Skip to content

15 Legendary Archers In History & Myth

Archery has been part of the ancient story of humans for millennia and these are some of the most legendary archers in history and mythology.

I always enjoy learning about historical characters and some mythology of the places that I travel to, and archery has always been an interest of mine.

For example, when I watched nomadic archers riding on their horses and shooting at targets during the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan, it was a fascinating look into the past.


Legendary Archers In History


Nasu no Yoichi

Legendary archers, Japanese archer.

Nasu no Yoichi (1169–1232) was a samurai archer of the late Heian and early Kamakura periods in Japan. He was a member of the Minamoto clan and is best known for his skill with the bow, particularly for an impressive feat during the Battle of Yashima in 1184.

During the Genpei War, a conflict between the Taira and Minamoto clans, Nasu no Yoichi fought on the side of the Minamoto. At the Battle of Yashima, the Taira forces took refuge on the sea fortress of Yashima, which was connected to the mainland by a narrow bridge. The Taira defenders placed a fan atop a pole on one of the ships, challenging the Minamoto to shoot it.

According to legend, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, the leader of the Minamoto forces, called for a volunteer to shoot the fan. Nasu no Yoichi stepped forward, and with great precision and skill, he shot the fan from the ship while on horseback. This feat is often depicted in Japanese art and literature and has become a famous episode in the history of Japanese archery.

Nasu no Yoichi’s archery prowess at the Battle of Yashima is celebrated as an example of exceptional skill and courage. He continued to serve the Minamoto clan during the Kamakura period, and he is remembered as one of the skilled archers of his time.

Yue Fei

Yue Fei (1103–1142) was a Chinese military general, national hero, and a prominent figure in Chinese history. He lived during the Southern Song Dynasty and is best remembered for his loyalty to the Southern Song and his efforts to defend China against the invading Jin Dynasty.

Yue Fei was known for his military skills and loyalty. He was also regarded as a legendary archer and was nicknamed “Iron Arm” due to his ability for amazing accuracy with shooting bows from either hand from a 400-pound bow.

He Fei led successful military campaigns against the Jin Dynasty, reclaiming lost territory and achieving significant victories. His military successes earned him widespread admiration among the Chinese people.

Despite his military successes, Yue Fei’s political situation became complicated. He faced opposition and intrigue within the Southern Song court. In 1142, Yue Fei and his loyal followers were arrested on charges of treason. He was executed at the age of 39.

Yue Fei is celebrated as a symbol of loyalty, patriotism, and integrity in Chinese culture. His life and deeds have been the subject of numerous poems, novels, operas, and other forms of literature and art.

Yue Fei’s legacy as a national hero and symbol of loyalty has endured over the centuries, and he is remembered as one of China’s most revered historical figures and a legendary archer.

Minamoto no Tametomo

legendary archers from Japan.


Minamoto no Tametomo (1139–1170) was a Japanese samurai and archer who lived during the late Heian and early Kamakura periods. He was a member of the Minamoto clan, one of the most prominent samurai clans in Japanese history. Tametomo is particularly known for his skill with the bow, and he is often depicted as a legendary archer.

According to legends and historical accounts, Minamoto no Tametomo was the son of Minamoto no Tameyoshi and the younger brother of Minamoto no Yoshitomo. He played a role in the political conflicts of his time, including the Hōgen Rebellion (1156) and the Heiji Rebellion (1159), which were power struggles between different factions of the samurai class.

One of the most famous stories about Tametomo involves his extraordinary archery skills. It is said that he could shoot arrows with great precision and force and that he was even capable of sinking enemy ships with his archery alone. There are various legends and myths surrounding his exploits, and these stories have contributed to his reputation as a skilled and formidable archer and one of the most famous archers in history.

In later years, Tametomo fell out of favour with the ruling Taira clan and was exiled to the island of Ōshima. According to some accounts, he died there, while others suggest that he survived and continued to live in exile.

English Longbowmen

This is not about any particular character out of the legendary archers on this list but of a whole group.

English longbowmen were skilled archers who played a significant role in medieval English warfare, particularly during the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453) with France. The longbow was a powerful and effective weapon, and those who wielded it were highly trained specialists.

One of the most famous examples was at the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War when English longbowmen took down a much larger enemy force as the longbow had a longer range than other contemporary bows. This allowed them to engage the enemy at a distance and it was also a powerful weapon, capable of penetrating armor at relatively close range.

The longbow could best be described as the ‘machine gun’ of the Middle Ages. It was lethal.

It brought them legendary status and are known as some of the most famous archers in history.

Genghis Khan and The Mongols

Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes!

Although Genghis Khan himself is not noted as being one of the legendary archers in history, his Mongol tribes would go on to build the 2nd largest empire the world has ever seen (the 1st being the British Empire).

Part of that reason was the excellent archery skills they had when riding on horseback and swiftly taking down their enemy.


Legendary Archers In Legend

Robin Hood

Robin Hood is a folklore legend in England and so is a natural one to start this list of legendary archers in legend.

