Archery, sport involving shooting arrows with a bow, either at an inanimate target or in hunting.
From prehistoric times, the bow was a principal weapon of war and of the hunt throughout the world, except in Australia. Recreational archery also was practiced, along with military, among the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, one instance of the latter being the competition in which Odysseus won the hand of Penelope. The Huns, Seljuq Turks, Mongols, and other nomadic horse archers dominated large parts of Asia for about 15 centuries from the 1st century CE. English longbowmen achieved glorious military victories in the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453), while on continental Europe the crossbow became widely used, especially in Switzerland, parts of Germany, France, and the Low Countries. In Europe the bow and arrow were displaced by firearms as a military weapon in the 16th century. By the time the Spanish Armada attempted to invade England in 1588, an English county troop levy consisted of one-third bowmen to two-thirds soldiers with guns, and by century’s end the bow had been almost abandoned as a weapon.
The bow was retained as a hunting weapon, and archery continued to be practiced as a sport in England by both royalty and the general public. The earliest English archery societies dated from the 16th and 17th centuries. The prince of Wales, afterward George IV, became the patron of the Toxophilite Society in 1787 and set the prince’s lengths of 100 yards (91 metres), 80 yards (73 metres), and 60 yards (55 metres); these distances are still used in the British men’s championship York round (six dozen, four dozen, and two dozen arrows shot at each of the three distances). These recreational activities with the bow evolved into the modern sport of archery. In 1844 the first of the Grand National Archery Meetings—the British championships—was held at York, and the Grand National Archery Society became the governing body of the sport in the United Kingdom. International rules were standardized in 1931 with the founding of the Fédération Internationale de Tir à l’Arc (FITA; Federation of International Target Archery) in Paris.