English Longbows

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The English Longbow

One of the most powerful weapons of the Medieval period was the English Longbow.  This bow differed from many other bows in several ways: the amount of time a yeoman would spend practicing with his bow, the physical characteristics of the bow itself, and the size and weight of the projectile it was capable of shooting.

Longbows are among the long family of bows.  They tend to be at least four and a half feet long, and would more typically be around the height of the man shooting the bow.  They were made of yew tree limbs in a fairly typical fashion with the bow being made from half heartwood and half sapwood.  The heartwood layer faces the string, and the sapwood faces the target.  This is because the properties of each type of wood lend themselves to their task in this arrangement.  Sapwood is young wood that can readily resist stretching, whereas heartwood has aged and become more structured, so it resists compression.  Like a tree can bend in the wind and remain undamaged, so a bow bends in the hands of an archer and survives the use.


Because of the art of making such a bow combined with its stature, the longbow had a high draw weight and a relatively long release time.  Combined, these factors meant that this particular kind of bow would release an arrow from full draw that:

1) weighed more than an average arrow

2) had a higher than average initial velocity

Because of these factors, arrows fired from a longbow had a much higher energy on impact.  They were effective against armors that were sufficient against lesser bows.

    Considering the famous Battle of Agincourt, in which reportedly an army of English, outnumbered ten to one by the French, engaged them and killed an estimated 10,000 men while the French managed only to kill roughly a hundred English; it is likely that the English use of the longbow helped secure the English empire a predominant place as a world power until modern times.


Bronze to Change the World

The ancient Greeks fought two famous battles against the army of the Persian Empire in the early era of bronze between the early and late 400s BC. These were the battles of Thermopylae and Marathon.  And these battles, along with the Greek invention of bronze weapons and armor, allowed the Greek civilizations to weather the storm that was the invasion of the Persian Empire.

An example of a Greek bronze short sword.


Greek bronze helm, C. 600 BC.


The advantage bronze provided to the Greeks allowed a small number of Spartan hoplites to stand and inflict outrageous casualties on a much larger Persian host at a pass known as Thermopylae with cliffs to their left and a fall into the ocean to their right.  Although they were later surrounded and killed down to the last man, this battle lasted much longer than it would be expected for 300 men to stand against hundreds of thousands.

    Metal armor made the difference by making many of the Persian weapons nearly useless against the hoplites.  When the Persians advanced to the Greek line, the contest between each Greek with the Persian advancing toward him was greatly weighted in favor of the Greek.  This is because of a few different factors like extensive training and discipline, but perhaps the greatest advantage was the disparity in their equipment.  Persians were armed with much cruder weapons and wore cloth and leather armors.  These were not adequate to the task of stopping sharp bronze swords, whereas the whips some of the Persians are said to have carried would be totally useless against bronze armor.

    Because the Greeks had these advantages during the Greco-Persian wars, their civilizations survived to influence the western civilizations around the Mediterranean.  In some ways the development of bronze working technology was the basis for the ancient Greek say in how things are today.