Nŏruznāme [The Book of Nŏruz]: A 11th century manuscript on archery

Nŏruznāme [The Book of Nŏruz]: A 11th century manuscript on archery: A chapter of the book Nŏruznāme [The Book of Nŏruz] attributed to Omar ben Ebrāhim Xayyām-e Neyšāburi deals with archery.  Above all, the poems, and also the scientific achievements, of Omar ben Ebrāhim Xayyām-e Neyšāburi are praised in Iran.  It is not very well-known that Omar ben Ebrāhim Xayyām-e Neyšāburi also talks about the archery in this manuscript titled Nŏruznāme.  Omar ben Ebrāhim Xayyām-e Neyšāburi was born in Neyšābur in 1048 C.E. and died in the same city in 1131 CE.  The English-speaking world knows Xayyām because of the collection of his poems Robā’iyāt [quatrain] that were published by the English author Edward Fitzgerald with the title The Rubaiayt of Omar Khayyam in 1859 C.E.  The name Xayyām means “tent maker” and this could refer to the profession of his father.  He obtained a solid education in natural sciences and philosophy in the city of his birth, Neyšābur.  Later he moved to Samarkand where he wrote the book Risāla fi’l-Barāhin ala Masāil al-Jabr wa’l-Muqābalah [Treatise on the Presentation of Problems of Algebra].  This helped him to establish a high reputation so that the Saljuk Sultan Mālek Šāh invited him to Esfahān (Isfahan) to help reform the calendar based on his astronomical observations.  Sultan Mālek Šāh had an observatory built for Xayyām’s research.  Xayyām-e Neyšāburi mastered philosophy, jurisprudence, history, mathematics, medicine, and astronomy (Moshtagh Khorasani, 2007e:26).  Nŏruznāme is one of the most important works written in Persian that is attributed to Xayyām-e Neišāburi (Hosuri, 2003/1382:12).  Based on the notes in the manuscript, Hosuri adds that the Nŏruznāme was probably written in 495 Hegira (1102 C.E.) (Hosuri, 2003/1382:12). In the following some parts of the manuscript on archery are presented:

The shape of the face of the bow is made after the shape of different parts of the sky.  Because the wise call the science of the circles of the sky qosi[1] meaning "bows" and the lines which go from one outer edge to the other outer edge [of the sky] are rightly called avtār[2] meaning the "bowstrings".  The lines which come from the middle of the circle of the sky and go through the middle of this part on its width are called sehām[3] meaning "arrows".  They say that each good thing and each bad thing that happen on earth are due to the influence of the planets and these are due to the destiny and because of the will of the Great God.  A person attaches with the string and the bow as is evident in the hand of an archer so that each female camel which is his game will be due to [shot through] his arrow that has left his bowstring and bow and his body.  A bow is similar to the human face which is made of veins, tendons, bones, skin and flesh and its bowstring is like its soul.  A bow is alive due to its bowstring as it imitates an artist.  When you look at the truth the bow is the chest and arm of people.  One draws back the hand [arm] and bends the back of the hand.  The chest is like the "place of the bow handle"[4], the arm and the forearm are the bow arms[5] and both hands are bow ears.  The heaviest bow weighs six hundred man[6] and is called kaškanjir[7]and it is meant for [conquering] fortifications.  The lightest type [of bow] is one man and this is made for small children.  Each bow which weighs between two hundred fifty man to four hundred man is called čarx[8].  The type which weighs between one hundred man and two hundred fifty man is called nimčarx[9].  Each [bow] type which ranges from sixty to one hundred man is a "long bow"[10]


[1]qosiﻗﺴﻰ.  It might be significant to note that this word if it is from قوس also means arc and could be used as a technical term in astronomy and astrology.





