Archers and their tools in ancient Rome were a crucial part of their tactics. Though not until the battle of Carrhae in which the Parthians archers defeated the Romans, did Rome began to increase the number of bowmen from 500-700 in a Legion to 11,000.
Some of the tactics used was “a line of auxiliary pikemen backed by bowmen stood before [the] legion” (p.97, Archer), and they were “mingled with slingers to provide a protective screen against cavalry attacking flanks, [or] spaced out among heavy infantry chiefly on the wings” (p.91, Peddie).
The bow they used was adopted from the Turk’s it was “3 ft 9 in in length when measured along its outer curve and 3 ft 2 in when fitted with a bowstring of 2 ft 11 in. The war arrow it discharged measured 2 ft 4 ½ in in length and required a draw weight of 118 lb to pull the bowstring back to its full capacity” (p.89, Peddie).
The arrows that were used could have various aides to help their lethality. The best known was flaming arrows, “the Roman philosopher Lucretius had written that fire became a weapon as soon as men learned to kindle sparks” (p.208, Mayor) this holds true today. The “arrows [were] wrapped with flammable plant fibers (flax, hemp, or straw) and set afire” (p.209, Mayor), “Later, incendiary mixtures were packed inside the wooden shafts” (p.213, Mayor).
There were poison arrows but they seem to be used by the “enemies” of Rome not by Romans, this I think stems from the idea that to poison a weapon would be an act of cowardice. The general Licinius Lucullus, who’s Asian campaigns were less than ideal, faced a revolt thanks in part to the “double arrow-points of iron, [that were] poisoned” (p.246, Mayor).
The Romans, being good at using others for their army did not falter on the archers, as Josephus wrote about the use of “Arab bowmen” by “Vespasian, at Jotapata” (p.91, Peddie).
1: Adrienne Mayor, Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World (Woodstock: Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc. 2003), 208-209, 213, 246.
2: Christon Archer, John Ferris, Holger Herwig, and Timothy Travers, World History of Warfare (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 97.
3: John Peddie, The Roman War Machine (United Kingdom: Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd. 1996), 89, 91.
4: Josephus, op. cit., III, p.220.
5: Roman Archer Mosaic: www.levantia.com.au