30 July 2014

The Cretan bowman

Archer. Detail from Mantegna, St. Sebastian. Louvre. ca. 1475.

From Cyriaco of Ancona, 5 July 1445, Cydonia, Crete.

To Niccolò Zancarolo, son of A., the outstanding Cydonian archer and excellent victor over bowmen. Today, the fifth of July, the favorable, fair and celebrated day of quiver-bearing Delian Diana, he defeated, by his vogorous courage and worth, not only the outstanding Parthian, Scythian and Hyrcanian archers as well as others from foreign parts, but also proved superior to the expert Cydonian bowmen in an athletic contest held on the sand before the city walls, here in Cydonia, once the noblest of the Cretan coastal cities, now the illustrious Venetian colony of Khania . . . under the gaze of the distinguished citizens and colonists.  A unique prize was proposed for the contestant who would be victorious with the flying arrow.  Bending the mighty bow with his arms set apart, propelling the arrow through the pierced air from the string drawn to his ear, he aimed at the center of the target, which was the long distance of a stade* away, and struck it.  To him Cyriac of Ancona, lover of antiquity, gave a silver coin engraved with the image of the sacred head of Pythian Apollo, the quiver-and-bow-bearing god [one one side] and the Rhodian prince Anthaeus [on the other]. He did this to commemorate and honor him.

[Cyriaco gives quotations from Isidore, Pindar, Lucan, Vergil, Ovid, Apuleius on Cretan archers.]

Cyriac of Ancona, lover of Hermes, chose all these brilliant and famous sayings of the ancinet writers and poets to record here as a proof of the ancient worth of all the Cydonian and Cretan archers.  Done this day, the seventh of July, the glorious and venerable day of my protecting deity, Mercury, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Pope Eugene, one thousand and twenty-four years after the foundation of Venice.

From Edward W. Bodnar, Cyriac of Ancona: Later Travels, Letter 23. (2003).

* Stade = 184+ metres, or 605 ft.
Archery distances, Wikipedia.
For a 1440 round, known until 2014 as 'FITA Round', standard indoor distances are 18m and 25m. Outdoor distances range from 30m to 90m for senior Gentlemen archers, and 30m to 70m for Ladies. The juniors have shorter targets to shoot at. In Olympic archery, 70m is the standard range.


  1. How strange to envision a competition like that, with Scythians and Parthians--let along Hyrcanian competitors, in my beloved Canea. Perhaps we've over rated progress: I LOVE your posts.

  2. Cyriaco can not always be used for court evidence . . .;)


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