Archery Popshots | Total War: Rome II: Wrath of Sparta
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Archery Popshots | Total War: Rome II: Wrath of Sparta

August 14, 2019


When I did the last episode of Archery Popshots
covering Shogun 2 Total War, there were requests to cover Rome 2. With even more DLCs and a
massive update that added family trees, made the tech and skill trees more visually intuitive,
and other user interface changes that actually made the game bearable to me, this was the
right time to come back to Rome 2. And what a rich world to explore again. Unfortunately, covering the history and context
of archery in the entirety of Rome 2 would be enormous. That would be madness. This DLC campaign for Rome 2 takes us back
to the Classical period of Ancient Greece. The Peloponnesian War pits the city-states
of Greece against each other: Athens, Corinth, Thebes, and of course, Sparta. And while this
period was dominated by hoplite combat, the bow and arrow were just as well known, and
well recognised in history and legend. It’s almost strange to imagine the Hellenic
world and its ubiquitous use of heavy infantry: the hoplites, armed with shield, sword and
spear, fighting in the closely packed phalanx formation, yet struggle to picture where archery
would fit in. At the same time, Greek heroes and legends were renowned for their archery
skills. The deities Apollo and Artemis were associated with bows and the hunt. In the
Iliad and the Odyssey, we see renowned bowmen such as Odysseus – famous for the feat of
shooting through a dozen axe heads. Paris, prince of Troy, used a bow in combat, and
slew the mighty Achilles with an arrow to the heel. In reality, unlike their Persian neighbours,
the Greeks did not widely adopt the bow in their normal style of warfare. It could be
said that hoplite combat was honourable, and death in melee was more beautiful than being
killed by an arrow. Some sources and scholars attribute the low status of the bow and the
archer to this idealism of war. This didn’t mean that the bow was dismissed.
It was a specialised weapon, albeit often relegated to the lower classes who could not
afford the equipment to fight as a hoplite, instead fighting as light infantry alongside
javelin throwers and slingers. The Athenians were known to have maintained a corps of archers,
and archers would see use in siege defence, though had less of a presence in open battle
and few battles record significant contributions by archers. The bows used by the Greeks were simple short
self-bows. Later, illustrations of archers showed them using a composite recurve bow,
widely recognised as being imported from the Scythians, a nomadic people who fought from
horseback. Greek bows could shoot over 250m, though they were more likely ranged with some
accuracy at around 150m, and could shoot accurately and directly at 50-60m. Notably, records indicate
that Greek archers were outranged by Persian archers, as was the case with Xenophon’s
Ten Thousand, whose archers had to be protected in formation. While most of Greece largely did not adopt
the bow in their military, the people of the island of Crete became specialised archers.
Their skill with the bow was so renowned, they were hired as mercenaries by Greek city-states,
particularly Sparta, and their archers would be sought out centuries later by the Romans,
and Cretan archers were present even up to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Wrath of Sparta mini-campaign focuses
on Greece and the conflict between the major city-states of Sparta, Athenai, Korinthos
and the Boiotian League. As with real life, the unit roster is greatly restricted to several
different types of hoplites, along with support troops such as cavalry and missile infantry. The balance of power between the missile troops
reflects their real-life counterparts. Javelin throwers do a lot of damage, but have very
short range and low ammunition. Slingers have the longest range, but don’t do as much
damage as archers, which are probably the main support unit in your hoplite army. You can rain arrows onto enemy units. However,
more so here than in the main campaign, the effect of archers is greatly mitigated by
shields. Arrows simply bounce off the heavily armoured hoplites, though the light-armoured
hoplites will suffer more attrition damage over time. The real damage is in hitting the flanks and
rear. With shields covering the front and left, only the armour value is used in calculating
damage when shooting at exposed sides, and from these angles, units of archers can cause
devastating damage, taking a unit of hoplites down to the last man in several volleys. This
is the key to breaking the deadlock of hoplite combat: while the infantry hold the line,
the archers run to the flanks. They are even more effective than cavalry, who are countered
easily by armoured spearmen and are better suited to chasing down enemy ranged troops. That’s assuming that your archers haven’t
already dealt with them. Having 3-4 units of archers adds a large amount of flexibility
to your army, and I wouldn’t dare march out without them. It should go without saying that this is probably
