Composite bow

Composite bow

Overview
A composite bow is a bow
Bow (weapon)
The bow and arrow is a projectile weapon system that predates recorded history and is common to most cultures.-Description:A bow is a flexible arc that shoots aerodynamic projectiles by means of elastic energy. Essentially, the bow is a form of spring powered by a string or cord...

 made from horn, wood, and sinew laminated together. The horn is on the belly, facing the archer, and sinew on the back of a wooden core. Sinew and horn will store more energy than wood for the same length of bow. The strength can be made similar to that of all-wood "self" bows
Self bow
A self bow is a bow made from a single piece of wood. Extra material such as horn nocks on the ends, or built-up handles, would normally be accepted as part of a self bow...

, with similar draw-length and therefore a similar amount of energy delivered to the arrow from a much shorter bow.
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Encyclopedia
A composite bow is a bow
Bow (weapon)
The bow and arrow is a projectile weapon system that predates recorded history and is common to most cultures.-Description:A bow is a flexible arc that shoots aerodynamic projectiles by means of elastic energy. Essentially, the bow is a form of spring powered by a string or cord...

 made from horn, wood, and sinew laminated together. The horn is on the belly, facing the archer, and sinew on the back of a wooden core. Sinew and horn will store more energy than wood for the same length of bow. The strength can be made similar to that of all-wood "self" bows
Self bow
A self bow is a bow made from a single piece of wood. Extra material such as horn nocks on the ends, or built-up handles, would normally be accepted as part of a self bow...

, with similar draw-length and therefore a similar amount of energy delivered to the arrow from a much shorter bow. However, a composite bow requires more different materials than a self bow, its construction takes much more time, and the finished bow is more sensitive to moisture.

Composite bows have been known from archaeology and art since the second millennium BCE, but their history is not well recorded as they were developed by cultures without a written tradition. They originated among Asiatic pastoralists
Pastoralism
Pastoralism or pastoral farming is the branch of agriculture concerned with the raising of livestock. It is animal husbandry: the care, tending and use of animals such as camels, goats, cattle, yaks, llamas, and sheep. It may have a mobile aspect, moving the herds in search of fresh pasture and...

 who used them as daily necessities, classically for mounted archery
Mounted archery
A horse archer, horsed archer, or mounted archer is a cavalryman armed with a bow, able to shoot while riding from horseback. Archery has occasionally been used from the backs of other riding animals...

 although they can also be used on foot. Such bows spread among the military (and hunters) of civilizations that came into contact with nomad tribes; composite bows have been used across Asia from Korea to the Atlantic coasts of Europe and North Africa, and southwards in the Arabian peninsula and in India.

The details of manufacture varied between the various cultures that used them. Initially the tips of the limbs were made to bend when the bow was drawn. Later, the tips were stiffened with bone or antler laths; post-classical bows usually have stiff tips, siyahs, made as an integral part of the wooden core of the bow.

Like other bows, they lost importance with the introduction of guns. In some areas composite bows were still used and were further developed for leisure purposes. Later Turkish bows are specialized for flight archery (shooting for distance). Composite bows are still made and used in Korea and in China, and the tradition has been revived elsewhere. Some indigenous peoples of the Americas
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 made bows backed with sinew, but are not known to have used the true composite bow. Modern replicas are available, often made of fiberglass.

Construction and materials


The wooden core gives the bow its shape and dimensional stability. It is often made of multiple pieces, joined with animal glue in V-splices, so the wood must accept glue well. Pieced construction allows the sharp bends that many designs require, and the use of woods with different mechanical properties for the bending and nonbending sections. The wood of the bending part of the limb ("dustar") must endure intense shearing stress, and denser woods such as hard maples are normally used in Turkish bows. Bamboo, and wood of the mulberry family
Mulberry
Morus is a genus of flowering plants in the family Moraceae. The 10–16 species of deciduous trees it contains are commonly known as Mulberries....

, are traditional in China. Some composite bows have nonbending tips ("siyahs"), which need to be stiff and light; they may be made of woods such as Sitka spruce
Sitka Spruce
Picea sitchensis, the Sitka Spruce, is a large coniferous evergreen tree growing to 50–70 m tall, exceptionally to 95 m tall, and with a trunk diameter of up to 5 m, exceptionally to 6–7 m diameter...

