Cretan archers were a well known class of warrior whose specialist skills were extensively utilized in both ancient and medieval warfare. They were especially valued in armies, such as those of the Greek city states, Macedonia and ancient Rome, which could not draw upon substantial numbers of skilled archers from their native populations.
Though Cretans could be theoretically outranged by Rhodian slingers, they were widely recognized as being amongst the best archers in the ancient world, and as such found employment as mercenaries in many armies, including Alexander the Great's and those of many of the Diadochi. During the Retreat of the Ten thousand following the Battle of Cunaxa in 401 Xenophon's hoplites were able to hold off pursing Persian troops, with the aid of the Cretan archers who formed part of the Greek mercenary army. On this occasion the Cretans, cut off from supplies, were able to gather and reuse the spent Persian arrows while seizing bowstrings from local peasantry.
Following the conquest of Macedonia and of the independent Greek city-states, Cretan archers served as auxiliaries in the Roman army under the Republic and Empire. Crete remained part of the Byzantine Empire until seized by Venice in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade. During much of this period the island was a Theme (military province), providing both archers and sailors for the Byzantine forces.
In 1452 Venice granted specific permission for Byzantium to resume recruitment of Cretans. One of the last occasions on which Cretan archers are known to have played a significant role was as part of the garrison defending Constantinople against the Turkish army of Mehmet II in May 1453.
In popular culture
- Bigwood, "Ctesias as Historian of the Persian Wars," 35.
- Echols, "The Ancient Slinger," 228.
- Wary, John. Warfare in the Classical World. pp. 56–57. ISBN 0-86101-034-5.
- Wary, John. Byzantine Armies 886-1118. pp. 18 & 23. ISBN 0-85045-306-2.
- Heath, Ian. Byzantine Armies 1118-1461 AD. p. 23. ISBN 1-85532-347-8.
- D'Amato, Raffaele. The Eastern Romans 330-1461 AD. p. 42. ISBN 962-361-089-0.
- Bigwood, J.M. "Ctesias as Historian of the Persian Wars." Phoenix 32, no. 1: 19–41.
- Echols, Edward C. "The Ancient Slinger." The Classical Weekly 43, no. 15: 227–230.
- McLeod, W. "The Ancient Cretan Bow." Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries 11 (1968): 30-31.