not how archers were used historically. In Greek warfare, if archers were used at all,
it was typically behind the infantry, or sometimes embedded with the formations and engaging
in short-distance sniping. As light troops, archers have the historical advantage of being
able to out-run the heavy infantry, but alone they cannot defeat them. Running forward to
flank was unlikely to be feasible, as that would require an overview of the battlefield
and instantaneous commands that would be available to the player, but not a real life commander. It should also be noted that historically,
the Greeks did not deploy archers in massed formations. This style of warfare would be
more commonly seen in the medieval times, especially with the English archers. As devastating
as a volley of arrows would be, Greek armies were more devoted to infantry combat rather
than investing resources into the highly specialised archers. The fate of the battle was determined
by which phalanx broke first. Of course, this is Total War, and we have
the liberty of playing with historical units in ahistorical ways, and that’s what makes
the game fun. Unlike the original Rome, Rome 2 makes more
of an effort to depict battles in realistic ways, and you might be surprised to learn
that some of the smaller details are well researched. Taking a look at the archer’s unit model,
we see that the archer uses the simple wooden self-bow with size and proportion close to
what we see in the source material. The archer wears an arrow quiver on the left side, and
this might pique your curiosity. Most archers are more familiar with bags and quivers worn
on the right, but pulling arrows from a cross-body position would have been plausible. In fact,
historians have identified that light Greek archers may have carried up to 200 arrows
and shot at a rapid speed – up to 10 aimed shots per minute. Some depictions also show
archers carrying light shields. The Cretan archers appear as mercenaries.
On paper, their bows have more range and do more damage than their regular counterparts.
Their unit model features the linothorax armour, though this doesn’t really help them in
melee. They also seem to use composite bows, likely derived from the Scythian bows that
appeared from northern tribes. Cretan archers are able to make use of whistling arrows to
damage morale, and heavy shot to inflict more damage but at the cost of range and accuracy.
This is particularly devastating against the heavily armoured hoplites, almost ignoring
all armour. This isn’t far from history – sources make reference to long arrows
with heavy arrowheads that could pierce through shields and armour, but only at very short
distance. The animations are not very specific, but
we can see that the game roughly shows a conventional Mediterranean grip, with the first two or
three fingers pulling the string back. The source material is rather ambiguous, depicting
a “Greek” pinch draw or a Mediterranean draw of some variant. What is known from historical
sources is that Greek archers drew the string to the chest, which is exactly what we see
here. Drawing towards the ear or cheek, as many of us would know today, was more of a
medieval development. Speaking of animations, Rome 2 has improved
the fluidity of the shooting. For the most part, archers no longer hold onto the bow
for extended lengths and instead execute the shot more cleanly. In general, missile units
are more responsive, beginning their shooting cycles quicker on command and not being stuck
on reload while one archer is out of position. Considering that archer units are just one
out of many in Rome 2, the game does a reasonably good job of illustrating them in a battle
environment, and they are fairly well balanced for gameplay purposes. If there’s anything
really missing from the Hellenic campaign, it’s that Greek archers were also known
to be mobile combatants, shooting from kneeling positions and being more versatile instead
of being static massed archers. It’s interesting how a campaign that focuses
on hoplite combat brings out the importance of archers and other missile troops. Without
them, battles are long and drawn out – much like how ancient Greek battles actually were.
By bringing in mobile missile troops, the player gets to out-play their opponents, risking
their potent but vulnerable archers or slingers to cause havoc in enemy lines, thinning out
enemy infantry and breaking morale. In fact, it wouldn’t be unusual to see archers accumulate
the most kills in campaign battles. They are the tilt factor in armies and can make all
the difference in close matches. Of course, we should be wary that Greek armies
did not shoot volley upon volley of arrows into the backs of enemy hoplite formations.
That was simply not the Greek way. That brings us to the end of our first foray
into the Rome 2 franchise. Should we look further? Post your thoughts in the comments
below. This is NUSensei. As usual, shoot straight, and aim for your best.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Even Hercules was originally archer. His bow was sought out treasure.