.

A thin layer of horn
Horn (anatomy)
A horn is a pointed projection of the skin on the head of various animals, consisting of a covering of horn surrounding a core of living bone. True horns are found mainly among the ruminant artiodactyls, in the families Antilocapridae and Bovidae...

 is glued on to what will be the belly of the bow, the side facing the archer. Water buffalo horn is very suitable, as is horn of several antelopes such as gemsbok
Gemsbok
The gemsbok or gemsbuck is a large antelope in the Oryx genus. It is native to the arid regions of southern Africa, but formerly some authorities included the East African Oryx as a subspecies...

, oryx
Oryx
Oryx is one of four large antelope species of the genus Oryx. Three of the species are native to arid parts of Africa, with a fourth native to the Arabian Peninsula. Their pelage is pale with contrasing dark markings in the face and on the legs, and their long horns are almost straight...

, ibex, and that of Hungarian grey cattle
Hungarian Grey Cattle
Hungarian Grey Cattle or Hungarian Steppe Cattle are an old beef cattle breed from Hungary....

. Goat and sheep horn can also be used. Most forms of cow horn are not suitable, as they soon delaminate with use. The horn can store more energy than wood in compression.

The sinew, soaked in animal glue
Animal glue
An animal glue is an adhesive that is created by prolonged boiling of animal connective tissue.These protein colloid glues are formed through hydrolysis of the collagen from skins, bones, tendons, and other tissues, similar to gelatin. The word "collagen" itself derives from Greek κόλλα kolla, glue...

, is then laid in layers on the back of the bow; the strands of sinew are oriented along the length of the bow. The sinew is normally obtained from the lower legs and back of wild deer or domestic ungulates. Traditionally, ox tendons are considered inferior to wild-game sinews since they have a higher fat content, leading to spoilage. Sinew will extend further than wood, again allowing more energy storage.

Hide glue or gelatin made from fish gas bladder
Gas bladder
The swim bladder, gas bladder, fish maw or air bladder is an internal gas-filled organ that contributes to the ability of a fish to control its buoyancy, and thus to stay at the current water depth without having to waste energy in swimming...

s is used to attach layers of sinew to the back of the bow, and to attach the horn belly to the wooden core.

Stiffening laths, if used, are attached. Both horn and laths may be bound and glued with further lengths of sinew. After months of drying the bow is ready for use. Further finishing may include thin leather or waterproof bark, to protect the bow from moisture, and recent Turkish bows were often highly decorated with colourful paints and gold leaf.

Strings
Bow string
A bow string joins the two ends of the bow stave and launches the arrow. Desirable properties include light weight, strength, resistance to abrasion, and resistance to water...

 and arrow
Arrow
An arrow is a shafted projectile that is shot with a bow. It predates recorded history and is common to most cultures.An arrow usually consists of a shaft with an arrowhead attached to the front end, with fletchings and a nock at the other.- History:...

s are essential parts of the weapon system, but no type of either is specifically associated with composite bows throughout their history.

Advantages


The main advantage of composite bows over self bow
Self bow
A self bow is a bow made from a single piece of wood. Extra material such as horn nocks on the ends, or built-up handles, would normally be accepted as part of a self bow...

s (made from a single piece of wood) is their combination of smaller size with high power. They are therefore more convenient than self bows when the archer is mobile, as from horseback, or from a chariot. Almost all composite bows are also recurve bow
Recurve bow
In archery, the shape of the bow is usually taken to be the view from the side. It is the product of the complex relationship of material stresses, designed by a bowyer...

s as the shape curves away from the archer; this design gives higher draw-weight in the early stages of the archer's draw, storing somewhat more total energy for a given final draw-weight. It would be possible to make a wooden bow that has the same shape, length and draw-weight as a traditional composite bow, but it could not store the energy, and would break before full draw.

For most practical non-mounted archery purposes, composite construction offers no advantage; "the initial velocity is about the same for all types of bow... within certain limits, the design parameters... appear to be less important than is often claimed." However, they are superior for horsemen and in the specialized art of flight archery: "A combination of many technical factors made the composite flight bow better for flight shooting." The higher arrow velocity is only for well-designed composite bows of high draw-weight. At the weights more usual for modern amateurs, the greater density of horn and sinew compared to wood usually cancels any advantage.

