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This question concerns why Cretan archers were so prolific and well regarded during Antiquity.

As seen in Xenophon's Anabasis Cretan archers often were hired to serve as mercenaries in Greece and continued to do so during the wars of Alexander the Great

For example: Xenophon's Anabasis 1.2.9 and Arrian's Anabasis 2.9.3

My question is now: Why did the Cretan archers become such famous and often hired archers?

The rest of the Greek world seemed to hold a somewhat low opinion of archers, but the Cretan archer seemed to be a household name.

As seen in: Davis, Todd Alexander. Archery in Archaic Greece. Columbia University, 2013

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Depictions of bow hunting were prevalent in Minoan art, even prior to 2000 BCE when the Minoan culture was thought to have started flourishing (until 1500 BCE). While the bow is an effective hunting tool, it's also a good defense weapon for sea-faring cultures. The Minoans traded extensively with Egypt and mainland Greece, among other Mediterranean cultures of the time. Pirates were in existence around this time, so having archers with good aim would have been a fantastic pirate deterrent.

If the Minoan civilization had recognized archery as a valuable skill early on during the formation of their culture, the skill would have been developed quickly with the subsequent generations becoming more proficient than the last.

For a very similar example, look to the Balearic slingers. There's accounts from historians such as Livy, Strabo, and Pliny that explain how the art of sling use was passed down and held to a high standard in the ancient Balearic islands.

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  • Thanks for the excellent answer. If no-one has anything to add I will accept it in a couple of hours. Feb 17 '18 at 13:14

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