An arrow is a metallic projectile designed for hitting a distant target with the help of a bow. It has two basic functions: The one is aerodynamic, when in a very short lapse of time it flies over a certain distance; the other is piercing, when it reaches its target. It was for many peoples the basic weapon for hunting and war, as a tool for a fight at a distance, since its invention at the Mesolithic epoch till the implementation of firearms. For nomads of Ancient and Middle Ages, it may have also a symbolic function linked to acts of power, with diplomacy or religious cult, and to implement a strong feeling of dread. N. I. Veselovskii (1909) has dealt with these symbolic meanings of the arrow, when it guarantees the full power of a political leader or of his representative. He was thinking that the holes which appear in the tip of some arrows with bone heads, since the time of the Huns, were designed for producing a frightful whistle. In the 1920s V. G. Kartsov was arguing that arrows with holes did not produce any special sound (p. 102, and figures of arrows with holes p. 110). However, the author of the present article presents as a certainty (p. 109) the whistle of arrows with holes.

During the last decades of the twentieth century, Russian specialists of Oriental studies have paid special attention to the symbolism of arrows in Turkic and Mongolian folklores and archaeological findings. For example, Khakass have myths that underline the power of “arrows with eyes,” or “magic arrows,” not only for hitting enemies but also for the healing of soldiers’ wounds (V. Ia. Butanaev, 1981). Several epics ascribe excessive size and properties to their heroes’ weapons (R. S. Lipets, 1984). Signs and marks on arrows may be tokens of possession (Borodovskii, 1997). Iu. S. Khudiakov himself has studied in the 1980s arrowheads of the Middle-Age characterised by strange forms (p. 108: figures of different arrows). Iu. A. Plotnikov (2001), having examined a great number of arrows bearing different forms of opening on their blade, has concluded that in Siberia these openings and other marks are a symbolic language by themselves. According to I. L. Kyzlasov (1988 & 1999), arrows found embedded in caverns could be symbols of male fertility since the Palaeolithic age, though the theory is disputable and its own author does not really believe in it. As he demonstrates chronologically, among the Scythes, the Huns, the tribes of the Saian-Altai, the Eastern and Western Turks, the Chinggisid Mongols, the symbolism of arrows and their marks and decorations have no link with fertility but with confirmation of power or with possession. We may observe that the tale of a bundle of arrows unbreakable, contrary to a single arrow is an image of the strength of mutual help and unity widespread among Inner Asian nomads, at least since the Scythians (p. 109). Of course, all the lovers of the Secret History of the Mongols remember the experiment tried by Alan-Qo’a, the she-ancestor of Genghis-Khan, on her five sons with five arrows bound together and the words pronounced by her on that occasion.

Françoise Aubin, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-3.4.B-257