Disadvantages


Constructing composite bows requires much more time and a greater variety of materials than self bows, and the animal glue
Animal glue
An animal glue is an adhesive that is created by prolonged boiling of animal connective tissue.These protein colloid glues are formed through hydrolysis of the collagen from skins, bones, tendons, and other tissues, similar to gelatin. The word "collagen" itself derives from Greek κόλλα kolla, glue...

 used can lose strength in humid conditions and be quickly ruined by submersion. An authority suggests that crafting a composite bow may take a week's work, excluding drying time (months) and gathering materials, while a self bow can be made in a day and dried in a week. Peoples living in humid or rainy regions historically have favoured self-bows, while those living in dry or arid regions have favoured composite bows.

Medieval Europeans favoured self bows as hand bows, but they made composite prods for crossbows. The prods were usually well protected from weather and humidity which are prevalent in Europe.

By charioteers



Bows of any kind seldom survive in the archaeological record. Composite bows may have been invented first by the nomad
Nomad
Nomadic people , commonly known as itinerants in modern-day contexts, are communities of people who move from one place to another, rather than settling permanently in one location. There are an estimated 30-40 million nomads in the world. Many cultures have traditionally been nomadic, but...

s of the Asiatic steppe, who may have based it on earlier Northern Asian laminated bow
Laminated bow
A laminated bow is an archery bow in which different materials are laminated together to form the bow stave itself. Traditional composite bows are normally not included, although their construction with horn, wood, and sinew might bring them within the above definition. This term usually refers to...

s. However, archaeological investigation of the Asiatic steppe is still limited and patchy; literary records of any kind are late and scanty and seldom mention details of bows. There are arrowheads from the earliest chariot burial
Chariot burial
Chariot burials are tombs in which the deceased was buried together with his chariot, usually including his horses and other possessions....

s at Krivoye Lake, part of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture about 2100–1700 BCE, but the bow that shot them has not survived. The Andronovo Culture
Andronovo culture
The Andronovo culture, is a collection of similar local Bronze Age cultures that flourished ca. 21200–1400 BCE in western Siberia and the west Asiatic steppe. It is probably better termed an archaeological complex or archaeological horizon...

, descendant of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture, was the first to extend from the Ural Mountains
Ural Mountains
The Ural Mountains , or simply the Urals, are a mountain range that runs approximately from north to south through western Russia, from the coast of the Arctic Ocean to the Ural River and northwestern Kazakhstan. Their eastern side is usually considered the natural boundary between Europe and Asia...

 to Tian Shan
Tian Shan
The Tian Shan , also spelled Tien Shan, is a large mountain system located in Central Asia. The highest peak in the Tian Shan is Victory Peak , ....

.

Composite bows were soon adopted and adapted by civilizations who came into contact with nomads, such as the Chinese, Assyria
Assyria
Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom, extant as a nation state from the mid–23rd century BC to 608 BC centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia , that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur...

n, and Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

ian. Several composite bows were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun
Tutankhamun
Tutankhamun , Egyptian , ; approx. 1341 BC – 1323 BC) was an Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty , during the period of Egyptian history known as the New Kingdom...

, who died in 1324 BCE. Composite bows (and chariots) are known in China from at least the Shang Dynasty
Shang Dynasty
The Shang Dynasty or Yin Dynasty was, according to traditional sources, the second Chinese dynasty, after the Xia. They ruled in the northeastern regions of the area known as "China proper" in the Yellow River valley...

 (1700–1100 BCE).

By mounted archers



By the 4th century BCE, chariotry had ceased to have military importance, replaced by cavalry
Cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

 everywhere except in Britannia
Britannia
Britannia is an ancient term for Great Britain, and also a female personification of the island. The name is Latin, and derives from the Greek form Prettanike or Brettaniai, which originally designated a collection of islands with individual names, including Albion or Great Britain. However, by the...

