Bows and arrows are among the oldest and most popular weapons of all time.
Bows and arrows are among the oldest and most popular weapons of all time. Although simple in design, their invention represented one of the most important technological innovations of primitive humans, one that allowed individuals to attack both animal and human targets with greater force, from longer range, and with a more rapid rate of fire than had been possible with the spear or other handheld projectiles. Bows and arrows were presumably first used for hunting, perhaps as early as 30,000
In its most basic form the bow consists of a shaft of wood with a string attached to both its ends. When this bowstring is drawn back, the energy of the archer’s pull is transferred to the bending bow, and after the bowstring is released, this energy is channeled through the bowstring to project the arrow forward. The arrow’s speed and distance depend on the flexibility of the bow; a stiffer bow requires more strength to string and shoot, but this added resistance translates into greater velocity and distance for the arrow itself.
The varieties of ancient bows were as numerous as the peoples who made them, but they generally fall into two categories. A self
The second basic type of bow was the composite
A simple bow, the joints bound with animal sinew, shown in both strung and unstrung positions. Also shown are barbed and leaf-shaped arrowheads.
Virtually all ancient civilizations, from China and the Near East to Greece and Rome, employed bows and arrows in some capacity.
As noted above, bows and arrows appear as weapons in cave paintings of the late Neolithic period (8,000 to 4,000 years ago), although their use in combat may be much older. Surprisingly, however, evidence for archers in the warfare of early civilizations is sparse. The Sumerian hero Gilgamesh carried, along with several other weapons, a bow in the Gilgamesh
The bow and arrow acquired more importance when they were combined with the war chariot.
A Manchu bowman circa 1871.
Chariot archers survived into the first millennium
The heavily armed Greek spearmen, however, proved superior to the lightly armed Persian archers at Plataea, and the Greek victory in the Greco-Persian Wars signaled the end of the archer’s prominence in Near Eastern and Western warfare for several centuries. The
It was in the hands of nomadic peoples skilled in horsemanship that the bow and arrow achieved their greatest successes in warfare. Beginning in the seventh century
While Mongol horse archers were terrorizing Asia and Eastern Europe, the English were experimenting with the longbow, a development that changed the nature of Western warfare.
The rise of
Bennett, Matthew, et al. Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World, A.D. 500 to A.D. 1500. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005. Bradbury, Jim. The Medieval Archer. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell and Brewer, 1999. Bradford, Alfred S. With Arrow, Sword, and Spear: A History of Warfare in the Ancient World. Illustrated by Pamela M. Bradford. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2001. Diagram Group. The New Weapons of the World Encyclopedia: An International Encyclopedia from 5000 B.C. to the Twenty-first Century. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2007. Drews, Robert. The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe c. 1200 B.C. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993. Ferrill, Arther. The Origins of War. Rev. ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997. Grant, R. G. Warrior: A Visual History of the Fighting Man. New York: DK, 2007. Harding, Stephen. “The Deadly Dozen.” Military History 26, no. 2 (June/July, 2009): 58. Hardy, Robert. The Longbow: A Social and Military History. London: Bois d’Arc Press, 1998. Hurley, Vic. Arrows Against Steel: The History of the Bow. New York: Mason/Charter, 1975. Nicolle, David. A Companion to Medieval Arms and Armour. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell Press, 2002. Soar, Hugh D. H. The Crooked Stick: A History of the Longbow. Yardley, Pa.: Westholme, 2005. Arms in Action: Bows. Documentary. History Channel, 1999. Henry V. Feature film. BBC/Curzon/Renaissance, 1989. Wild West Tech: Native American Tech. Documentary. History Channel, 2008.
Clubs, Maces, and Slings
Picks, Axes, and War Hammers
Knives, Swords, and Daggers
Spears and Pole Arms
Firearms and Cannon
Handarms to Firearms