He’s probably one of the most famous archers in fiction but there is the possibility that his character was a combination of several real people from his era.

He and his “merry men” stole from the rich and gave to the poor, and they operated out of Sherwood Forest near Nottingham.

If you head to Nottingham in England you can learn more about the legend when there.

Statue of Robin Hood in Nottingham:

He is one of the most famous legendary archers and there have been numerous movies and books made about him.

William Tell

The story of William Tell is one of the most famous stories in history and legendary in Swiss folklore.

Although he used a crossbow instead of a bow and arrow he’s so legendary he had to be included here. His exploits could be seen as being a real part of history, but the real existence of William Tell is up for debate.

He is largely seen in folklore instead of as a real figure.


Famous Archers In Mythology

Apollo

In ancient Greek mythology, Apollo is one of the Olympian gods and out of the gods of archery, he ranks high up there.

He was known as the god of archery, amongst many other things. He appears as an Olympian deity in Greek and Roman mythology and religions.

There are numerous temples for Apollo but one of the better ones is the Temple of Apollo at Didyma in Turkey. Another good one is the Temple of Apollo on Mount Parnassus in Central Greece.

Tip: If you want a great book about Greek mythology then take a look at Mythos by Stephen Fry.

The Temple of Apollo at Didyma in Turkey:

Skaði (Skadi)

Skaði is a goddess in Norse mythology and out of the many things she is known for, her bowhunting skills rank as the best.

She married the god Odin and appears in the famous Poetic Edda poem from the Viking era. She is one of the most legendary archers in Norse mythology.

Tip: the book Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is one of the best books to read on the subject and is highly recommended if you want to learn more about the Vikings’ myths and legends.

Ullr

Another one from Norse mythology is Ullr who is known as a Norse god and associated with winter activities such as skiing and many snow sports.

However, the main thing he is known for is his archery skills as it’s been debated whether he was truly referenced as a ‘God’ of anything in historical contexts from the Prose Edda poem of his era.

Having said that there have been offerings made to him that have been found, so he was worshipped, and the worshipper would ask for help in their hunting skills, such as with the bow and arrow.

Arjuna

Arjuna is a skilled archer in Hindu mythology and appears in the epic ancient texts of India, the Mahabharata, which dates back to 400 BCE. He is one of the main characters in this text.

He is regarded as a skilled warrior, particularly with the bow and arrow, and is of the royal lineage of the Lunar dynasty.

He was said to have ‘shot the eye out of of a toy bird that was on a tree, using a bow and arrow’, which impressed his warrior trainer Drona.

Rama

Another famous archer in Hindu mythology is Rama, who is an important deity. He can be considered as the “Supreme Being” in certain parts of Hinduism.

Another of the ancient epic texts of India, the Ramayana, is where he appears as the main figure and is one of the avatars of Vishnu.

He always held his bow in his left hand and his arrow in his right hand.

There are quite a few temples dedicated to Rama. The temple in Hampi, India, is a good ancient example of one.

Rama temple in Hampi:

Hou Yi

Hou Yi is a divine archer in Chinese mythology. Also known as the “Lord Archer” he is said to have come down from heaven to help humans on Earth.

Another famous archer in Chinese mythology is Feng Meng who was the apprentice of Hou Yi and ended up killing Hou Yi due to his envy of Hou Yi’s archery skills.

Artemis

Artemis is one of the most famous female archers in mythology and is the Greek goddess of the hunt and the woods, amongst other things.

Being the goddess of the hunt means she has excellent archery skills and always had her bow and arrow at the ready, and the deer of the woods were sacred to her.

She had many temples and shrines built for her as she was one of the most loved of the Ancient Greek deities.

One of the main temples that worships her is the Temple of Artemis in the Roman city ruins of Ephesus in Turkey.

Temple of Artemis in Ephesus:

Eros/Cupid

Eros is the ancient Greek god of love and sex and Cupid (meaning “desire”) is known as the Roman god of love.

They both carry a bow and arrow and it is said that whoever they hit with an arrow causes uncontrollable desire in them for love and sex, not only among mortals but also of the gods.


Legendary Archers

And those are some of the most famous legendary archers in history and mythology. There are quite a few destinations you can visit as I added in this article, where you can see and learn more about these legendary archers.

Personally, if you’re in England, definitely head to Nottingham and Sherwood Forest for the legend of Robin Hood who, even though most likely fictional, is one of the most famous archers in history.

I hope this helped with what you were looking for and if you want some real in-depth history of legendary archers and the history of archery then take a look at this book that’s aptly titled to the subject at hand:

The History of Archery by Theodore Whitman.

And if you want to learn about archery training then this book is recommended for that purpose and, again, is very aptly named for the subject at hand:

Training for Archery: A comprehensive archery training guide with Olympian Jake Kaminski 

For more history articles take a look at my historical places guides.


Share the legendary archers in history and myth:

Tags:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Get the occasional email with some awesome new travel articles to check out.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Shares