, where longer self bows instead of shorter composite bows were favored and mounted archers continued to dismount before loosing shafts. Elsewhere, classic tactics for horse-mounted archers included skirmishing; they would approach, shoot, and retreat before any effective response could be made. The term Parthian shot
Parthian shot
The Parthian shot was a military tactic made famous by the Parthians, ancient Iranian people. The Parthian archers, mounted on light horse, would feign retreat; then, while at a full gallop, turn their bodies back to shoot at the pursuing enemy. The maneuver required superb equestrian skills,...

 refers to the widespread horse-archer tactic of shooting backwards over the rear of their horses as they retreated. Parthians inflicted several devastating defeats on Romans, the first being the Battle of Carrhae
Battle of Carrhae
The Battle of Carrhae, fought in 53 BC near the town of Carrhae, was a major battle between the Parthian Empire and the Roman Republic. The Parthian Spahbod Surena decisively defeated a Roman invasion force led by Marcus Licinius Crassus...

. However, horse archers were not invincible; Han General Ban Chao
Ban Chao
Ban Chao , courtesy name Zhongsheng , was born in Xianyang, Shaanxi, and the younger brother of the famous historian, Ban Gu who, with his father Ban Biao, and sister, Ban Zhao, wrote the famous Hanshu, or 'History of the Former Han Dynasty'....

 led successful military expeditions in the late 1st century CE that conquered as far as central Asia, and Alexander the Great defeated a horse archer army on his first contact with them.

By infantry


The infantry archers of classical Greece
Classical Greece
Classical Greece was a 200 year period in Greek culture lasting from the 5th through 4th centuries BC. This classical period had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire and greatly influenced the foundation of Western civilizations. Much of modern Western politics, artistic thought, such as...

 and the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 used composite bows. The military of the Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 (220 BCE–206 CE) utilized composite crossbows, often in infantry square
Infantry square
An infantry square is a combat formation an infantry unit forms in close order when threatened with cavalry attack.-Very early history:The formation was described by Plutarch and used by the Romans, and was developed from an earlier circular formation...

 formations, in their many engagements against the Xiongnu
Xiongnu
The Xiongnu were ancient nomadic-based people that formed a state or confederation north of the agriculture-based empire of the Han Dynasty. Most of the information on the Xiongnu comes from Chinese sources...

.

Technical changes to classical times


The details of bow construction changed somewhat with time. It is not clear that the various developments of the composite bow led to measurable improvements; "the development of archery equipment may not be a process involving progressive improvements in performance. Rather, each design type represents one solution to the problem of creating a mobile weapon system capable of hurling lightweight projectiles."

Scythian bows, bending tips


Variants of the Scythian bow were the dominant form in Asia until approximately the first century BCE. These were short weapons - one was 119 cm long when strung, with arrows perhaps 50–60 cm long - with flexible, "working" tips; the wooden core was continuous from the centre to the tip.

Siyahs/kasans, stiff tips


From about the 4th century BCE, the use of stiffened ends on composite bows became widespread. The stiffened end of the bow is a "siyah" (Arabic), "szarv" (Hungarian), "sarvi" (Finnish; as the Finnish and the Hungarian are related languages, both words 'sarvi' and 'szarv' do mean 'horn') or "kasan" (Turkish); the bending section is a "dustar" (Arabic), "lapa" (Finnish) or "sal" (Turkish). For centuries, the stiffening was accomplished by attaching laths of bone or antler to the sides of the bow at its ends. The bone or antler strips are more likely to survive burial than the rest of the bow. The first bone strips suitable for this purpose come from "graves of the fourth or third centuries" BCE. These stiffeners are found associated with nomad
Eurasian nomads
Eurasian nomads are a large group of peoples of the Eurasian Steppe. This generic title encompasses the ethnic groups inhabiting the steppes of Central Asia, Mongolia, and Eastern Europe. They domesticated the horse, and their economy and culture emphasizes horse breeding, horse riding, and a...

s of the time. Maenchen-Helfen
Otto J. Maenchen-Helfen
Otto John Maenchen-Helfen was an Austrian academic, sinologist, historian, author, and traveler....

