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Longbows: They Aren’t Just for Robin Hood

The history of longbows is strong, but they’re more prevalent than most would think.

Today, most bows in use are compound or recurves, designed for long range, speed, and comfort.

Even though these modern bows are exceptional for recreation or hunting, it is worthwhile to remember that it their predecessor, the longbow, which shaped early civilization.

Longbows were used all over the world

Wherever your ancestors came from, odds were good they used a longbow. It’s one of the world’s oldest weapons, dating back to the earliest recorded records from human civilization.

The ancient Egyptians were thought to have started using it around 3000 BC, allowing them not only an excellent new weapon for hunting, but also a fierce advantage in war with the Persians.

Their neighbors, the Nubians, hunted with longbows that reached up to six feet in length, as did the Bassa tribe.

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Likewise, the Cherokee of North America used them chiefly for hunting buffalo and bison. Samurai, Vikings and, of course, Englishmen also famously used this powerful weapon over the years.

The English in particular became so proficient with the bow, it is said that the displaying of the pointer and middle fingers, those used chiefly by archers, could be seen as a threat or an insult, particularly if given by one of these skilled archers.

Perhaps the only native culture not known to have developed and used the longbow are the Aboriginal people of Australia.

They are unlike modern bows

Though they have the same sloping arc in design, the longbow is not the same as a recurve. For example, a traditional longbow cannot be considered traditional unless it is made from natural materials such as wood, bamboo, horn, etc…

The longbow, for all its use and power throughout history, is also slower than its modern counterparts. While an exceptional speed for a modern compound bow would reach 300 fps, the top speed of a traditional longbow would be considered half that, at only 150 fps.

This, in turn, means the longbow has a shorter range, higher trajectory, and a slimmer chance of missing the target.

Traditional longbows also lack the sort of modern conveniences found on a typical compound or recurve. Because they do not have sights, it is far more difficult to shoot consistently. It also lacks a cutout shelf.

The advantages of the longbow

While the longbow may seem rudimentary by comparison, its simplicity does come with distinct advantages. The lack of a cutout shelf removes a visual distraction, making it easier to focus on the target.

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Likewise, they are stable because of the shortened stroke from a full draw. The longer the bow, the more stable it is.

Their decline and re-emergence in the US

As with all technology, longbows temporarily fell out of favor when the next great weapon came around. The introduction of firearms made the longbow obsolete, until it once again achieved popularity in the 1800s.

In America in particular, former Confederate soldiers Will and Maurice Thompson pursued archery in earnest, and their literary careers touching on the subject helped to spread the popularity of the sport across the country.

Of course, in the modern day the continued growth in the popularity of archery is due largely to the portrayal of archers in films. From Hawkeye to the Green Arrow, Katniss Everdeen to Merida, Legolas to Link, pop culture is once again spreading passion for this ancient sport.

The longbow stance

For those interested in pursuing archery with the longbow, it is important to remember that it calls for a specific stance:

  • Relaxed body language
  • Crouched slightly
  • Arm cocked at the elbow
  • Bow held not straight but slightly to the side, forming a V with the body

If you would like to hear more about the longbow, leave a comment below with any questions or article requests and we’ll do our best to bring it to you.

Longbows: They Aren’t Just for Robin Hood