When we see the depiction of medieval archers during a battle in a movie then we often see men who have stuck their arrows in the ground in front of them. And while that was certainly done as many depictions show there were two big disadvantages to that method, more on them later.
Another popular depiction of how medieval archers carried their arrows is the quiver. But how many arrows did a medieval quiver hold? And while storing the arrows in a quiver or sticking the arrows in front of the archer line into the ground are two commonly depicted ways, there was one more way how medieval archers carried their arrows and how they stored them during a battle.
Medieval archers carried their arrows in a quiver that could hold 24 arrows and that was hung over their shoulders. Another option was to push sheaves of arrows through their belts at their lower back. Many depictions also show archers during battles who have stuck their arrows into the ground in front of them.
Let`s find out more!
How did medieval archers carry their arrows?
There are basically three ways how a medieval archer could carry his arrows (respectively keep them close during a battle). For the sake of better readability and since English longbowmen are probably the first archers that come to mind when we think of medieval archers I will refer to these English longbowmen throughout the article.
But the options that will be explained were also used by archers with other geographical backgrounds although these archers did not use Longbows as extensively as the English. Here you can find out more about whether or not Longbows were also used outside of English armies and what alternatives were preferred by soldiers from other realms.
Medieval archers carried their arrows in a quiver that hung over their shoulders or put sheaves of arrows behind their belts at their lower back. Many depictions also show archers who stick their arrows into the ground in front of them during a battle.
There were however two disadvantages to sticking the arrows into the ground so that they could be shot easier. But more on these two disadvantages later.
The 24 arrows that a medieval quiver held were obviously not enough for an entire battle, especially not with the rate of fire that most historians assume to have been between 6 and 12 arrows per minute. For more information on the reach of an English Longbow and its effectiveness (and the number of arrows a relatively small group of longbowmen could shoot within minutes), I would like to recommend you my article here.
How many arrows did a medieval archer carry?
When we talk about how many arrows a medieval archer carried then it obviously depends on the period we look at and the circumstances, for example, whether or not the archer was currently enlisting or preparing for a battle. So let`s take a specific period of time, the 1250s, and a specific location, England, and look at how many arrows an archer carried and whether or not the number varied.
In the 1250s an English longbowman had to bring a bow and 24 arrows (one sheaf) with him when he wanted to enlist for a campaign. Before a battle, each archer would receive another 24 arrows. And during the battle, additional arrows were brought from the baggage train to the archers.
You might have wondered about me writing „when he enlisted for a campaign“. The truth is that English Longbowmen were hired for individual campaigns and were paid for each day they served. Here you can find out more about the pay of English Longbowmen and what ways an archer had to increase his relatively low base salary.
Ok, so each archer had 24 arrows when the battle began. That is not a lot, especially not when we consider a rate of fire of 6-12 arrows per minute. Here you can find out more about how effective the large numbers of arrows were that even a small group of Longbowmen could shoot within a few minutes.
So during a battle, a constant supply of additional arrows was brought to the archers from the baggage trains that followed each medieval army. But the carts of the baggage trains that were filled up with tens of thousands of arrows were not parked among the archers. Instead, they were parked away from the battle to keep them safe.
Here you can find my article with more information on how the arrows were brought from the baggage train to the archers, who was responsible for the transport, and what happened when the supply with new arrows broke off and the archers were left without any arrows to shoot.
By the way. After a battle, the arrows were collected and reused when possible. When the arrows that were collected from the battlefield after a battle were damaged then there were two options. Either the arrows were repaired by fletchers in the baggage train or the arrows were brought back to England.
Ok, so now we found out how many arrows a medieval archer carried and how he carried them. But as mentioned during the introduction of this article, there are many medieval depictions of archers sticking their arrows into the ground before them before a battle started. And that depiction has also made it into many movies.
So let`s find out whether or not that was done and look at two disadvantages of that practice.
Did archers stick their arrows in the ground in front of them during a battle?
Many medieval depictions (and some movies as well) depict archers who have stuck their arrows into the ground in front of them before the battle. And that is historically accurate!
Some medieval archers did indeed stick their arrows into the ground in front of them when they prepared for a battle. That however had two disadvantages.
In case the archers had to fall back they could not just collect the arrows, so the valuable arrows were lost. And it was also not reasonable that the arrows that were constantly brought from the baggage trains to the archers would be stuck into the ground in front of the archer line.
I mean just imagine you are one of the boys tasked with carrying sheaves of arrows from the baggage train to the archers who are shooting away these arrows at a rapid past. And now you are not only expected to bring enough arrows so that the archers would not run out, here you can find out more about what archers did when they ran out of arrows, but you are also expected to stick them into the ground right in front of the archer line so that the individual archers could still reach them.
That would not have been effective and was probably completely impossible during a medieval battle. For more information about how medieval battles worked I would like to recommend you my article here.
And here you can find out more about what weapons medieval archers carried aside from their bows and why most archers did not carry swords.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
Malte Prietzel: Krieg im Mittelalter (Darmstadt 2006).
Richard Wadge: Arrowstorm: The world of the archer in the hundred years war (Gloucestershire 2007).