Archery Archive: Making the Maciejowskie (part two)
By Nils Visser
Part One of this story ended in the conclusion that the Maciejowski Bow devised by Amsterdam bowyer Magén Klomp based on the pictorial evidence in the Maciejowksi Bible had a feasible basis, though the question was raised as to what happened to those bows and that French archery tradition by the time the Hundred Years War started. We pick up the story:
The Saracen mercenaries brought to Normandy by King Richard I of England were an unlikely source for the Maciejowski Bow. The 120 Saracens were too few in number to settle in serious numbers, so it’s unlikely that either their descendents or their bows could be found in France half a century after their first appearance.
I had more luck in tracing the career of King Louis IX. One of the threats this monarch faced during his reign was the tide of the Mongolian horsemen, who managed to defeat Russia, Poland and Hungary in quick succession, but then suddenly withdrew when they were a mere week away from the French border. Unbeknown to the major Western leaders, the withdrawal was the result of internal political strife. Various delegations were sent eastwards, to make contact with the Mongolians. One of the friars sent by Louis, one William of Rubruck, describes an occasion on which the supreme Khan, Möngke Khan, presents another envoy, Theodolus, with a gift for the French king.
Möngke Khan “had a very strong bow made, which two men could hardly draw, and two arrows with heads of silver, full of holes, which whistle like pipes when they are loosed. And he gave the following instructions to the Mongol he was sending with Theodolus: ‘You will go to that French King….and you will present him with these things on my behalf. If he wishes to be at peace with us…. we concede to him the rest of the world westwards; but if he does not wish peace then bring back the bow and arrows to us, telling him that with such bows we shoot far and strike hard.’”
Thus we find that the French King who had commissioned the Maciejowski Bible, with its seemingly odd pictures of composite bows, had been sent a gift of such a composite bow, a gift moreover which was an acknowledgement by an Eastern Emperor of the importance of the King of France. Was this the bow that was a model for the artists who drew the Maciejowski Bible? A bit of medieval PR as it were?
What happened to the bow? According to Rubruck, the envoy, Theodolus made it as far as Nicaea, where John III, the Byzantine emperor, exposed Theodolus as an imposter, confiscated all his goods, and had him thrown in prison. In the meantime the Mongol envoy became ill and died.
One might think that would be as far as the bow travelled, but we may suppose that John III might have sent the bow on to Louis, for he was famed for his honesty. According to Rubruck, the Byzantine emperor sent the gold seal which the Mongol envoy carried back to Möngke Khan. Presumably, someone who is honest enough to part from gold that is not his, and who was aware of the diplomatic importance of missions to the East, would have ensured that the bow was sent on to France. If that was the case, it would have arrived there in 1255-56, close enough to the timeframe in which the Maciejowski bible was supposedly commissioned (1245-1255), especially considering the fact that it wasn’t sent on to Italy for the addition of text till the early 1300s. However, we simply don’t know, the bow disappears from the story at this point.
The possibility that I might have discovered the original Maciejowski Bow, sent me scurrying back to Amsterdam, to report my findings to Klomp. I also opted my theory that the Maciejowski Bible might have been intended as a gift for the Mönke Khan, who judged the importance of rulers by the value of the gifts messengers brought, with the added benefit to Louis of educating the Khan about Christianity, he had sent similar religious gifts with a previous mission. Moreover, the battle scenes, would have also formed an implicit warning that France was armed and dangerous, an apt reply to a gift consisting of a very powerful bow with which to shoot far and strike hard.
“I like the idea. And it would certainly place the Maciejowski Bible in context, considering all the detailed blood and gore in the battle scenes. None-the-less, I´m not convinced about the bow,” Klomp said. “The timing doesn´t bother me, the overlap is near enough. But we don´t know what happened to that bow, it’s too much supposition. I´d prefer to see the thing behind glass in a museum somewhere.”
“What also bothers me is the fact that the Maciejowski Bible is so incredibly accurate in everything else,” Klomp continued. “That suggests that if you see more than one composite bow, they were there. And I just can´t imagine these bows being produced on a large scale and in such a short time, on the basis of Möngke Khan´s gift. Composite bows are notoriously difficult to make, especially if you´ve never done so before. This is one of the drawbacks of composite bows. They´re very expensive to make and highly time-consuming vis-à-vis a Longbow.”
“If the Maciejowski was meant as a gift and warning, perhaps the composite bows are in there as a ruse of war, to exaggerate actual French military might.” Pancras opted.
“Mongols who had already proven to be no fools,” Klomp shrugged. “Once again it would subtract from the accuracy of the Maciejowski Bible. If we take that accuracy as a given, then there must have been composite bows in widespread use in France, somewhere between 1255 and 1300.”
