SAGITTA (ὁϊστός, ἰός; Herod. τόξευμα), an arrow. The account of the arrows of Hercules (Hesiod, Scut. 130-134) enumerates and describes three parts, viz. the point, the shaft, and the feather. Pollux (1.137) says that the feathered end was called the head of the arrow.
I. The point was denominated ἄρδις (Hdt. 1.215, 4.81), whence the instrument, used to extract arrow-heads from the bodies of the wounded, was called ἀρδιοθήρα. [FORCEPS] Great quantities of flint arrow-heads are found in Celtic barrows throughout the north of Europe, in form exactly resembling those which are still used by the Indians of North America (Hoare's Anc. Wiltshire, South, p. 183). Nevertheless the Scythians and Massagetae had them of bronze (Herod. ll. cc.).
A large number of flint arrow-heads, some of them finely shaped, have also been found in Italy, in deposits of the Stone age. Specimens may be seen in the prehistoric galleries of the British Museum. The Aethiopians in the army of Xerxes tipped their arrows with a sharpened stone, which they also used for engraving gems (Hdt. 7.69). Mr. Dodwell found black flint arrow-heads in the large tumulus of Marathon, and concludes that they had belonged to the Persian army (Tour through Greece, vol. ii. p. 159). Those used by the Greeks were commonly bronze, as is expressed by the epithet χαλκήρης, “fitted with bronze,” which Homer applies to an arrow (Il. 13.650, 662). Herodotus, however (7.69), speaks as if iron was the natural material to be employed.
The Homeric arrow-head was “three-tongued” (τριγλώχις, Il. 5.393) and had barbs (ὄγκοι, Il. 4.151, 214). Its form is shown by the annexed woodcuts.
Arrow-heads found in Attica.
The two smaller, one of which shows a rivethole at the side for fastening it to the shaft, are from the plain of Marathon (Skelton, Illust. of Armour at Goodrich Court, i. pl. 44). The third specimen was also found in Attica (Dodwell, l.c.). Some of the Northern nations, who could not obtain metal, barbed their arrowheads with bone (Tac. Germ. 46).
The use of poisoned arrows (venenatae sagittae） is always represented by the Greek and Roman authors as the characteristic of barbarous nations. It is attributed to the Sauromatae and Getae (Ovid, Ov. Tr. 2.10, 63, 64; de Ponto, 4.7, 11, 12); to the Scythians (Plin. Nat. 11.53.115), and to the Arabs (Pollux, 1.138) and Moors (Hor. Od. 1.22, 3). When Ulysses wishes to have recourse to this insidious practice, he is obliged to travel north of the country of the Thesprotians (Hom. Od. 1.261-263); and the classical authors who mention it do so in terms of condemnation (Hom. Plin. ll. cc.; Aelian, Ael. NA 5.16). The poison applied to the tips of arrows having been called toxicum (τοξικόν), on account of its connexion with the use of the bow (Plin. Nat. 16.10.20; Festus, s.v. Dioscor. 6.20), the signification of this term [p. 2.588]was afterwards extended to poisons in general (Plaut. Merc. 2.4, 4; Hor. Epod. 17.61; Propert. 1.5, 6).
II. The excellence of the shaft consisted in being long and at the same time straight, and in being well polished (Hes. Scut. 133). The arrows of the Carduchi were more than two cubits long, and were used as javelins by the Greeks (Xen. Anab. 4.2). But the shaft often consisted of a smooth cane or reed (Arundo donax or phragmites, Linn.: cf. Plin. Nat. 16.36.65), and on this account the whole arrow was called poetically either arundo in the one case (Verg. A. 4.73, 5.525; Ovid. Met. 8.382), or calamus in the other (Verg. Buc. 3.13; Ovid, Ov. Met. 7.778; Hor. Od. 1.15, 17;> Juv. 13.80). In the Egyptian tombs reed arrows have been found, varying from 34 to 22 inches in length. They show the slit (γλνφίς, Hom. Il. 4.122; Od. 21.419) cut in the reed for fixing it upon the string (Wilkinson, Man. and Cust. &c. vol. i. p. 309).
III. The feathers are shown on ancient monuments of all kinds, and are indicated by the terms alae (Verg. A. 9.578, 12.319), pennatae sagittae (Prudentius, Hamart. 498), and πτερόεντες ὀϊστοί (Hom. Il. 5.171), but it is doubtful if the Homeric epithet has any reference to the feathers. The arrows of Hercules are said to have been feathered from the wings of a black eagle (Hes. l.c.).
Besides the use of arrows in the ordinary way, they were sometimes employed to carry fire. Xerxes captured the Acropolis in this manner (Her. 8.52). Julius Caesar attempted to set Antony's ships on fire by sending βελη πυρφόρα from the bows of his archers (D. C. 50.34; cf. Pollux, 1.137). A head-dress of small arrows is said to have been worn by the Indians (Prudentius, l.c.), the Nubians, and the Aethiopians of Meroe (Claudian, de Nupt. Honor. 222; de III. Cons. Honor. 21; de Laud. Stil. 1.254).
In the Greek and Roman armies the sagittarii, more anciently called arquites, i.e. archers, or bowmen (Festus, s. v.), formed an important part of the light-armed infantry (Caesar, Caes. Civ. 1.81, 3.44; Cic. Fam. 15.4). They belonged, for the most part, to the allies, and were principally Cretans. [ARCUS; CORYTUS; PHARETRA; TORMENTUM.]
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire