This page is part of the official ARCHIVE COPY of the pioneering but abandoned Thrower website on knife throwing. Copyright and details

Throwing Arrows, Ouneps and Amentum.
By Phil West

        Throwing arrows, or at least javelins that resemble arrows have been used by several cultures, including the Romans and Plains Indians.
        One form of Roman weapon is described as being about 10" long with an iron head, lead shaft and tin fins. Thrower Jim Burdine has discovered some references to legionaries carrying a rack of such missiles on the inside of their shields, at least in some regions or periods of the Empire. The Celts are known to have used a hardwood and iron weapon of about 21" length.(This are the weapons termed "Irish Darts"in "Slash and Thrust" by John Sancez. This source also describes the lead, iron and tin Roman dart detailed above.
         By the middle ages such short spears or Darts were also popular in other regions, particularly with the Arabs and Spanish (no doubt due to Moorish influence). "Spanish Darts" were one of the many weapons Henry VIII was proficient with, and "top dartes" were thrown from the rigging of warships.
        Hand thrown arrows are sometimes reffered to as "Dutch Arrows".
        This article will deal with less conventionally thrown arrows.

        In his book "The Art of Attack" H.S.Cowper refers to a class of weapon that he calls "javelins", although he concedes the term is also used for conventional spears.
        Cowper uses the term Javelin to define "...short pointed missiles flung by the wrist, not propelled straight by the forearm, but twirling in the air end over end before striking the object aimed at" - ie something that looks like a spear but is thrown like a knife. Most of these are between one and three feet in length.
        Obviously this use of the term javelin has fallen into disuse. Cowper suggests this was the type of weapon Saul threw at David- sitting around the throne room with a full size spear and throwing it a such short range seems unlikely.
        Cowper describes several examples. The Persians used an all metal weapon 2.5 feet long, and sometimes carried two or three in the same sheath. The Arabs used the MIZRAK, which had a 15" head, 23" shaft and a spiked butt.
        The Greek version had a head at each end, but then so do certain Greek spears. The Knight's Armoury at Malta had large stocks of sticks with a spear point at each end. These two foot long weapons were intended for throwing from the walls. Most of the two pointed weapons have one head smaller than the other. It's true that this is a feature of many double pointed throwing knives but it is just as likely the lesser point is for close combat or sticking the thing in the ground. Two pointed examples certainly exist but the majority of these weapons are single pointed and single bladed tumbling weapons seem to have seen very little battlefield use .
        Cowper's javelins resemble short spears or throwing arrows, but are thrown end over end like a throwing knife. Pretty obviously it is hard to tell by looking if a short spear was thrown knife fashion or spear fashion, and in many cases the answer may be either.
        The best evidence for such missiles being used that I have found comes from Japan. The Uchi-ne resembles a short stocky arrow about 12" long with a 4" head. The Nage-yari is a short spear about 17" long with a 5" head. Often tassels are fitted behind the head which may aid drag stabilisation. According to some books, these short missiles are used in the defence of Palanquins.
        Michael Finn's book on shuriken plainly shows a Uchi-ne being thrown in the same way as a knife, but holding the bottom of the shaft beneath the vanes. Don. F. Draeger lists Uchi-ne Jitsu as a skill practiced by Samurai. In Shirakami's book there is also an illustration of Uchi-ne throwing, but this arrow is about two and a half feet long, and obviously thrown as a spear. Interestingly, this illustration also shows a retrieval cord. Most illustrations of Uchi-ne that I've encountered have been of the shorter variety, however.
        The uchi-ne was obviously intended to fly point first and there is some indication that the nageyari was drag stabilized -the shaft appears tapered and there seems to be a tassel behind the head. The question that intrigues me is were Nageyari thrown like spears or knives, and did they have enough drag stabilization to fly point first or did they tumble as Cowper assumes?
        For a modern version of such weapons, see here.

