Friday, April 27, 2012

I'll show you where you can stick your bow

Update 12/10/13:  This post contains information that is probably incorrect.  Please see here.

While bows could be simply carried around the shoulder, a practical method of carrying them had evolved on the Steppe consisting of a large holster with a quiver on the side.  This bowcase is referred to in Greek sources as a gorytos (pl. gorytoi, Lat. gorytus).  It lasted for hundreds of years before being replaced with the separate bowcase and quiver of Turkish and Mongol horse archers.

The Achaemenid gorytos consisted of a rectangular, presumably leather pocket worn diagonally, bottom-forward, at the left hip.  Its forward corner was rounded off.  It was probably one piece of leather, folded and stitched along the upper edge with what looks in some illustrations to be a Holbein stitch, though in others a separate creased strip runs along the top edge which I am not sure how to interpret.  The strung bow rested in the case staff-down, and the curved corner follows the curve of the bow's tip.  This left the bottom corner of the gorytos empty.  A good overview may be seen here (second from the bottom on the left).

Another image of the gorytos showing (what I believe to be) a Holbein stitch.

It was attached to the belt by a thong that was held down with rivets to the sides.  If that sounds hard to understand, it's because it is.  Below I'll discuss a possible method.  The belt attachment is shown to have been more than halfway down from the tip of the bow.  I've found that it should be less than halfway down for the case to hang at the correct angle - the fact that art shows otherwise is again probably due to the artistic convention of showing the bow as smaller than it was.  For the same reason, the cover (below) was shown as making up more than half the case's visible length when the case was assembled; it actually makes up less than half.

The arrow pocket was presumably on the side of the case facing the wearer and thus invisible in most processionary art.  When the bow had been removed for combat, the case could be rotated so the fletched ends of the arrows pointed forward and were within reach of the right hand.
A simple plan for the main section.

Stitching is never visible on the cover, but I am working on the assumption that its construction was the same as the case itself.

Making your own
The gorytos is one piece of equipment you will have to make yourself (or have custom-made).  There are simply no readymade replicas available on the market that I've ever seen.

Constructing one is tedious but straightforward.  Use heavy (around eight-ounce/3mm) leather.  Cut the main piece about 2/3 the length and six inches (15cm) more than twice the width of your bow.  Cut the cover quite a bit wider - say, four inches - in the areas where it will slide over the case.  I seamed the cover of mine on the bottom edge - the opposite side from the case's seam - since the cover is more-or-less straight on the top edge.  Now cut out and position a third piece to form the arrow pocket.  It should be more than half the length of your arrows and must be several inches from the cover when the cover is in place so you aren't forced to jam the cover down over the arrows.

Lightly moisten a line down the middle of the case and cover pieces, on the flesh side.  Fold them, smooth side out, and place weight on top so they'll dry in the right shape.

Make stitch holes with an awl, leather punch or small drill bit as the thickness and hardness of your leather requires.  Using heavy sinew or string (about four times the length of the seam), first stitch on the arrow pocket and then close the bowcase and cover seams.

Belt attachment
My own solution to this problem was to rivet down a piece of leather through which a leather lace is threaded.

The forward side of the lace attachment.

The holes for the lace are punched into the intermediary leather piece first.  Then the bottom three rivets  - solid ones with washers - attach the intermediary to the unstitched case below the line of stitch holes, being hammered down on the inside of the case, and the lace is threaded through the intermediary.  After the case is sewn, the upper two rivets are installed; these are longer rivets that go all the way through the case above the stitching.

On the back.

It doesn't look good, but with larger, domed rivets covering most of the intermediary piece, it would probably look something like the originals.

It won't fit there
If you bowcase or cover are too tight for the bow, you can expand them by dampening and filling them with various objects, such as wooden boards and dowels, wherever they need to loosen so the bow can be removed easily when you go to shoot.  Don't use loose matter (the way you would expand a leather water bottle with grain or sand); you don't want the case to bloat like a balloon, but simply to expand in the necessary places while maintaining its shape.  I recommend doing this especially for the top end of the cover, where the curved tip of the bow fits rather snugly.

It's also essential for the arrow pocket to hold the arrows loosely (including large blunt safety arrows) so you can draw them fast.  Put a board (a large book works okay if you're careful not to make the arrow pocket too wet) into the bowcase to hold it taught, then fill the pocket with dowels, wiffle bats, just about anything to give it a full shape, filling in as evenly as possible to prevent lumps.  Let the leather dry completely before removing the objects.

The gorytos is a very convenient system for carrying and using your bow and arrows, as yours truly demonstrates.
1st row, L-R:  From walking position, swing the gorytos around, pull off the cover with your arrow hand and lift the bow out with your bow hand.
2nd row:  Remove the arrows with your arrow hand and notch.
Photos taken by Ashley Holt of the Hoplite Association.

Next up:  The Persian army.


  1. Do you think this would work out okay if the leather was hardened with wax to keep it stiff?

  2. I'm ambivalent about that. I don't think stiffness is that important; what you want is leather than can hold its shape without "cracking," and a medium-heavy vegetable-tanned leather works for that if molded where necessary but not otherwise hardened. I got my gorytos to Marathon 2011 by squishing it into a suitcase, and it came out unharmed.

    On the other hand, some sort of waterproofing would be a good idea to keep the molded leather from deforming if it gets caught in the rain. What'd be good would be something flexible at room temperature but not tacky or prone to staining wood and cloth it came into contact with, as leather treated with liquid oil tends to do. I'll perhaps try out beeswax or a drying oil like linseed if I can get my hands on some.