Mongolian Horse Bows

The Mongols

 

During the 1200s, the western powers underwent a time of division and intrigue.  Various factors contributed to the weakened state of the western civilizations, however the greatest of these was likely the invasion of the Golden Hoard.  Genghis Khan led the Mongolian armies from the east west across Asia and Eastern Europe.  They pillaged and burned as they went.  The Mongolian Empire was among the largest empires in history.  MONGOLIAN BOW 1-1.JPG

Taken from http://www.southernupland.com/apps/photos/photo?photoid=36817759

They owed their success in at least some part to their bows and the skilled archers who used them.

 

What makes a Mongolian bow special is that it is designed with birch wood, bone, and sinew in order to take the best properties of the three and combine them into a single effective piece.  The recurve design gives the bow power in a shorter frame than a longbow would have.  And the size of these bows means that they could be fired from horseback effectively.  This allowed the Mongols to employ Parthian tactics (they would ride away from pursuit, firing arrows back at their foes).  This also allowed the Golden Hordes to avoid most direct engagements.  They could quickly move away from armed enemies and pick them off skirmish style.

 

While there is a great deal of myth surrounding the Mongols and their weapons, there is some question as to how realistic even some modern articles are about the capabilities of the Mongolian bows.

 

For instance, some authors claim that the bows had well over a hundred pound draw weight and could fire arrows nearly a quarter of a mile with accuracy. However, modern archers do not use wooden arrows with bows of such high draw weights because the forces involve cause the arrows to flex and shatter, often injuring the archer when they do.

 

There is also a competitive tradition among scholars of archery to choose favorites between longbows and Mongolian bows and to argue that one is superior to the other.   This discussion is usually heated, and both sides make apparently outlandish claims.  This could be brought about because of the old stories which surround both the old British and old Mongol cultures.  Western examples are familiar and come to mind: Robin Hood and his Merry Men, as opposed to the riders of the Golden Horde.

 

Both cultures used archery and bowyery to great effect in establishing themselves as strong world powers.

 

Damascus Steel

The creation of Damascus steel blades in the middle east was a phenomenon that begun to take place somewhere between the 300s BC and and the crusades when these blades began to become the legend that they are today.  They are known to be durable, shatter resistant blades which can hold a fine edge under very adverse conditions.

However, in the mid 1700s, the art was lost to metalsmiths, likely because of the fact that the secret of creating such blades was carefully guarded by the craftsmen who made them.  There is much speculation about the chemical processes used in the creation of such blades, but while modern science can create very near matches, there is still some question about how such precise metallurgy could happen so early in history.

It seems likely that a lifetime of study likely went into the creation of the first Damascus steel blades.

Some interesting facts about this form of steel:

1: Damascus steel contains about 1.5% carbon.

2: The famous ‘damask’ pattern found on these high quality blades appeared because there are layers of cementite particles contrasting against the surrounding steel.

Here is an example of that pattern:

Image is freely available through the wiki article on Damascus steel.

Damascus steel represents a sort of peek to the metal mastery race that took place in Europe, northern Africa and western Asia from the first bronze swords on into the best steel available.  The advantage of better armor and weapons became more clear as history formed, and until the age of gunpowder, Damascus steel and some similar arts found in Japan represent the height of that era.  To this day, it would be hard to find a better kind of sword than a handmade Damascus blade or Japanese Katana.

Trebuchet Sieges

Trebuchet Construction:

Building a trebuchet to break a siege was no small expense.  It required a good many nails, about two miles of quality rope, enough lumber to build a small house, and most difficult of all: expert engineers.

A typical starting point for construction of a trebuchet is the frame.  This process was not as simple as it might at first seem because the frame of a trebuchet has to withstand a variety of forces which can change during operation.  Most structures are not designed to move hundreds or thousands of pounds of something, and in medieval times, such a construct was nearly unprecedented.

After the base frame was in place and the A-frame was up, the throwing arm and counter-weight basket had to be affixed to it.  The precision with which the fulcrum was made had to be precise to prevent the rotary motion of the arm from grinding in such a way that it would reduce the energy the engine could put into a projectile.  This part of the machine was critical because trebuchets could have a weight basket with a capacity up to multiple tons.

Trebuchet Operation:

A simple machine would provide mechanical advantage which would allow a small group of workers to lower a trebuchet arm into a firing position. The throwing sling would be setup with a projectile inside and a loop of rope would be placed around the firing pin.

trebuchet-mechanism.jpg

When the device is triggered, the counterweight falls quickly and sweeps the throwing arm in an arc toward the target.  The sling containing the projectile moves due to centripetal force and  somewhere near the top of its path releases the projectile.

staff-sling.jpg

Trebuchet Mechanics:

The physical principles behind trebuchets are fairly complex, and it is worth noting that a trebuchet’s maximum range is determined by several factors: the capacity of the weight basket, the length and ratio of the throwing arm to the fulcrum and distance from fulcrum to basket, the length of the lead rope on the sling, and the angle of the firing pin affixed to the end of the throwing arm.

Pictures are courtesy of http://medievallifestyle.com/siege-engines/trebuchet.html