steppe peoples. as well as a parttime historical writer. if possible. The second effect of the continued harassment would lead to fatigue. A purely Turkoman force. as well as carrying up to 100 arrows. Firstly. the tribes were unruly and not necessarily loyal to the Seljuqs. the Seljuqs would avoid direct confrontation and revert to sniping at the foe. A drawback of these fine troops was. No army can withstand this kind of assault. .” (Saracen Archery. . The Book of Dede Qorqut. which the Seljuqs tried to solve by ‘exporting’ the problem to the fringes of the empire. • Dr. brought back to the neck. if “a thousand of their horse joined battle and let off a single bout of arrows. something the Poles would later call ‘The Tartar’s Dance’. Saracen Archery. a feigned retreat would attempt to lure the pursuers further away from their own ranks before being encircled and annihilated. a considerable number of horse archers could be raised – a formidable foe. Medieval Warfare I-1 7 . In the absence of such favourable developments. they assimilated into the existing cultures and lost the nomadic lifestyle. This goes some way to explaining why one of the earlier confrontations between the Seljuqs and crusaders apparently involved a continuous arrow storm lasting three hours (during the Battle of Dorylaeum in 1097). demoralization and losses in the enemy ranks. On the one hand. Any new weaker Scenes from the only known illustrated manuscript of the poem Romance of Varqa and Gulshah. before dashing back again with a Parthian shot. 23). When these were deemed sufficient. despite our focus on archery. type of composite bow. Nils Visser is a member of the Dutch Warbow Society and the Society of Archer-Antiquaries. the Seljuqs were armed with swords and lances as well. Genuine flight would have been difficult to verify anyway. Paterson (London 1970). and then rush him in small groups. and the bow is pushed downwards. as they did not want to accept central control. The Great Seljuqs: A History (New York 2010). When the Seljuq empire eventually disintegrated. for they lost none of their cool control and accuracy in that modus. Murat Özveri is one of the leading experts in the field of Turkish archery.D. descendents of the Seljuqs and founders of the Ottoman empire. In regular practice. Latham and W. an annoyed and harassed foe. Andrew Peacock and Sara Nur Yildiz. that of the Seljuqs of Rum. To this. Having kinship with the many other Turkoman tribes that started moving south and east was a mixed blessing. The main effect was twofold.F. as mentioned at the beginning of this article. in times of war. Al-Jahiz wrote that. fresh waves of horse archer bands would probe the main enemy body to see how it fared with the loss of one of its units. The essence of this ‘dance’ was to envelop the enemy. The Seljuqs of Anatolia: Court and Society in the Medieval Middle Eastm (London 2012). Antony Karasulas. For. the cultural integration of archery. the need to support vast numbers of horses. Seljuqs: Storm on Horseback (London 2008). This manuscript offers a unique insight into thirteenth-century Seljuk Anatolia. Mounted Archers of the Steppe 600 BC-AD 1300 (Oxford 2004). it was here. Osman Aziz Basan. When a tribe like the Seljuqs gained the ascendancy and had to run an empire. the charges would finally strike home. the tribes conquered a new homeland. A rain of arrows All in all. disguised as a man. as we have seen. Further reading - John Freely. in turn. hunting skills. which. specializing in Ottoman archery and also taking a leading role in the revival of Turkish archery traditions. p. in modern day Turkey. being subjected to accurate missile barrages without being able to strike back. including Anatolia. would consist solely of cavalry. and strike home hard. required a nomadic lifestyle and keeping on the move.Theme: The Seljuq Turks advance © Courtesy of the Topkapi Palace Library over the head. There. . by J.