Arrows can sometimes even penetrate heavy armor. Yet, as far as I'm aware, Egyptians or Persians did not have heavy infantry, but only had light units.

In light of this, I am uncertain how could the art of fighting at melee distance (with swords, spears etc) not be all but obsoleted by the art of using bows, slingshots and the likes. A soldier armed with a melee weapon, I'd suppose, would be shot by an archer long before he could be able to close the distance - even if he was riding a horse. Actually, a proficient, quick-firing archer would be able to kill a few melee soldiers before one of them would finally be able to close the distance.

Thus - with the presence of ranged weapons - my question is, how possible that swords and spears were even useful in warfare in these times in these lands, that had no heavy armors?

  • 5
    Even light infantry use shields.
    – Santiago
    Sep 24, 2018 at 18:07
  • A simple silk shirt provides remarkable protection against arrows, precisely because of its sleekness. Covered by a plain leather jacket is even better. Sep 24, 2018 at 18:27
  • 5
    Most ranged shooting happens at less than 50 m, a distance a runner covers in ten seconds. How many shots can ranged units fire in that time? And it's less time because light infantry can use javelins. And light infantry is easy to levy because they don't need much training, while archers need a lot of practice and slingers a full life of it. Lluís Pons, the World Champion slinger of 2014 has difficulties hitting a watermelon at 30 m. Sep 24, 2018 at 19:48
  • 4
    @gaazkam Swords and spears were not used as melee weapons in warfare. A melee is a confused fight with the warriors of both sides mixed together. Ancient and medieval infantry battles were fought with two different blocks of warriors facing each other, the two front lines fighting each other with swords or spears. There was no melee fighting if ancient and medieval commanders could avoid it, and no melee units.
    – MAGolding
    Sep 24, 2018 at 21:13
  • 2
    @MAGolding OK. It's likely because of all those video games, but for me "melee" means "not ranged". If this is not correct, then what's the correct word? So that I can put it in my question instead of "melee".
    – gaazkam
    Sep 25, 2018 at 9:37

2 Answers 2


How it is possible that modern unprotected soldier close in to a machine gun?

Simply you try to be out of the way. If you are unprotected, you just don't put yourself where you can be hit. Light infantry with no protection against archers would simply do not engage unless compelled by external reasons. They would wait for the archers to move and attack them when they are less effective, for example in a wooded area or under the rain.

It is a common mistake: since the weapon A can beat weapon B, how is it possible that sometimes B won? The answer is: nothing happens in isolation. Tactics can compensate some weaknesses or create unexpected strengths. A guy with a Zippo can probably destroy a multi million MBT if he can drop it into the fuel tank ...

  • well said. The oh-so-common A vs B, which is best, we get all too often is simply too simplistic. The light infantry would use cover, flanking actions, approach at night even. And yes, Soviet infantry in WW2 got rather good at pouring burning gasoline into the engines of German tanks, destroying them.
    – jwenting
    Sep 26, 2018 at 5:21

Light infantry often carried small or medium sized shields. Peltasts for example carried their own type of shield. Even a buckler offers some form of protection against arrows. Not all light infantry carried shields, but many did. any kind of shield, even a simple wicker shield gives fair to reasonable protection against arrows. That's the defense side.

On the offense side, you don't have that much time to make it count. You have a range of about 50 to 100 meters for most bowmen. 50 meters is more likely. A running man can do that in less than 15 seconds. Given that his life is on the line, probably faster. How many arrows can an archer fire? Two, if he is speedy and lucky. Perhaps even three, if those archers are very experienced.

It's not enough to hit your enemy, but you need to render him combat ineffective as well. An angry infantryman with an arrow in his hip can kill you just as well as an unhurt enemy.

That's pretty difficult, even for an experienced archers equipped with a heavy longbow. Most archers weren't that good, and didn't have such powerful weapons.

I didn't mention combat stress. That's something you have to figure in as well. Shooting at a stationary target is vastly different from shooting at a rapidly approaching enemy who will definitely try to kill you within next few seconds. It's quite likely your archer won't even shoot that arrow, and either runs away (most likely) or grabs whatever he is carrying to defend himself.

Under normal circumstances archers would try to barricade themselves, so they can't be easily overrun. Light infantry normally wouldn't bluntly charge a line of archers.

Actually, a proficient, quick-firing archer would be able to kill a few melee soldiers

It's surprisingly difficult to kill an enemy. Even with modern rifles it takes a lot of ammunition to do just that. I don't have figures at hand, but several thousand (on average) is what you'll need at least. Even expert bowmen cannot match a rifle in accuracy. Making one kill is pretty good already.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Sep 26, 2018 at 14:16

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