Most movies and video games depict medieval archers who carry their stringed bows across their chests. But is that really how medieval and ancient archers carried their bows? And how did medieval archers carry their bows instead? Most importantly the bow had to be protected against damaging external influences when it was not used or transported since even though archers carried additional sidearms, the bow was still their most effective weapon.
Medieval archers carried their bows in their hands. The bow was un-strung and put into a linen bow bag when not in use to keep the bow clean but also stop the bow from drying out. Spare bowstrings were carried in a bag with other personal belongings or (in case it rained) under the hat so that they were always dry and ready.
By the way. While the archers carried their own bows and one or two sheaves of arrows with them additional bows and huge numbers of arrows were brought along with the baggage train. Enough arrows needed to be brought along since, even though arrows were collected and reused after a battle, the high frequency of the longbow made a huge supply of arrows necessary.
The one or two sheaves of arrows (24-48 arrows) that every archer carried weren`t nearly enough to last for an entire battle. So a constant supply of arrows had to be brought from the baggage train to the archers. If that failed, the archer quickly ran out of arrows and had to join the fight in another way.
Speaking of shooting arrows. Have you ever asked yourself whether or not the nock, draw, loose commands and the shooting in volleys that are usually depicted in movies are historically accurate? Then you can find the answer in my article here!
But while additional sheaves of arrows and bows were transported in the baggage train, the archers also carried some additional bowstrings on them.
Medieval archers carried additional bowstrings in their bags or – in case it rained – under their hats so that the bowstrings were kept dry and could immediately be used. A longbowman could change the bowstring on his longbow within seconds so that the bow was immediately ready again. That was one of the big advantages of the longbow over the crossbow since changing the bowstring of a crossbow took significantly longer than changing the bowstring on a longbow.
By the way. Late medieval archers like the English longbowmen did also wear a quite surprising level of armor (including plate armor). But that is a story for another time.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
Mike Loades: War Bow: Longbows, crossbows, composite bows and Japanese yumi (2019).*
Malte Prietzel: Krieg im Mittelalter (Darmstadt 2006).*
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