“Maybe we´re barking up the wrong tree,” Verwijmeren suggested. “Maybe the answer is much closer to home. The Saracens used composite bows, and Louis certainly knew what it was like to be facing the wrong end of those bows.”
King Louis certainly did, he had led the Seventh Crusade in 1248 and had encountered Saracens archery. But would the inclusion of such bows in the Maciejowski Bible not risk offense to the king? He had, after all, lost the Battle of Al Mansurah and the Battle of Fariskur. During the course of the latter the king’s army was annihilated and he himself was taken prisoner which cost France a large ransom. Louis IX was a public relations-savvy man, it doesn’t stand to reason that he would want to be reminded –or remind others- of a total defeat.
So, as alluring as the crusader’s link seemed, it didn’t appear to bring us closer to an answer. However, there turned out to be another link with Saracen archers, only these Saracens weren’t to be found in the Holy Land, but in Sicily, which was a Saracen domain from 965 to 1061. The latter year saw the advent of the Norman conquest of Sicily, completed by 1091.
The manner in which the Norman Kingdom of Sicily was occupied forms a striking contrast to the manner in which the William the Conqueror was securing his hold on England at the same time. Robert Guiscard, the Norman who had conquered the island, became King Roger I of Sicily, but he wanted a Sicily in which all the diverse segments of the population co-existed peacefully, in other words, he respected the cultural heritage and religions of other ethnical groups, as the Muslim author Ibn al-Athir wrote: “They [the Muslims] were treated kindly, and they were protected, even against the Franks. Because of that, they had great love for king Roger” .
This policy of tolerance and equality was continued by Roger’s successors, such as William II of Sicily, as the geographer Ibn Jubair discovered when he stopped at the island in 1184. Ibn Jubair was astounded by the manner in which the Norman rulers treated the Muslim population: “The attitude of the king is really extraordinary. His attitude towards the Muslims is perfect: he gives them employment, he choses his officers among them…..The king has full confidence in the Muslims and relies on them to handle many of his affairs, including the most important ones”.
In 1198 the Norman rule was formally replaced by the Swabian Hohenstaufen Dynasty, when Queen Constance of Sicily’s reign ended, and her son, Frederick, who was also the son of the Holy Roman Emperor, became Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily. However, in reaction to religious uprisings in Sicily, Frederick II expelled all the Muslim inhabitants of Sicily, sending many to live in the town of Lucera on the Italian mainland, so that he could exercise better control over them. By the 1240s they numbered some 20,000 to 60,000 souls and Lucera was often called Lucaera Saracenorum.
What is of special interest to us is the military service that the Sicilian Saracens performed for their Norman masters, and later for Frederick II. This is because their specialty was archery, and it gave their masters access to mounted light cavalry armed with composite bows. According to David Nicolle “The Muslim archers of Sicily were among the most effective infantry in 12th-century Europe” armed with a “powerful composite bow”. Pictorial evidence of these Sicilian Saracen archers shows the same type of bow which we have seen in the Maciejowski Bible.
According to Giovanni Amatuccio, “It is clear that the bow used by the Italian Saracens were composite…. there is sufficient evidence in the Anjou Curia documents of the Thirteenth Century to confirm this. Document charts include arcu de corno (horn bows), which were certainly composite bows. There are some references to arcu de osso (bone bows), which likely means the same type of bow”
Where were these bows made? Amatuccio says: “These bows were built by the same workers, the Saracens of the South: the most important example is the so-called ‘Chazen’ or ‘Ghazena’ Lucera, i.e. a workshop for the construction of missile throwing weapons...”
Even though Frederick II had expelled the Saracens from Sicily, the Saracens served in his armed forces, and he learned to trust them. The Saracens fought for Frederick and his son Manfred at Capua in 1229, Montichiari castle in 1236, Corenuova in 1237, Parma in 1248, Guardia dei Lombardi in 1254, San Germano in 1254, and the Marche campaign in 1264. In 1266 the Battle of Benevento was lost by Manfred and power over Sicily and Southern Italy passed to the victor, Prince Charles of Anjou, who would become King Charles I of Sicily. Some of the spoils of war were found in the treasure room of Lucera Castle, including a very large quantity of bows. The contents of this treasure room now belonged to Charles of Anjou, as did control over the Lucera Chazena.
Here comes the Eureka moment: Prince Charles of Anjou, was the son of Louis VIII of France, and the younger brother of none other than Louis IX, King of France.
Charles I of Sicily, continued to use Saracen archers in his armies, they were employed in the Balkans, Tunisia, the War of Vespro and onboard Anjou war ships. However, the numbers of Saracens employed thus started to decrease. It’s possible that Charles I didn’t place full trust in them, moreover, the popularity of the crossbow was steadily increasing. The Saracens continued to use the composite bow, traditional archery was somewhat of a spiritual obligation, the prophet Mohammed had been an archer and had extolled the virtues of archery, which explains the popularity of the craft in a place like Lucera, where, somewhat similar to the situation in Wales and England, archery was something that every man taught his son.
By the turn of the century, Charles II of Naples, decided that the presence of an Islamic community on the Italian mainland was not desirable. In 1300 his army sacked Lucera, killing the defenders, and exiling or selling the survivors into slavery. All mosques and other “alien” influences in Lucera were razed. The factory at Lucera and the expertise found there were lost.
This time, when I showed up to report my new findings, I had Klomp’s full attention. The bow which he had made based on a combination of the pictures in the Maciejowski Bible and his gut feeling, suddenly had a pedigree. It stands to reason that Louis, seeking to arm himself to face a possible Mongolian assault on France, would have appealed to his brother, who controlled an armoury full of composite bows, a production site, the artisans required to make the bows and even the archers to fire them. In answer to the question where the composite bows in the Maciejowski Bible came from, we can now venture with considerable confidence that they were made by Saracen Magistri at the Lucera Chazena in Lucera, near Foggia, Southern Italy.
I decided to mention to Magén the existence of an archery museum in Northern France, the Musée de l’archerie & du Valois, in the small town of Crépy-en-Valois. I didn’t know if anything could be found there, but the Valois was the region of France closely associated with French royalty, traditionally supplying the royal bodyguard with archers, so it seemed worth a visit. Klomp agreed, and that was how I found myself speeding southwards towards the general direction of Paris, in a car with Klomp and two photographers.
The museum is immediately visible on the approach from the direction of Compiegne. The road dips into a small valley and there is a spectacular view of very tall citadel walls, above which a medieval palace (which contains the museum) towers even further up. The palace is a gorgeous building, sturdy, huge and ancient. The museum displays bows throughout human history, from ancient replicas to modern recurves and compounds. The Hundred Years War display was disappointingly small, but compensated by the large collection of Flemish Flatbows and modern bows in the hall devoted to archery as a sport, and the display room with bows from all over the globe.
One of the display cabinets in this latter room contains two bows which captured our immediate attention, unstrung, their shape is remarkably similar to Klomp’s Maciejowski bow. The argument that this bow “didn’t exist” becomes somewhat hollow, when you see it hanging in a display cabinet in a museum.
At this stage the experience of being a regular museum visitor is supplanted by something altogether different. We’re warmly received by the museum’s curator, Mademoiselle Sandra Camino, and suddenly everyone is hard at work. One of us takes technical pictures, another takes detail and mood shots, Magén receives the bows and proceeds to take measurements, Sandra retrieves museum data, and I’ve been allocated the job of jotting down notes.
Magén is handed bows which he receives reverently, after which he scrutinizes them minutely, takes every conceivable measurement, stroking and poking the bows, and even sniffing them. When we’re done, Sandra leads us through a half concealed doorway into a maze of narrow staircases, corridors and rooms, until we arrive in a storage room which we quickly dub Chambre de Trésor: The Treasure Chamber. Scores upon scores of bows are kept on shelves, as are untold well-filled quivers, piles of boxes with arrow-heads, numerous accessories of the archer militias so common in the south of the Netherlands, Belgium and the North of France, and much more besides. Sandra hands Magén bow after bow for examination.
The hours fly by, filled with bamboo, tendons, horn, bone, bridges, siyahs, stingray skin, the aforementioned bark and lacquer, traces of red, black and gold decorations, signs of construction and repair, remnants of glue, hints of the use of files and planes, untold millimeters, centimeters and inches. It’s almost as if we can hear the bowyers of yore speaking to Magén, who is in a world of his own, enthralled by the bows he’s handling, but still providing comment about his observations, sometimes based on the most minute detail which escapes the rest of us. Everything is measured, described and noted.
Every now and then I end up with a bow in my hands. They feel heavy or light, strong and sturdy, or delicate and brittle. What they have in common is that you truly sense you’re holding something very special. How many hands have held these bows? The bowyer, who turned a stave into a bow hundreds of years ago; the trader, who displayed the bow; the archer, who strung the bow to fire it for purposes of war, hunting or sport; the collector who decided the bow was worthy of a place in his collection; the descendent who discovered the bow in the attic; the bargain hunter who brushed the dust off at a flea market; the owner who gave or sold the bow to the museum; the curator who decided where and when to display the bow; the bowyers and historians conducting research; and finally my humble self, who’s lucky enough to share the feeling of the bow with all those many others who held it over the centuries.
When Klomp took the Maciejowski from the bow rack in his workshop not all that long ago, I could have never fathomed the paths that I would subsequently travel, shadowing King Louis IX on crusade, following William of Rubruck to Mongolia, discovering an exemplary model of multi-cultural integration in Sicily, being impressed by the hive of industry at Lucera, then staring in amazement at a familiar shape in a display cabinet and finally holding veritable treasures from the past in a genuine treasure chamber in the depths of a medieval castle.
