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How Did Ancient Romans Test the Eyes of Potential Archers?

Roman archers were always chosen from auxiliary units. They fought using composite bows just like the horsemen of the Asian steppes. But did you ever wonder how their eyesight was checked to see if they would make efficient archers?

An ancient eye test was performed by two dim stars from the Big Dipper. If you had lived during the time of the early Romans and could have seen them, you would have been eligible to join the Roman army as an archer.

The Ancient Roman Archer and Their Weapon

Archery is the art, practice, or skill of shooting arrows with bows. A bowman or archer is someone who shoots arrows with a bow. A bowyer is someone who makes bows, a fletcher is someone who makes arrows, and an arrowsmith is someone who makes metal arrowheads.

The bow and arrow is a ranged weapon system made up of an elastic launcher and long-shafted projectiles. Long before recorded history, humans used bows and arrows for hunting and aggression, and the practice was widespread among many prehistoric cultures. They were important weapons of war from ancient times until the early modern period when they became increasingly obsolete due to the development of more powerful and accurate firearms and were eventually phased out of warfare. Bows and arrows are mostly used for hunting and sports nowadays. (Source: Britannica)

What is the Big Dipper?

The Big Dipper, also known as the Plough, is a large asterism composed of seven bright stars in the constellation Ursa Major, six of which are the second magnitude and one of which, Megrez, is the third magnitude. Four words define a bowl or body, while three words define a handle or head. Many cultures recognize it as a distinct grouping. 

The North Star, the current northern pole star and the tip of the Little Dipper’s handle, can be found by tracing an imaginary line through the asterism’s first two stars, Merak and Dubhe. As a result, it can be used for celestial navigation. 

Being able to see the Big Dipper back in ancient Roman times meant you had impeccable eyesight and would be allowed to join the Roman Army as an archer. (Source: Space)

The History of the Roman Army

The Roman army, renowned for its discipline, organization, and innovation in both weapons and tactics, enabled Rome to build and defend a vast empire that would dominate the Mediterranean world and beyond for centuries.

The origins of the Roman army, arguably one of the longest-surviving and most effective fighting forces in military history, are obscure. Plutarch, the Greek biographer, attributes the creation of the legionary forces to Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome. However, the Roman historian Livy claims that the early Roman army fought more along the lines of Greek hoplites in a phalanx, most likely as a form of civil militia, with recruitment dependent on a citizen’s social standing. 

King Servius Tullius imposed six classes of wealth on the citizens of Rome; the lowest had no property and were barred from military service, while the highest, the equities, formed the cavalry. (Source: World History)

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