[6] It is a weight measurement (Xayyām-e Neyšāburi, 2003/1382:56).  Based on Xārazmi’s statements, Emām Šuštari (1961/1339:51-52) concludes that, at that time, one man equaled 1091 grams.  Based on the Lexicon of Borhān, Dehxodā states that man is a weight measurement which signified different things in different locations at different times.  The man from Tabriz is described as 40 estār, each estār contains 15 mesqāl, meaning 600 mesqāl.  Each mesqāl is six dāng, and each dāng is 8 habbe, and each habbe is the weight of one jo (barley).  Based on the Nāzem al-Otabā, the Digital Lexicon of Dehxodā describes man-e tabrizi consisiting of forty sir and each sir consisting of 16 mesqāl, so a man is 640 mesqāl.  The Anjoman Ārā says that man is defined differently in different locations and the man from Tabriz is forty estār and each estār consists of 16 mesqāl, resulting in 640 mesqāl and this was the man of Tabriz which is now 1000 mesqāl (Digital Lexicon of Dehxodā). 

[7]ﻜﺷﻛﻨﺠﻴﺮ; a type of catapult.

[8]ﭼﺮﺥ; ballista.  These might be crossbows. The nomenclature echoes the German, Rüstung and Halbrüstung.

[9]ﭽﺮﺥﻧﻴﻡ; half ballista; light ballista catapult.

[10]kamān-e boland ﺑﻠﻨﺪﻛﻤﺎﻥ.

They base the power of a bow from the strongest to the weakest on a degree[1] of the sky.  Each degree consists of sixty minutes and it has two "round areas"[2] which are the "bow ears"[3] until the fesāngāh[4] of the bowstring.  This reduces to sixteen.  Each bow arm[5] consists of three parts and the bow handle is the center so that it does not move.  The bow ears and the bow arms are its legs.  Thus the part where the shot stems from the bow ear, the power is double as much as the bow ear.  The bad and the good [performance] of the shot is due to this and its number is fourteen and sixteen and thirty one half and thirty the other half.  The whole is one thousand and sixty.  One has divided both bow arms in six parts.  This is because the face of a bow is a semi circle and the semi circle of the sky consists of six constellations.


There are three types of bows which are also called čarx: long, middle and short and their arrows are also three types: long, short and middle.  The long one is fifteen fists[6] long, the middle is ten fists and the short eight and half fists and each bow requires its own length of arrow and if we want to describe all, this will lengthen the speech here[7].  Because the intention about the art of the bow and arrow is its appearance and why the Persian kings required it during the New Year's festivities. 

[1]dareje ﺪﺮﺟﻪ.

[2]goruhe ﮔﺮﻮﻫﻪ.

[3]guše-ye kamān ﮔﻮﺸﻪﻛﻣﺎﻥ.



[6]qabze ﻗﺒﻀﻪ.  Hand’s breadth or fist.  This is between 7.5 cm and 8.5 cm on averaged sized men of the time.]

[7] A rough estimate is 112.5 cm, 75 cm and 63.75 cm which are reasonable lengths for early crossbows.

Based on astrology they say that the owners of the bow and anyone who is an archer will never have a hard day as any army that relies on arrows and has archers will be victorious.  They argue that this is because this weapon is based on Sagittarius with a fire temperament and is in the house of Jupiter and in a good constellation and in the triangle of the Aries, Leo and the house of the sun, and its honor is the house of Mars.


From the medical point of view, archery has some evident benefits for bodily health.  One learns abstinence from it, it strengthens the sinews and organs, makes the joints supple and flexible. It helps concentration, makes a strong heart and prevents stroke paralysis and tremor.  Tale: They asked Sām Narimān, "Oh the victorious leader!  What is the battle formation?” He answered, "Get the unruly bur[1] of the King and the knowledge of the army leader and a warrior who has mail armor and equipped with a war bowTale: They say that one day Bahrām Gur was standing next to Na'mān Manzar who was his instructor [in archery].  He [Bahrām] shot two arrows and brought down two birds with those two arrows.  Na'mān said, "Oh son, as far as the world has existed there has not been an archer like you and as long as the world exists, there will be no one [like you]"


Tale: They say that one day a physician was advising his son saying, "Oh my son, you should love horses and love bows and you should not be without fortifications and do not keep your fortifications without joists!".

[1]burﺑﻭﺮ; it is a type of red horse.

A full translation and annotation of the manuscript is provided in the book Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran.