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Doug asked a question about these here, so I thought I'd create this page.

There are a great number of these thumb rings,  archer's rings, on the market and on eBay especially.



I just had a look on eBay; there are right now, 14 rings offered as "archer's rings.

Three are not conceivably archers rings at all and we can ignore them here.

The other eleven  are described and dated thus:

"Roman" and 1st to 3rd century = 6

"Roman" 1st century = 2

"Roman" 100BC -100 AD = 1

"Roman/Celtic" 1st -4th century = 1

"Roman/Medival" over 1500 years old = 1

Only the last  two are conceivaby right about the date but actualy , looking at the pieces I'd say that both are modern fakes.



There is much more information  Asian and ancient Chinese archery than Roman.  Not only is the Central Asian bow's construction, and the military tactics of its use different from the European, but the method of firing it is also quite different.


The Mongolian or Chinese draw was used by the majority of the steppe peoples. It used the thumb to draw the string back and they wore a ring on their thumb to protect it from the string, and the release. This was usually in the form of a cylindrical or lipped ring. In Japan, a glove with a stiffened thumb stall is used rather than a thumb ring.


The thumb draw is  a faster draw than the Mediterranean draw used in Europe and by the Romans during Imperial times. 



Early examples of archers' thumb rings have been found in Zhou dynasty (1100 - 221 B.C.) graves in China. These early thumb rings are a version of the lipped form, but by the Manchu period (A.D. 1644-1911), the cylindrical form was universally popular in China. In other areas of Asia, the lipped thumb ring was common. Korean rings generally have a flattened lip, whereas thumb rings from Persia, Turkey, and India have a more rounded lip.


Archers' thumb rings are made of a variety of materials such as precious and semi-precious stones, bone, horn, wood, metal, ceramics, and glass. Highly decorated rings were often made for ornamental purposes and as symbols of status rather than for actual use in shooting the bow and arrow. In China, thumb rings were often carried in cylindrical cases that were suspended from the waist.


Some interesting information here, as well as many photos.



The ring expanded somewhat on the side held towards the bow string, creating a small ledge for it. The expansion was sometimes curved in the opposite shape to that of the thumb so as to hold the string more securely, but more commonly curved with the thumb, so that the string was released smoothly as the thumb was opened.


This is how an archer's ring works.


European archers, including the Romans in Imperial times at least,  normally pulled the string with two or three  fingers  with the arrow resting against the string between the pointer and middle finger.

The Mediterranean draw or its variants are the only traditional form attested in Europe; they are also native to the Middle East, appearing on Assyrian carvings at all periods.


To protect the shooting fingers, the European archers wore a glove or a leather tab over the fingers. To protect the arm holding the bow from the snap of the string upon releasing, a bracer was worn on the inside of the forearm, sometimes made of leather, but often made of bone, antler, or even stone.




So it is generally accepted that the prevailing method of string release by Roman archers was the "Mediterranean release" which did not involve the use of a  archer's thumb ring. But there is evidence to suggest that the "Mongolian release" was increasingly adopted from the late 4th century and after but the prevailing method was the "Mediterranean release"

Late Roman Infantryman AD 236-565: 236-565 AD by MacDowall and Embleton

The Romans' learnt very quickly from the nomadic tribes who harried their borders in late antiquity. Not only did they rapidly adopt the compact power of the composite recurve bow, they learnt so well that by the mid-sixth century the horse-archer's thumb-draw was already well established in East Roman use but Sassanian art shows the Persian draw as being done with the two top fingers (index and adjacent).



The penetrative quality of Roman equipment used at the battle of Callinicum [C.E. 531] was due to the adoption of the Hunnic bow and the Mongolian release. Procopius says the bow used by the Persians at Callinicum was much weaker and the arrows unable to pierce armour, even though the rate of delivery was greater. The mounted Byzantine archers were also armoured with corselets and knee-high greaves. A shield was worn on the shoulder to protect face and neck when shooting. This would have given protection whatever the angle from which the archer shot, the small size of the shield permitting him to shoot his weapon unimpeded. The mounted archer was also expected to fight at close quarters, for which he carried a sword suspended on the left side. Some were also equipped with spears.


There were several cohorts of archers in the Roman army (sagittarii), primarily from the Eastern Empire where horse archery was one of the main forms of warfare.  The superb horsemanship of these areas also meant that many cavalry units (equitate and alae) may have contained archers, a theory supported by archery-related finds in areas where no specific archery units were based.


There was only one specific archery unit based in Britannia, Cohors Primae Hamiorum Sagitariorum (First Cohort of Hamian Archers).  These were archers from tribes in Syria and are thought to have been present in the invasion of Britain in 43 AD.  They were based at Carvoran (Magnis) and were moved to the Antonine Wall fort at Bar Hill around AD158.  They were then moved back to Magnis and were for a short time stationed at Housesteads on Hadrian's Wall, where a massive find of over 800 arrow heads was discovered in the bow workshop there. 

This unit was one of the few that continued to recruit from its original territory in Syria, although as the situation in the West deteriorated, they may well have recruited locals, been recalled to the continent or merely disbanded.


Roman Archery Equipment', in M.C. Bishop (ed.), The Production and Distribution of Roman Military Equipment. Proceedings of the Second Roman Military Equipment Seminar, BAR International Series 275, Oxford, 1985, 220-366.



  • The Medieval long bow introduced  in the early 13th century  was pulled with the Mediteranean draw so where were all these apparently European archer's thumb rings used?

  • Not with the earlier, smaller Norman bow; that was also pulled with the forefingers.

  • Not by the Romans before the 5th century (other by a small nminority of  eccentric mavericks).

  • Not by those eslewhere in Europe who were not using the longbow, because they preferred the cross bow.
  • So who used all these ancient thumb rings which have come down through the ages in such quantity?

  • The answer is simply, that apart from mostly unattested examples which may have been used in Byzantine Europe from about the 5th/6th century until the about the 11th/12th century,  the vast majority are simple fakes, mostly manufactured in the Balkans and sold on eBay.


7th January 2009.


If genuine would be a really important finds.

But they are not.

(Top and bottom, from the same seller and made by the same hand)


September '10

Now that eBay has taken a little action against sellers of fakes, most of the archer's rings on offer there are stated to be "Roman style": whih suggests that the sellers do  not believe they are actually ancient.

These are some of them.

How do the sellers of supposedly genune archer's rings tell the difference from these "replicas".


Some on offer as  "reproductions".


I have removed a few photos at request of the seller who is utterly convinced, and I believe entirely genuinely so,  that they are Roman archer's rings.


From Harry

courtesy of the yahoo ancientartfacts group

 I'm always amazed how often "Roman" thumb rings are advertised, since it is almost a contradiction in terms. 

The only place one might find a "Roman" thumb ring would be in a Hun or Massagetaen auxiliary's equipment, since Roman (and most allied/associated) archers used the two fingered draw. 

Let me also note, from my own experiences and experiments in "primitive" archery, that organic thumb rings (bone, horn, etc.) generally work better than metal ones, but organic rings are unlikely to have survived long enough to make it to E-Bay. 

The prevalence of metal thumb rings on the market, I suspect, has a lot more to do with the conveniences of forgeries than with reality.



This is a really excellent paper on the subject.


Beyond Jewellery: Archers’ Rings in the Medieval Balkans (14th -15th Centuries) by Vesna Bikic of The Institute of Archaeology in Belgrade.





This paper begins with a very  interesting and useful general history of archer's  rings. Here it is emphasised that archer’s rings were used with compound bows which were not used by the Romans.   They  used long bows with which one would not use an archer’s ring.  

More forgeries of ancient rings>>