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Up until firearms were invented, armies used archers for similar purposes. A well-timed volley, when one can't see the sky for the flying arrows, can have a demoralizing effect on the enemy in addition to the physical damage it is likely to cause.

In order for a volley to be well-timed, the archers had to take aim and shoot simultaneously, following a single order given by a single commander. Ever since the advent of firearms that order has been "Fire!"

Now imagine, say, a Roman centurion, his back to the archers standing in formation, waiting for his signal. He's watching the enemy's movements. Now he raises his hand. He waits. At last he judges that the right moment has come. He shouts a single word, sonorously enough to be heard by every single one of his archers ... What is that word?

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    For arrows, I suspect it would be "shoot" or "loose" or even "release".
    – Steve Bird
    Nov 5, 2015 at 7:17
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    Don't know what about Latin, but in Russian "стрелять" (to shoot) is definitely derived from "стрела" (arrow).
    – Matt
    Nov 5, 2015 at 7:45
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    @Ricky The only documentable medieval words of command for archers seem to have been "Knock"[sic] and "Streach"[sic]. That is, we may speculate, but have no sources. On the matter of vowels, there could be some difference in medieval pronounce, or even special "military" form.
    – Matt
    Nov 5, 2015 at 9:16
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    @Ricky So "Loose!" would be something King Harold, or one of his commanders, would should at the Battle of Hastings? Probably not. Loose is known only from 1200s. Also "Release" is impossible, as it's certainly of French origin.
    – Matt
    Nov 5, 2015 at 9:45

1 Answer 1

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Presumably a Roman Centurion would have used the Latin word sagittō.

CAUTION - I neither speak Latin nor do I study etymology, so what exists in an online Latin translator today may have little or no bearing on the archaic Latin used two millenia ago.

sagitto, no perf., ātum, 1, v. n. and a. [id.]. Neutr., to discharge arrows, to shoot with arrows (post-Aug. for sagittam jacere, etc.): hos equitare et sagittare docent, Just. 41, 2, 5; Curt. 7, 5, 42; Sol. 19 med.; Vulg. Psa. 10, 2; 63, 4.

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    BTW. Roman legionaries had no bows at all. Only some auxiliary units (sagittariorum) spesialised in archery. Not sure, if those auxiliaries were really commanded by centurions. Moreover, it could be that many guys in auxilias didn't speak Latin at all, so they got commands in their native language.
    – Matt
    Nov 5, 2015 at 18:05
  • Roman activities of any sort were always coordinated, at least in theory. Legionnaires did not drag rams and catapults on their backs either. So what.
    – Ricky
    Nov 5, 2015 at 18:11
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    @Ricky Legionaries had only javelins (pilum), which they used for mid-range attack (about 30 meters). So they just stayed in place, while archers were shooting.
    – Matt
    Nov 5, 2015 at 18:17
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    @Ricky Well, the archer unit commander may spoke Latin. But when he commanded to his soldiers "shoot", he, probably, said this in Greek (cf. Cretan archers). BTW. Roman nobles spoke Greek too.
    – Matt
    Nov 5, 2015 at 18:48
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    @Ricky: Seems to me you are forgetting all of: corps, fusilier, musket, musketeer; sergeant, corporal, lieutenant, lancer, corsair, and uncountable others adapted into other European languages from French Nov 8, 2015 at 1:04

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