The Evolution of the Quiver


Just as armaments evolved in ancient times, so did weapon cases and containers to store and carry them.  Infantry archers carried their arrows – rarely accompanied by the bow itself – in the quiver, fixed on their back by a shoulder belt, whilst chariot archers profited from the advantages of construction given by battle vehicles, and fixed the quivers on the side of the battle cars and chariots. Many different weapons could be held in these these flat cases that were usually aligned to the side of the chariots: bows, arrows, spears, and the typical Hungarian battle axe, the „fokos”. In some of the high reliefs, it is also clear that different compartments were made for holding different types of weapon.

Within just five hundred years of the greatest military achievement of the 2nd Millennium, namely chariot archery, mounted troops emerged. This period, from the 9th to the 13th Century BCE is generally considered to be the time of the greatest evolution of nomadic herding on the steppes. Horse riding became widespread in this epoch and gained ever greater significance. Today it still can not be decided with certainty whether horseback combat in the great empires of the antiquity developed from Assyrian culture, or was the invention of nomadic equestrian people, who were forced by their lifestyle to be ever ready for battle. The Assyrians were certainly one of the first equestrian archer nations. Their bows were relatively long and arched, and their arrows were held in back-quivers. Carrying the arrows on the back in a quiver is rather inconvenient in the case of horsemen, since it interferes with the fighters’ movement and it quickly went out of fashion.

From the back-quiver to the combined standby quiver

Apart from the small bow protectors of Egyptian infantry archers, that were only meant to shield the bow from the sweat of the archer’s hands, there was no combined quiver available to very early archers. Soon after the evolution of the arrow case (also known as the quiver), came the next development phase: compartments in which it was possible to carry both the arrows and the bow. The predecessors of the combined quiver are to be found in Asia Minor, more precisely in Mesopotamia.It was in this area of constant battles and nations in conflict that armaments also quickly developed and improved.

The Assyrians developed an outstandingly high and successful standard of combat techniques. In the earliest representations of their battle, chariot quivers with different compartments are already visible fixed to the sides of the vehicles, carrying all sorts of weaponry such as bows, arrows, spears, maces etc. Similar cases or compartments on the side of battle cars can be traced all the way to the 7th Century BCE. The imagery often shows clearly that the bow and arrows are contained in the same case, but in different compartments. Almost contemporary with this development, that is, the evolution of the complex chariot-case, infantry archers also started to hold their bows in their spacious back-quivers.

Beginning in the 7th Century BCE,  nomadic representations are more and more likely to depict images of bows held in back-quivers, thus these cases can be already looked upon as combined-quivers. Both footmen and horsemen wore them on belts flung over the left shoulder. As mentioned earlier, soldiers were constrained to carry numerous types of weapons in their back-quivers. The cavalry of the rulers was escorted by lance-bearers carrying all their lords’ armaments. The simple warrior couldn’t afford to do so: in order to keep his hands free – especially as far as cavalry was concerned— he kept all his weaponry in the case on his back. In Mesopotamia the same sequence took place with regard to the back-quiver, as we have noted earlier regarding chariot-quivers: it first became a generic case for armaments and later evolved into a complex compartment for bow and arrow, the so called combined back-quiver.

Outside Mesopotamia the combined case for carrying the bow and arrow appears in 6th Century Asia Minor, in Klazomenai, on the sarcophagi depicting Cimmerian horsemen. The shape of this case completely corresponds to that of the back-quiver. The Cimmerian riders of the steppes however, as an innovation, wore these quivers on their waist belt.

Combined quivers suitable for carrying the bow and arrow therefore predate the appearance of equestrian nations. Thus the equestrian people had practically inherited the combined back-quivers of the infantry and chariotry in an unchanged form, but they placed them on their waist belts to make them more suitable for horse riding.  When riding, it is not favorable if the rider’s back is under a lot of additional weight, since controlling the horse isn’t only dependent on hands on the rein,  but also on the movement and positioning of the shoulders and the waist, which are just as influential, if not more so. Moreover, weapons carried on the waistline result in a more balanced posture for the rider, since  it lowers the center of gravity, underneath the line of the horse’s back.

The quiver fixed to the waist belt quickly became widely used by equestrian people and it was completely common by the 5th Century BCE. In images of the Scythians of Pontus, made around the 6th and 5th Century BCE, only waist-quivers can be seen, with a sort of cover on top. This cover lid could be tilted up and down, thus protecting both the bow and the archer. In the following century, 4th century BCE, that is, it was a type of open and combined compartment that became widespread in the Eastern and Western Scythian steppes. It covers approximately two thirds of the bow, the rest sticks up.

Regarding their material, quivers must have been made of thick leather and were most definitely strengthened by fish bones. Relying on the archaeological findings, we can deduce that the external side was richly decorated by embroidery and leather overlays; moreover for the nobility, golden plates were used as well.

In fact it took quite a long time for combined cases for bows and arrows to became fashionable. The bow, in particular, only found a place in the collective quiver quite late. It wasn’t until around 2000 BCE that bows were to be found in the complex weapon cases on the side of chariots, and it took even more time until they moved onto the warrior’s back. Therefore the collective case or quiver, for both bows and arrows, which developed by the First Millennium BCE, by the 6th Century BCE had moved onto the waist-belt of horsemen at first with, and later without a cover.