    In Plataea Spartans borrowed Athenian archers to counter Persians.

  2. As far as I know, the video is entirely accurate historically, and I learned a couple of things that had escaped my attention. As usual, very well put together, NU Sensei – even if you had to reference that atrocious movie 😉

    Greetings from a certain southern European country!

  3. Man I love these videos. Would be nice to see Persian, Scythians archers or even the Germanic "hunters" featured in the game.

  4. I enjoyed the video, but as a Total War modder, I would like to point out that while the bows are visually distinct in Rome 2, there is a disappointing lack of distinction between the types of bows statistically.

  5. Sparta (Doric Greek: Σπάρτα, Spártā; Attic Greek: Σπάρτη, Spártē) was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece.

    In antiquity the city-state was known as Lacedaemon (Λακεδαίμων, Lakedaímōn), while the name Sparta referred to its main settlement on the banks of the Eurotas River in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese.

    Around 650 BC, it rose to become the dominant military land-power in ancient Greece.

    Given its military pre-eminence, Sparta was recognized as the overall leader of the combined Greek forces during the Greco-Persian Wars.

    Between 431 and 404 BC, Sparta was the principal enemy of Athens during the Peloponnesian War, from which it emerged victorious, though at a great cost of lives lost.

    Sparta's defeat by Thebes in the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC ended Sparta's prominent role in Greece.

    However, it maintained its political independence until the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 BC.

    It then underwent a long period of decline, especially in the Middle Ages, when many Spartans moved to live in Mystras.

    Modern Sparta is the capital of the Greek regional unit of Laconia and a center for the processing of goods such as citrus and olives.

    Sparta was unique in ancient Greece for its social system and constitution, which configured their entire society to maximize military proficiency at all costs, and completely focused on military training and excellence.

    Its inhabitants were classified as Spartiates (Spartan citizens, who enjoyed full rights), mothakes (non-Spartan free men raised as Spartans), perioikoi (free residents, literally "dwellers around"), and helots (state-owned serfs, enslaved non-Spartan local population).

    Spartiates underwent the rigorous agoge training and education regimen, and Spartan phalanges were widely considered to be among the best in battle.

    Spartan women enjoyed considerably more rights and equality to men than elsewhere in the world of classical antiquity.

    Sparta was the subject of fascination in its own day, as well as in Western culture following the revival of classical learning.

    This love or admiration of Sparta is known as Laconism or Laconophilia.

    At its peak around 500 BC, the size of the city would have been some 20,000–35,000 citizens, plus numerous helots and perioikoi.

    The likely total of 40,000–50,000 made Sparta one of the largest Greek cities; however, according to Thucydides, the population of Athens in 431 BC was 360,000–610,000, making it unlikely that Athens was smaller than Sparta in the 5th century BC.

    The French classicist François Ollier in his 1933 book Le mirage spartiate ("The Spartan Mirage") warned that a major scholarly problem regarding Sparta is that all the surviving accounts were written by non-Spartans who often presented an excessively idealized image of Sparta.

    Ollier's views have been widely accepted by scholars.

  6. @NUSensei you mention hip quiver being worn on the left side. I've tried it after seeing this video, and it feels very natural to me, more so than having it on the right. But, where do you get the source of this from? I have some friends that have a very hard time believeing this. We do viking reenactment, and we think vikings may have done this aswell, since some vikings had their sword sheated on the right ride, making a arrow bag on the left logical. Or unlogical. Who knows! I just want to know where the source of hip quivers being carried on the left side comes from! Can't find anything about it searching for roman/greek archers online.

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