Klomp is digesting the details and construction of all those bows he handled, and one can almost hear the gears turning in his head. The quest for the Maciejowski is far from over, there are new bows to design and build, more secrets to uncover and more knots to unravel. Until then, may your arrows fly straight and true.
The Weapons of Warre: The Armaments of the Mary Rose, Alexzandra Hildred (ed). Published by the Mary Rose Trust, 2010.
The Mongol Mission, Christopher Dawson, published by Sheedd and Ward, 1955
Les Arabes dans l'histoire, by Bernard Lewis, Flammarion (1997)
The Normans, by David Nicholle, Osprey Publishing (January 22, 1987)
Saracen Archers in Southern Italy, by Giovanni Amatuccio, De Re Militari (June 2001)
Aspects of the interchange of military technology in the Norman-Swabian South, John Amatucci, Budriesi, Bologna 2009
 The Mission of Friar William of Rubruck (The Mongol Mission)
 The Mission of Friar William of Rubruck (The Mongol Mission)
 Les empires normands d’Orient, by Pierre Aubé, page 168
 Les Arabes dans l'histoire, by Bernard Lewis, page 148
 The Normans, by David Nicholle, page 59
Saracen Archers in Southern Italy, by Giovanni Amatuccio
 Aspects of the interchange of military technology in the Norman-Swabian South, by Giovanni Amatuccio.
If the Anjou family and the Pope had not insisted on the eradication of Saracen Lucera, it's conceivable that the French King could have had thousands of Saracen Horse Archers at his disposal at the B
Richard the Lionheart's Saracen Mercenaries
A reader has requested some clarification with regard to one of the claims made in the article Making the Maciejowski, namely that Richard I of England had made use of Saracen mercenaries in Normandy. Quite possibly this is due to that reader’s familiarity with a number of works, such as Verbruggen’s The Art of Warfare in Western Europe during the Middle Ages which mention this fact without linking it to a source.
However, for Making the Maciejowski, we did manage to locate a source, who in turns bases his observations on a number of primary sources. This source is Professor F.M. Powicke’s essay The Saracen Mercenaries of Richard I., which can be found in THE SCOTTISH HISTORICAL REVIEW.
Powicke mentions a number of sources, allocating generous reference to the input of a number of other researchers into this subject, for the purposes of brevity I will skip these names and focus on the primary sources.
Firstly, there is a passage referring to one hundred and twenty Saracens (Mamluks) from the Holy Land who depart with or for Richard. This appeared in a 14th century manuscript written by one of the continuators of William of Tyre. This particular manuscript contains other references which make it a reliable source. It has been printed “as text D in the edition of the so-called Histoire d'Heracles, published by the Academic des Inscriptions (Recueil des Historiens des Croisades^ Historiens Occidentaux^ vol. ii. (1859) P- J 9^"
Where and when these mercenaries might have gone to, is revealed by the Norman Exchequer roll. The roll of 1195 contains the following entries (ed. Stapleton, i. 221):
In liberationibus Saracenorum morantium apud Domfront per preceptum Regis, a die Lune proxima post festum Sancti Michaelis usque de die lune post festum Sancti Egidii, c. li. ix. li. vj. so. per breve Regis. . . . Gibelino Saresceno in solta pertae equi sui 1. so. per idem breve.
Two other entries on this page refer to the Saracens. Again, on the roll for the year 1198 (ii. 301):
Soubresaillant et Saracenis suis c. li. xxxv. li. de liberatione sua per breve Regis.
Powicke adds that some have put forth the argument that the reference to Saracens on these rolls were actually references to Welsh mercenaries. However, tracing some of the names that appear back to their origin we end up with names like Bait-Jibrint, the name referring to an inhabitant of Jibrint.
As a further secondary supporting source Professor Powicke refers to Beha-ed-din’s narrative which demonstrates that Richard did enter meaningful communication with Saracen prisoners and ambassadors after the relief of Jaffa in 1192 (Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society's translation of Beha-ed-din, p. 371 seqq.) Moreover, references to the friendship between Richard and Saladin’s brother El-Adel Saphadin are common.
Powicke also refers to the persistent stories that Richard had Saracen Assassins in his armies, mentioning that the 120 Mamluk mercenaries may well have provided the source for such tales. We can presume that the language and culture barriers could have meant that the Mamluk contingent in Richard’s army kept to themselves and can almost hear the subsequent campfire gossip about these mysterious warriors.
These revelations would also place into context the appearance of names such as Mahumet, Bekmet and Peter the Saracen in various rolls from Angevin England, discussed in a number of places such as Who was ‘Mahumet’? Arabs in Angevin England by John S. Moore of the University of Bristol.
I hope this clarifies matters somewhat.