Arrows Kill – or do they?

The bow and arrow. There are so many myths and legends and hyping around the bow and arrow that getting a good grasp on its power is difficult. Was the bow the single weapon’s technology that would make or break an army? No. Whenever I watch some blockbuster movie with ancient warfare in it and the bow shows up, I begin to groan. Inevitably the rain of arrows causes mass destruction akin to a nuclear bomb in the enemies ranks. OK, I exaggerate, never-the-less, I have seen too many movies where the bow and arrow are presented as significantly more influential in a battle than they likely ever were. 


Not that they never were useful or the significant factor in battles; they were on occasion. There is a reason the bow is found in nearly every pre-modern culture and were widely used by nearly every army across the ancient world. Many people are aware of the battle of Agincourt and Crecy, where the longbow was used quite effectively allowing for staggering English victories over the French. There are other even more interesting battles such as the Battle of Sphacteria that caused the Spartan army to adopt the use of the bow and the Battle of Carrhae wherein Rome suffered one of its greatest military defeats ever.

But more often than not the bow and arrow were used as harrying weapons to break up formations, stimy attacks, blunt cavalry charges and for the most part prevent a foe from developing a strong attack or defense. The sword, spear, axe, and other weapons did the most damage and were the key ingredient in every army. It seems to me that the flight of arrows depicted in “300” was likely more reflective of reality than one might otherwise see. Of course this is all dependent on the situation, but the bow is not quite how it may seem.

It is quite useful (if the point is correctly configured) for hunting, piercing light armors, and even medium armor. Against heavily armored opponents, the arrow is nearly useless, nearly. En masse flights of arrows were useful and the occasional brilliant shot could prove decisive (that was exceedingly rare). But as a general rule, the arrow could not pierce tough metal armors.

One of the reasons the crossbow was once considered a machination of the devil was the bolt fired from it could pierce heavy armors. There were even attempts to outlaw its use by the ruling elites. The crossbow had considerably greater draw strength than a bow and one could quickly train in its use. Point being, the bow is not quite the super powerful weapon its often portrayed as. 


All that being said, there is a reason every army had archers.


Calstaff said…
Which I guess is why Gygax, a wargamer aware of this more than than most, made short bows -5 to hit opponents clad in plate & shield while heavy crossbows were but a -1 to hit such armored opponents.