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The Parthian shot is a light horse military tactic made famous in the West by the Parthians, an ancient Iranian people. While in real or feigned retreat their horse archers would turn their bodies back in full gallop to shoot at the pursuing enemy. The maneuver required superb equestrian skills, since the rider's hands were occupied by his composite bow. As the stirrup had not been invented at the time of the Parthians, the rider relied solely on pressure from his legs to guide his horse.
You wound, like Parthians, while you fly,
And kill with a retreating eye.
In addition to the Parthians, this tactic was used by most nomads of the Eurasian steppe, including the Scythians, Huns, Turks, Magyars, and Mongols, as well as armies from elsewhere such as the Sassanid clibanarii and cataphracts.
The tactic was also used by Muslim conqueror Muhammad of Ghor in the Second Battle of Tarain in 1192 against Indian elephants and heavy infantry, by Alp Arslan in the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 against the Byzantines, and by Subutai in the Battle of Legnica in 1241 against Polish knights.
The term "Parthian shot" is also used as a metaphor to describe a barbed insult, delivered as the speaker departs.
With which Parthian shot he walked away, leaving the two rivals open-mouthed behind him.
His Parthian shot reached them as they closed the doors. 'Never mind darlings', they heard him say, 'we can all sleep soundly now Turner's here.'
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- Mounted archery
- Pyrrhic victory
- Caracole, a similar cavalry maneuver
- Cantabrian circle
- L'esprit de l'escalier, also called staircase wit
- An Heroical Epistle of Hudibras to His Lady, e-text, at exclassics.com