Parthian Shot

parthian shot

The Parthian [pahr-thee-uhnshot was a military tactic made famous by the Parthians (an ancient Iranian empire). Their archers mounted on light horse, while retreating at a full gallop, would turn their bodies back to shoot at the pursuing enemy. The maneuver required superb equestrian skills, since the rider’s hands were occupied by his bow. As the stirrup had not been invented yet, the rider relied solely on pressure from his legs to guide his horse. The tactic was first employed by Eurasian nomads, including the Scythians, Huns, Turks, Magyars, and Mongols, before spreading to armies away from the Eurasian steppe, such as the Sassanid clibanariis and cataphract.

The Parthians famously used it to defeat the Roman general Crassus in the Battle of Carrhae. The phrase ‘parting shot’ has its origins from the Parthian shot. The first recorded usage was by John McCleod, surgeon on board the HMS Alceste contained in: ‘A narrative of a Voyage to the Yellow Sea’ (1818). The two phrases have rather similar phonetic soundings but are actually separately derived at different times. Although the Parthian archers of old have been famous for their shooting, the term ‘parthian shot’ was recorded for the first time in 1832 by Captain Mundy, ADC to Lord Combermere on a hunting trip in India.

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