The Turks are wondrous expert at shooting with the Bow; they accustom themselves to that Exercise from 7 or 8, to 18 or 20 Years of Age, and hereby their Arms grow stronger, and their Skill so great, that they will hit the smallest Mark with their Arrows. Their Bows are not much stronger, but for their shortness much handier than ours; they are not made of plain Wood, but of a String and Ox’s Horn, fastened with much Glue and Flax. These sort of Bows, though never so strong, the Turks, who are used to the Sport, can easily draw even to their very Ear; and yet one that is not accustomed thereto, though never so strong a Man, cannot draw to that height, so as to strike a piece of Money, set up-right between the Bow and the String, in the Angle where it is put into the Notch.
They aim their Arrows so sure, that in a Fight they will hit a Man’s very Eye, or any other Part they design to strike. In the place where they exercise, you may see them direct by their stroke so artfully, that 5 or 6 of their Arrows will stick round about the White in the Butt, (which is usually less than a Dollar) and yet not hurt or touch it. They stand not above 30 Foot from the Butt: In the Thumb of their Right Hand, they use Rings of Bone, on which the String lies, when they draw it; and with the Thumb of their Left Hand, they draw the Arrow by a knot bearing outwards; far otherwise than they do with us. Their Butt is made of a Bank of sandy, gravelly Earth, raised about four Foot high from the Ground, and strongly surrounded with Boards. But the Basbaws, and those that have great Families, train up their Servants in this Exercise, at their own House, where the more skilful teach the inexperienced. Some of these in their solemn Bayram, (for they also have their Easter) assemble themselves together in a great Plain about Pera, where sitting over-against one another cross-legged, as Taylors do with us, (for that is the manner of their sitting) they begin with Prayer (so the Turks begin all their Enterprizes) and then they strive, who shall shoot an Arrow farthest. The whole Contest is managed with a great deal of Decency and Silence, though the number of Spectators be very great. Their Bows are very short for this Exercise, and the shorter the better, so that they are hardly bendable, but by well-practised Persons: Their Arrows also are of a peculiar kind. He that conquers hath a Linnen-Handkerchief, such as we use to wipe off our Sweat, wrought with embroidered Needle-work, for his Reward; but his greatest Encouragement, is the Commendation and Renown he gets. It is almost incredible how far they will shoot an Arrow; they mark the place, with a Stone, where the farthest Arrow, for that Year, was lodged. There are many such Stones in the Field, placed there Time out of Mind, which are farther than they are able to shoot now-a-days, they say. These were the Marks of their Ancestor’s Archery, whose Skill and Strength in Shooting, they acknowledge, they cannot reach to. In divers Streets and Cross-ways of the City of Constantinople, there are also such Sports, wherein not only Children and young Men, but even the graver sort do exercise themselves. There is one that takes care of the Butt, who waters it every Day, otherwise it would be so dry, that an Arrow (the Turkish Arrows being always blunt) would not stick therein. And he that thus oversees the Mark is very diligent to draw out and to cleanse the Arrows, and throw them back to the Archers, and he hath a Stipend from them sufficient to maintain him. The Front of the Butt is like a little Door, whence, perhaps came the Greek Proverb; that, when a Man missed the Mark, he is said to shoot extra januam, ‘besides the Door’; for, I suppose, the Greeks used this way of Butting, and that the Turks borrowed it from them. I grant the use of the Bow is very ancient among the Turks; but that hinders not, but, when they conquered the Grecian Cities, they might still retain their way of butting and bounding their Arrows. For no Nation scruples to transfer the profitable Inventions of other Nations to themselves, as I might instance in Great Ordnance, and in Muskets, and other things, which, though not our Inventions, yet the Turks borrow their use of from us.
It is true, they could never yet be brought to the Printing of Books, nor to the setting up public Clocks. The Reasons are, that their Scripture (i.e. Alchoran), would no longer be called Scripture, or Writing, if it were Printed, (that’s their Fancy); and for Clocks, they suppose, that the Authority of their Emraim, and of their ancient Rites would be diminished, if they should permit the Use of them. In other Cases, they ascribe much to the ancient Institutions of other Nations, even almost to the prejudice of their own Religion. I speak of their Commonalty.
All Men know how averse they are from the approving of Christian Rites and Ceremonies; and yet, let me tell you, that, whereas the Greek Priests do use, at Spring-time, a certain way of Consecration to open the Sea for Sailors (before which time, they will hardly commit their Vessels to the Waters) the Turks also observe the same Ceremony: For, when their Vessels are ready to sail, they repair to the Grecians, and ask them, whether they have consecrated the Sea? If they say No, they desist; if Yea, then they set sail and away. It was also a Custom of the Greeks not to open the Pits, in the Isle of Lemnos, for the digging out of the Earth, called Agosphragod, before the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord, viz. August 6. The Turks also observe the fame Custom; and, whereas the Grecian Priests did anciently celebrate the Liturgy at that time, the Turks will have them do so still; and they themselves stand at a distance, as Spectators only: And, if you ask them, why they do this? Their Answer is, that there are useful Customs practised of old, the Causes whereof are not known. The Ancients, they say, saw and knew more than we; and, therefore, we will not violate their Customs, lest we do it to our loss. This Opinion hath so far prevailed against many of them, that I know some, who in private will baptize their Children, alledging, there is some good in that Rite, and that it was not instituted, at first, without just Cause.
Having acquainted you thus far with the Turkish Exercises, let me add one more. They have a Custom derived from the Parthians, that they counterfeit flying away on Horseback, and presently turn back and kill their unwary Pursuers. The way they learn to do it, is that: They erect a high Pole, almost in plain Ground, with a brass Globe on the top of it; about this they spur their Horses, and having got a little beyond, the Horse still galloping, they presently turn about, and flying along, shoot an Arrow into that Globe. The frequent Use hereof makes them expect that their Bow being turned in their Flight, their unwary Enemy is shot through.