 states that they are not found in Achaemenid Persia, nor in early Imperial Rome, nor in Han China. However Coulston attributes Roman stiffeners to about or before 9 CE. He identifies a Steppe Tradition of Scythian bows with working tips, which lasted, in Europe, until the arrival of the Huns, and a Near East or Levantine tradition with siyahs, possibly introduced by the Parni
Parni
The Parni or Aparni were an east Iranian people of the Ochus River valley, southeast of the Caspian Sea...

 as siyahs are found in Sassanid but not Achaemenid contexts. They have also been described from the Arabian peninsula. They were adopted by the Roman Empire and were made even in the cold and damp of Britannia. They were the normal weapon of later Roman archers, both infantry and cavalry units (although Vegetius
Vegetius
Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, commonly referred to simply as Vegetius, was a writer of the Later Roman Empire. Nothing is known of his life or station beyond what he tells us in his two surviving works: Epitoma rei militaris , and the lesser-known Digesta Artis Mulomedicinae, a guide to...

 recommends training recruits "arcubus ligneis", with wooden bows
Longbow
A longbow is a type of bow that is tall ; this will allow its user a fairly long draw, at least to the jaw....

).

Laths stiffening the grip


A new bow type, in which bone reinforcements cover the handle of the bow as well as the tips, may have developed in Central Asia during the 3rd to 2nd century BCE, with earliest finds from the area of Lake Baikal. Fittings from this type of bow appear right across Asia from Korea to the Crimea. This does not indicate its use by only one people (or confederation of peoples). Such bows with reinforcement of both grip and siyahs have been called “Hun,” “Hunnic” or “Hsiung-nu” composite bow. This suggests an association that, though valid, is not exclusive, and Rausing termed this type the 'Qum-Darya Bow' from the Han Chinese type-site at the frontier post of Loulan, at the mouth of the (Qum-Darya) river, dated by analogy to c. 1st century BCE to 3rd century CE.

With the arrival of the Huns, this tradition of bows with stiffened grips arrived in Europe. "Alanic graves in the Volga region dating to the 3rd to 4th century CE signal the adoption of the Qum-Darya type by Sarmatian peoples from Hunnic groups advancing from the East. In general, Hunnic/Qum-Darya bows had two pairs of ear laths identical in every respect to those found on Roman limes
Limes
A limes was a border defense or delimiting system of Ancient Rome. It marked the boundaries of the Roman Empire.The Latin noun limes had a number of different meanings: a path or balk delimiting fields, a boundary line or marker, any road or path, any channel, such as a stream channel, or any...

 sites. The only difference is that there are proportionally a greater number of longer laths (like those Roman examples from Bar Hill and London). In addition the grip of the bow was stiffened by three laths. On the sides were glued a pair of trapezoidal laths with their longest edges towards the back. On the belly was glued a third lath, varying in shape but often narrow with parallel sides and splayed ends. Therefore, each bow possessed seven grip and ear laths, compared with none on the Scythian and Sarmatian bows and four (ear) laths on the Yrzi bow."

Such bows were often asymmetric, with lower limbs shorter than the upper.

The Huns and their successors greatly impressed their neighbours with their archery. Germanic tribes transmitted their respect orally for a millennium; in the Scandinavian Hervarar saga
Hervarar saga
Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks is a legendary saga from the 13th century combining matter from several older sagas. It is a valuable saga for several different reasons beside its literary qualities. It contains traditions of wars between Goths and Huns, from the 4th century, and the last part is used as...

, the Geatish king Gizur taunts the Huns and says, "Eigi gera Húnar oss felmtraða né hornbogar yðrir." (We fear neither the Huns nor their hornbows.) The Romans, as described in the Strategikon, Procopius
Procopius
Procopius of Caesarea was a prominent Byzantine scholar from Palestine. Accompanying the general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian I, he became the principal historian of the 6th century, writing the Wars of Justinian, the Buildings of Justinian and the celebrated Secret History...

's histories, and other works, changed the entire emphasis of their army, from heavy infantry to cavalry, many of them armed with bows. Maurikios's Strategikon describes the Byzantine cavalry as bow-armed cursores and lance-armed defensores.

