Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Book of the Bow

Two basic types of bows are attested.  Both are short and have recurved tips (the tips bend away from the archer), but one is otherwise a simple curve while the other dips back toward the string in the middle, giving it a shape like a B.  I think the first type is West Asian in derivation, since it looks like bows carried by earlier Assyrians.  The latter type is a Great Steppe style, essentially the same as those of the Scythians. It's the more common one overall in art from our period.

In essence, a recurve bow is already partly bent (drawn) just by being strung.  The added tension on the string means a recurve can hurl an arrow with greater force than a non-recurve bow of the same length and stiffness.  It's a logical choice for horseback archery like the Persians and Central Asians used, where a longbow would be more awkward.  Because tree limbs don't grow in the right shape for recurves, ancient ones were just about always composites of various materials (traditionally wood, animal horn and sinew) laminated with glue.  Recurves of traditional materials are still available for the right price.  Most budget-priced ones are made of fiberglass sheathed in leather, which works fine.

In period art, bows are shown as being extremely short, perhaps 30 inches (~76cm) when strung.  I believe this is due to artistic convention; archaeological finds show that they were at least half again longer than that.

As always, check your group's regulations when selecting a bow.  My own is a Grozer Old Scythian, a popular model among reenactors.  Judging by their photos, Grozer's higher-end biocomposite Scythian may be a more historically-accurate shape.  I've also heard positive reviews of Saluki Bow.

A few tips on use
I won't try to explain how to string a bow in words; any old video clip will be infinitely clearer.

Never snap a bowstring without an arrow notched ("dry firing").  The arrow is needed to absorb the energy of the string being released; without it, that energy will reverberate through the bow itself and possibly damage it.  Even if cracks aren't visible, small internal cracks can cause the bow to break when drawn - and a bow breaking at draw can be a violent thing.

We don't wear bracers or gloves in costume, and replica bows won't have arrow rests.  So adjust your grip so your forearm isn't hit by the string and the arrow's fletching only strikes your thumb and not the web (the skin between your thumb and index finger); strikes to the web are much more painful and can cause bleeding.

There's a discussion going on at Amphictyonia at this very moment on how to keep stage combat archery safe.

Next up:  I'm hungry.

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