Why Wasn’t the Atlatl Used In Warfare?

Todd Feinman

Ad Honorem
Oct 2013
6,518
Planet Nine, Oregon
But are they inherently easier to learn?
I haven't used an atlatl since I was a kid, but the accuracy of the bow once learned made it the best thing until accurate guns showed up. I have done a bit of archery, it's not hard to learn. I think atlatls would be best used en masse on folks with little or light armour.
 
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Aug 2016
977
US&A
I haven't used an atlatl since I was a kid, but the accuracy of the bow once learned made it the best thing until accurate guns showed up. I have done a bit of archery, it's not hard to learn. I think atlatls would be best used en masse on folks with little or light armour.
I do too sort-of. I think an atlatl hits with more force than an arrow, and it might be good against shields. However, I don't think it would fair very well against even fairly light armor.
 
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Mar 2019
106
Victoria, Australia
I do believe that many europeans had working equivalents or what could be considered as variants to the atlatl and used in warfare. A lot of weapons originate from hunting or farming implements (bill, halberd, spear, bow, etc...). I think also that the fact that the atlatl or equivalent have been using for at least 20'000 years means that it probably has been used in warfare by most nations around the world.
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,745
USA
But are they inherently easier to learn?
A bow requires the strength to draw the weight sufficient to do the job (hunting less than warbow), the basic form to emphasize total body and core, not just the draw hand bicep. After that, its a matter of learning to aim, which is instinctive for bows drawn to the cheek or ear, but easier for bows drawn to the chest (which many ancient bows were). Last is the release of the arrow, and follow through.

With an atlatl, its a complex throwing action where form and aim are very much more complex than with a bow.
 

Todd Feinman

Ad Honorem
Oct 2013
6,518
Planet Nine, Oregon
Wiki. People living in Europe 30,000 years ago had it. Then bows and arrows supplanted it.
 
Oct 2016
139
Ashland
It is my understanding that atlatls were indeed used in warfare by the Maya and others.
Interestingly, the words 'atl atl' mean 'water water' in Nuhatal. I seriously doubt that the weapon was named in recognition of the wave-like motion of the projectile, but we'll never know for certain, will we.
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
2,966
MD, USA
I would think that the shift from atlatl to bow came far enough back in prehistory that warfare among massed troops was not the main concern. The bow was probably more effective for hunting, not just large game, but small game and birds as well. You don't need all kinds of range and force for those, just enough accuracy to hit. So by the time organized societies arose to wage what we would call full-scale warfare, the atlatl was long gone and the bow was the obvious choice. Certainly spears and throwing spears and javelins were also known--whether a people used javelins or bows was a cultural thing, developed from their own particular circumstances. There were pros and cons to both, in mass warfare. Throwing spears and javelins, with or without the amentum, have plenty of range for warfare--you only need to stay out of spear range, after all--and more than enough force to wound or kill. There was simply no need to try to find something to add force and range, like an atlatl.

The Thracians did NOT adopt javelins to counter Greek hoplites! It was simply their style of warfare, to fight *each other*. It could be effective against hoplites in certain circumstances, but was hardly some kind of super-weapon. After all, we have NUMEROUS depictions of *hoplites* carrying spears with throwing loops, long before the Greek city states butted heads with the Thracian peltasts.

Matthew