Additional stiffening laths


The Qum-Darya bow was superseded in the modern area of Hungary by an 'Avar'
Eurasian Avars
The Eurasian Avars or Ancient Avars were a highly organized nomadic confederacy of mixed origins. They were ruled by a khagan, who was surrounded by a tight-knit entourage of nomad warriors, an organization characteristic of Turko-Mongol groups...

 type, with more and differently-shaped laths. The grip laths stayed essentially the same except that a fourth piece was sometimes glued to the back of the handle enclosing it with bone on all four faces. The belly lath was often parallel-sided with splayed ends. The siyah laths became much wider in profile above the nock and less rounded, giving a bulbous aspect. The nock was often further away from the upper end of the siyah than on Qum-Darya type examples. Additional laths were usually added to the belly and back of the siyah thus enclosing both ends of the stave on four faces. This made a total of up to 12 laths on an asymmetrical bow with stiff, set back handle. Examples measured in situ suggest bow lengths of 120–140 cm. When unstrung the siyahs reversed sharply forward at an angle of 50-60 degrees.

Post-classical development


After the fall of the Western empire, Eastern Roman armies maintained their tradition of horse archery for centuries. The Eastern Romans finally fell to the Turks
Fall of Constantinople
The Fall of Constantinople was the capture of the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which occurred after a siege by the Ottoman Empire, under the command of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, against the defending army commanded by Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI...

 before the decline of military archery in favour of guns. Turkish armies included archers until about 1591 (they played a major role in the Battle of Lepanto (1571)
Battle of Lepanto (1571)
The Battle of Lepanto took place on 7 October 1571 when a fleet of the Holy League, a coalition of Catholic maritime states, decisively defeated the main fleet of the Ottoman Empire in five hours of fighting on the northern edge of the Gulf of Patras, off western Greece...

, and flight archery remained a popular sport in Istanbul
Istanbul
Istanbul , historically known as Byzantium and Constantinople , is the largest city of Turkey. Istanbul metropolitan province had 13.26 million people living in it as of December, 2010, which is 18% of Turkey's population and the 3rd largest metropolitan area in Europe after London and...

 until the early 19th century. Most surviving documentation of the use and construction of composite bows comes from China and the Middle East; until reforms early in the 20th century, skill with the composite bow was an essential part of the qualification for officers in the Chinese Imperial army.

The composite bow was adopted throughout the Arab world, even though some Bedu tribesmen in the Hijaz retained the use of simple self bow
Self bow
A self bow is a bow made from a single piece of wood. Extra material such as horn nocks on the ends, or built-up handles, would normally be accepted as part of a self bow...

s. Persian designs were used after the conquest of the Sassanid Empire
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

, and Turkish-type bows were widely used after the Turkic expansions. Roughly speaking, Arabs favoured slightly shorter siyahs and broader limbs than the Indo-Persian designs. Sometimes the protective cover on the back was painted with Arab calligraphy or geometric patterns. No design was standardized over the vast area of the Arab conquests. It was said that the best Arab composite bows were manufactured in Damascus
Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

, Syria. The first surviving treatise on composite bow construction and archery was written in Arabic under Mamluk rule
Bahri dynasty
The Bahri dynasty or Bahriyya Mamluks was a Mamluk dynasty of mostly Kipchak Turkic origin that ruled Egypt from 1250 to 1382 when they were succeeded by the Burji dynasty, another group of Mamluks...

 about 1368.

Integral wooden siyahs


Later developments in the composite bow included siyahs made of separate pieces of wood, attached with a V-splice to the wooden core of the bow, rather than strengthened by external reinforcement. Mediaeval and modern bows generally have integral wooden siyahs and lack stiffening laths.

String bridges


A string "bridge" or "run" is an attachment of horn or wood, used to hold the string a little further apart from the bow's limbs at the base of the siyahs, as well as allowing the siyah to rest at an angle forward of the string. This attachment may add weight, but might give a small increase in the speed of the arrow by increasing the initial string angle and therefore the force of the draw in its early stages. Large string bridges are characteristic of Manchu (Qing dynasty
Qing Dynasty
The Qing Dynasty was the last dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912 with a brief, abortive restoration in 1917. It was preceded by the Ming Dynasty and followed by the Republic of China....

, 1644–1911) bows and late Mongolian bows, while small string bridges are characteristic of Korean
Gungdo
The Korean Bow is a water buffalo horn-based composite reflex bow, standardized about 1900 AD from the variety of such weapons in earlier use...

, Crimean Tatar, and some Ming dynasty
Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty, also Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history", was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic...

 (1368–1644) bows. String bridges are not present in artwork in the time of Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan , born Temujin and occasionally known by his temple name Taizu , was the founder and Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death....

 or before.

Modern living traditions of composite bows


All Eurasian composite bows derive from the same nomad origins, but every culture that used them has made its own adaptations to the basic design. The Turkish, Mongolian, and Korean bows were standardized when archery lost its military function and became a popular sport. Recent Turkish bows are optimized for flight shooting.

Turkish bow



This is the Ottoman development of the composite bow, presumably brought from the steppes. Turkish bows evolved, after the decline of military archery, into probably the best traditional flight bows. Their decoration often included delicate and beautiful multicoloured designs with gold.

Chinese bow




For millennia, archery has played a pivotal role in Chinese history. Because the cultures associated with Chinese society spanned a wide geography and time range, the techniques and equipment associated with Chinese archery are diverse. Historical sources and archaeological evidence suggest that a variety of bow designs existed throughout Chinese history. For much of the 20th century, only one Chinese traditional bow and arrow making workshop was active. However, in the beginning of the 21st century, there has been revival in interest among craftsmen looking to construct bows and arrows in the traditional Chinese style.

Mongol bow



The Mongolian tradition of archery is attested by an inscription on a stone stele
Stele
A stele , also stela , is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected for funerals or commemorative purposes, most usually decorated with the names and titles of the deceased or living — inscribed, carved in relief , or painted onto the slab...

 that was found near Nerchinsk
Nerchinsk
Nerchinsk is a town and the administrative center of Nerchinsky District of Zabaykalsky Krai, Russia, located east of Lake Baikal, east of Chita, and about west of the Chinese border on the left bank of the Nercha River, above its confluence with the Shilka River, which flows into the Amur...

 in Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

: "While Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan , born Temujin and occasionally known by his temple name Taizu , was the founder and Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death....

 was holding an assembly of Mongolian dignitaries, after his conquest of Sartaul (East Turkestan
East Turkestan
East Turkestan is a controversial political term with multiple meanings depending on context and usage...

), Yesüngge (the son of Genghis Khan's brother) shot a target at 335 alds (536 m)." The Mongol bowmaking tradition was lost under the Manchus, who forbade archery; the present bowmaking tradition emerged after independence in 1921 and is based on Manchu types of bow. Mounted archery
Mounted archery
A horse archer, horsed archer, or mounted archer is a cavalryman armed with a bow, able to shoot while riding from horseback. Archery has occasionally been used from the backs of other riding animals...

 had fallen into disuse and has been revived only in the 21st century.

Archery with composite bows is part of the annual festival of the three virile sports (Wrestling, Horseriding, Archery), called "Naadam
Naadam
Naadam is a traditional type of festival in Mongolia. The festival is also locally termed "eriin gurvan naadam" "the three games of men". The games are Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery and are held throughout the country during the midsummer holidays...

".

Hungarian bow


The Hungarian bow is a fairly long, approximately symmetrical, composite reflex bow with bone stiffeners. Its shape is known from two graves in which the position of the bone plates could be reconstructed. Modern Hungarians have attempted to reconstruct the composite bows of their ancestors and have revived mounted archery
Mounted archery
A horse archer, horsed archer, or mounted archer is a cavalryman armed with a bow, able to shoot while riding from horseback. Archery has occasionally been used from the backs of other riding animals...

 as a competitive sport.

Korean bow



A traditional modern Korean bow, or gakgung, is a small but very efficient horn-bamboo-sinew composite bow. Korean archers normally practice at a range of approximately 145 metres.

Perso-Parthian bow


The Perso-Parthian bow is a symmetric recurve under high tension when strung. The "arms" of the bow are supposed to reflex far enough to cross each other when the bow is unstrung. The finished bow is covered by bark, fine leather, or in some cases shark skin to keep out moisture.

Perso-Parthian bows were in use as late as the 1820s in Persia (ancient Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

). They were then replaced by muskets.

