Thursday, October 04, 2007

Longbow Physics

In "The Physics of Medieval Archery," the author struggles to provide a modern analogue for the dominance of the longbow in medieval battles, writing:
Henry had approximately 5,000 archers at Agincourt, and a stock of about 400,000 arrows. Each archer could shoot about ten arrows a minute, so the army only had enough ammunition for about eight minutes of shooting at maximum fire power. However, this fire power would have been devastating. Fifty thousand arrows a minute - over 800 a second - would have hissed down on the French cavalry, killing hundreds of men a minute and wounding many more. The function of a company of medieval archers seems to have been equivalent to that of a machine-gunner, so in modern terms we can imagine Agincourt as a battle between old-fashioned cavalry, supported by a few snipers (crossbow-men) on the French side, against a much smaller army equipped with machine guns.

I once heard someone refer to the longbow as the "nuke of medieval warfare." Rees's comparison of the longbow to the machine gun is less hyperbolic than the comparison to a nuclear weapon, but both are instructive: To have seen the sky blotted out by English arrows must have been absolutely terrifying.

Via Scribal Terror


  1. There is only one problem with the old image of the sky full of thousands of arrows, and that is the fact that if an arrow is fired high into the air it tends to loose most of its punch in flight, and only has its own weight, and gravity on the downward drop. Also mounted men would be moving forward and so many of the arrows would fall behind them if fired into the air. Most of the fire from archers would therefore be straight to their front,rather like the machine-gun. High trajectory archery would be used in seiges or on a static enemy position.

    Graham Morris

  2. Anonymous5:42 PM

    Graham that's wrong, they would fall just as hard as they were shot.

  3. Anonymous 29:59 AM

    surely as the arrow spends the same amount of time reaching the peak of its flight trajectory as it does falling to the floor the arrow will lose then subsequently gain the same amount of velocity so therefore should hit with a similar force, slightly lessened by air resistance