        These weapons pose several questions which are worth investigating.
        i) How long a shaft is needed to get a knife to fly point first? This will of course vary with head length and mass. Could a formulae to predict the length needed be found?
        ii) Will adding a shaft to a knife significantly increase its range?
        iii) Will adding a shaft to a undersized or too light knife turn it into a more effective missile?
        Sadly I don't have the room or resources to experiment with these ideas at the moment but would like to hear from anyone who decides to give them a try. In addition to wood a good shaft material may be plastic pipe.

Throwing with Strings.

        In his book "The Crossbow", Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey describes arrow throwing as it was practiced by pitmen of the West Riding region, Yorkshire.
        Where the Yorkshire technique differs from most of these is that it uses a length of string.
         This string had an overhand knot tied at one end and this end was attached to the arrow by means of a half hitch. Hitching point was 16" back from the head, just behind the centre of gravity. The other end of the string was wrapped around the index finger of the throwing hand. The arrow was then grasped just behind the head with the thumb and second and third fingers, the index finger keeping the string taunt. The arrow is thrown like a spear, but the string increases the efficiency/duration of energy transfer. (I'll leave it to the Physics teachers on this list to explain it better!)
        As the arrow leaves the thrower the half hitch unties itself and so the string stays with the thrower.
        The arrows used were 31 inches long, with an ogival tip and 5/16 of an inch wide at the head end. The arrow tapered to a point 3/16 of an inch wide at the back end. Centre of balance was 13" from the head. The entire arrow would have weighed only a little more than half an ounce. Usual material was hazelwood with a pith core. This would be dried for two years before being used to make an arrow. A good arrow was highly prized by its owner.
        The purpose of arrow throwing was for amusement and competition.
        An typical throw ranged from about 240 to 250 yards, although the better throwers may manage 280 to 300 yards. The longest recorded throw was 372 yards.
        As an experiment, Payne-Gallwey asked a thrower to use this technique with a flight arrow from a bow. A range of 180 to 200 yards was achievable. Given Payne-Gallwey's other interests I suspect that this was a turkish arrow which would have weighed 7dr, or 7/8th of an ounce.
        The arrows used in Yorkshire were not used for hunting or war, but the technique of throwing a missile further with a length of cord was used in a more beligerent manner by other cultures. Natives of the New Hebrides, New Caledonia and New Guinea used a device called the Ounep.The only difference between this and the Yorkshireman's string is that it was used on full sized spears and the hitch was tied at the centre of gravity rather than the butt. The finger end of the cord might have a loop tied rather than just being wrapped around the finger. The Ounep allowed a spear to be thrown further, and theoretically a thrower would not be in danger from a return cast unless the enemy had a Ounep of his own.
        The principle of the Ounep was known to the Greeks and Romans, although they used a loop of cord tied permanently to the shaft. This was known as the Amentum (thong or strap) to the Romans and the Ankulé to the Greeks. This device was used by the javelin armed Pelasts of the Greek world.
Note On the Spears page I describe the Amentum as being the Greek term -it is in fact the Roman. (Sorry!)

        Some of the thrower list members have played around with such ideas -to quote a post from the archive:-

Trevor:- I was clearing out my workshop and found an old broken arrow -
I spent some time tidying it up, then went out to see how it threw.
Quite pleasing results - with no great effort (I don't want to damage a still injured shoulder)
and no runup, I was throwing a less than ideal arrow consistently around 85 metres (275-280 ft).
I'm now in the process of making a matched set for some real practice.
Phil:- Are you attaching your ounep at the centre of gravity, as you would a spear,
or back towards the rear as the old west riding boys did?
Trevor:-About 2/3 of the way back - so it's not even close to the CoG
(which is only a few inches from the front).
Phil:- This device was also used for throwing full sized spears -be nice if
someone with the room and the weapons could do a comparison of
hand, ounep and atlatl thrown spears.

Mail to mjr, goto Survival, or back to Thrower

This page is part of the official ARCHIVE COPY of the pioneering but abandoned Thrower website on knife throwing. Copyright and details