American sinew-backed bows


When Europeans first contacted Native Americans, some bows, especially in the area that became California, already had sinew backing. After the reintroduction of horses, newly mounted groups rapidly developed shorter bows, which were often given sinew backing. The full three-layer composite bow with horn, wood, and sinew does not seem to be recorded in the Americas, and horn bows with sinew backing are not recorded before European contact.

Replicas made with modern materials


Modern replicas of traditional composite bows are commercially available; they are usually made with fibreglass on both belly and back, easier to mass produce and easier to take care of than traditional composite bows.

Other less-satisfactory materials than horn have been used for the belly of the bow (the part facing the archer when shooting), including bone, antler, or compression resistant woods such as osage orange
Osage-orange
Maclura pomifera, commonly called Osage-orange, hedge-apple, Horse-apple, Bois D'Arc, or Bodark, is a small deciduous tree or large shrub, typically growing to tall. It is dioeceous, with male and female flowers on different plants...

, hornbeam
Hornbeam
Hornbeams are relatively small hardwood trees in the genus Carpinus . Though some botanists grouped them with the hazels and hop-hornbeams in a segregate family, Corylaceae, modern botanists place the hornbeams in the birch subfamily Coryloideae...

, or yew
Taxus
Taxus is a genus of yews, small coniferous trees or shrubs in the yew family Taxaceae. They are relatively slow-growing and can be very long-lived, and reach heights of 1-40 m, with trunk diameters of up to 4 m...

. Materials that are strong under tension, such as silk
Silk
Silk is a natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The best-known type of silk is obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori reared in captivity...

, or tough wood, like hickory
Hickory
Trees in the genus Carya are commonly known as hickory, derived from the Powhatan language of Virginia. The genus includes 17–19 species of deciduous trees with pinnately compound leaves and big nuts...

, have been used on the back of the bow (the part facing away from the archer when shooting).

See also

  • Crossbow
    Crossbow
    A crossbow is a weapon consisting of a bow mounted on a stock that shoots projectiles, often called bolts or quarrels. The medieval crossbow was called by many names, most of which derived from the word ballista, a torsion engine resembling a crossbow in appearance.Historically, crossbows played a...

  • English longbow
    English longbow
    The English longbow, also called the Welsh longbow, is a powerful type of medieval longbow about 6 ft long used by the English and Welsh for hunting and as a weapon in medieval warfare...

  • Longbow
    Longbow
    A longbow is a type of bow that is tall ; this will allow its user a fairly long draw, at least to the jaw....

  • Flatbow
    Flatbow
    A flatbow is a bow with non-recurved, flat, relatively wide limbs that are approximately rectangular in cross-section. Because the limbs are relatively wide, flatbows will usually narrow and become deeper at the handle, with a rounded, non-bending, handle for easier grip...

  • Archery
    Archery
    Archery is the art, practice, or skill of propelling arrows with the use of a bow, from Latin arcus. Archery has historically been used for hunting and combat; in modern times, however, its main use is that of a recreational activity...

  • Mounted archery
    Mounted archery
    A horse archer, horsed archer, or mounted archer is a cavalryman armed with a bow, able to shoot while riding from horseback. Archery has occasionally been used from the backs of other riding animals...

  • Bow shape

Bow construction techniques

  • Self bow
    Self bow
    A self bow is a bow made from a single piece of wood. Extra material such as horn nocks on the ends, or built-up handles, would normally be accepted as part of a self bow...

  • Compound bow
    Compound bow
    A compound bow is a modern bow that uses a levering system, usually of cables and pulleys, to bend the limbs.The limbs of a compound bow are much stiffer than those of a recurve bow or longbow. This limb stiffness makes the compound bow more energy-efficient than other bows, in conjunction with the...

  • Laminated bow
    Laminated bow
    A laminated bow is an archery bow in which different materials are laminated together to form the bow stave itself. Traditional composite bows are normally not included, although their construction with horn, wood, and sinew might bring them within the above definition. This term usually refers to...

  • Cable-backed bow
    Cable-backed bow
    A cable-backed bow is a bow reinforced with a cable on the back. The cable is made from either animal, vegetable or synthetic fibers and is tightened to increase the strength of the bow. A cable will relieve tension stress from the back of the bow by raising its neutral plane: the border between...


External links