Depending on who you ask a medieval English Longbowman under battlefield conditions was able to shoot 6 to 12 arrows per minute. When we combine that with large numbers of Longbowmen, there were between 5,000 and 7,000 Longbowmen at the battle of Crecy, then it becomes obvious that large numbers of arrows were needed.
But were all these arrows that were shot during a battle completely new or did medieval archers reuse their arrows after a battle? And where damaged arrows repaired within the army itself or were they sent home for repair?
Arrows were not cheap so they were collected after a battle. Undamaged arrows were immediately reused while damaged ones were repaired by fletchers who accompanied the armies in the baggage train and who constantly built additional arrows. But sometimes (for example in 1343) large numbers of damaged arrows were also sent back to England where they were repaired.
Let`s take a closer look.
How many arrows were needed for a medieval war?
For the sake of better clarity and since English Longbowmen are probably the most well-known medieval archers I would like to focus on English armies and archers when talking about whether or not archers reused their arrows. However, the principles can be applied to other medieval archers as well.
First of all, it is important to state that arrows were gathered in large numbers at the tower of London from where they would be shipped over the English Channel to the coastal English logistic hubs in Northern France. A famous harbor that served as one of these logistical hubs was Calais.
And while each longbowman who wanted to enlist for a campaign, English Longbowmen were paid for each day they enlisted, had to arrive with a Longbow and 24 arrows that was obviously not enough for a battle.
The number (and the price of arrows) that were transported along for the English Crecy campaign (1346) is actually known!
Large amounts of arrows were stockpiled in the tower of London that then had to be transported in the baggage train that followed the army. A sheaf of 24 arrows was worth 10 – 18 pennies depending on the quality. One single shipment of arrows that left England for the Crecy campaign in 1346 transported 3,800 sheaves of arrows to Northern France!
By the way, these 3,800 sheaves of arrows were just the load of one of the transports. Additional transports were bringing a lot more arrows to the English logistical hubs at the coast of Northern France from where they were then transported to the army. The logistics for that kind of transportation were highly sophisticated, you can find out more about the logistics of medieval warfare in my article here.
And here you can find out more about prices and wages in medieval England to get a feeling for how much a sheaf of arrows for 10-18 pennies actually was compared to the price of other goods.
Were arrows reused after a battle was over?
In addition to the arrows that were brought from England and transported in the baggage train the fletchers who also accompanied the baggage train also constantly built new arrows. And new arrowheads were constantly forged by blacksmiths who brought small transportable forges with them.
The fletchers who accompanied medieval armies in the baggage trains were normally also responsible for repairing damaged arrows that were collected after the battle was over. But sometimes large numbers of damaged arrows were transported back to England instead where they were then repaired.
One example of that can be found in 1343 when a total of 7,000 damaged arrows that had been collected after a battle were shipped back to England. There a total of 10 laborers worked for 10 days to strip, clean, and refletch all of the 7,000 arrows.
But the Crecy Campaign and the Battle of Crecy do not only offer interesting insights into the repair of damaged arrows but also the effectiveness of the English Longbow. You can find out more about that in my article here.
And if you have ever wondered how arrow wounds were treated in the Middle Ages (and which sophisticated tools were used to extract arrowheads that had separated from the shaft inside of the wounds) then I would like to recommend you my article here.
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).