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Long Bow


Long bow is a difficult term to classify definitively. A bow is considered "long" if it is taller than the average person shooting it. It is usually irrespective of the bow's shape or how it was constructed. The term long bow has been perpetuated largely by tabletop and video games, since Olympic archery and modern bow hunting have no use for something so large.

The most common example is the English long bow, which was used primarily between the 13th and 15th centuries. It was constructed out of yew wood, with the back of the bow being composed of the sapwood and the belly being composed of heartwood. The inner heartwood resists compression while the outer sapwood resists tension, creating an excellent bow that naturally has the properties other bows must obtain by laminating different types of wood together.

The English long bow required a lifetime of training to use properly as the draw weight of the bow ranged between 60 and 200lbs, 2-6 times more than that of modern bows. The skeletal remains of archers are deformed from their constant use, with bone spurs on the left wrist, shoulder, and ring finger.

The substantial investment paid off for the English, as it allowed them to win major victories over the French at Crecy (1346), Poitiers (1356), and Agincourt (1415), where over 80% of the total army was composed of archers. While the longbow could not penetrate well made steel plated armors, only the wealthiest could afford to equip themselves from head to toe in steel.

The long bow's dominance over the course of almost 400 years had a devastating effect on the forests of Europe as nearly every adult yew tree was cut down for bow staves. In the 15th century the price of yew quadrupled as its rarity increased. If gunpowder had not established dominance on the battlefield it is unclear exactly how high the price would have gone to obtain such a valuable material.

Although the long bow was in all ways the superior weapon of the day, it was supplanted by gunpowder based weapons due to how easy it was to train and arm arquebusiers and grenadiers for combat. Skilled archers required a lifetime of training while you could hand a musket to a peasant and teach him to use it in a week. By the middle of the 17th century bows were all but forgotten as a weapon of war.

Bow, General Term, History


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