Norse Archery (Long)
- Nigel has already mentioned some of this in his post but here is an
article I provide in a course intended to help add authenticity to
one's archer persona. I used the same story that Nigel used because
it is such a great story. (We did a novelty shoot based on it
recently with an old bow I had made that developed a small crack.
Think of a wand shoot using a partially drawn bow and shooting until
the bow was destroyed.) One of the things interesting about the
story is that it establishes that even a Norse King would use a bow.
On some general information, Hardy's Longbow and The Great Warbow
were used. Unfortunately some of the information I have used is
tertiary and comes from copies of material posted on other groups I
am on. As such, I did not document all of this. There is a Nydam
Society webpage that contains some information about the bows and
arrows found in the Nydam Bog - http://www.nydam.nu/eng/weaponry.html
Feel free to critique and correct any errors I have made. (Or give
me some better sources.)
THE NORSE ARCHER
To the Norse warriors, the bow was just another weapon. In their
stories and poems, archery figures prominently. Here is translated
poem about King Harald (872 AD - 930 AD), the first king of Norway
called Glymdrapa written by the poet Hornklofe. (The poem is
referenced in Snorri Sturluson history of the Norse
O'er the broad heath the bowstrings twang,
While high in air the arrows sang.
The iron shower drives to flight
The foeman from the bloody fight.
The warder of great Odin's shrine,
The fair-haired son of Odin's line,
Raises the voice which gives the cheer,
First in the track of wolf or bear.
His master voice drives them along
To Hel -- a destined, trembling throng;
And Nokve's ship, with glancing sides,
Must fly to the wild ocean's tides. --
Must fly before the king who leads
Norse axe-men on their ocean steeds."
Here is another story from Heimskringla. It not only deals with a
naval battle involving missiles but establishes that even a King
would use a bow.
King Svein of Denmark, King Olaf of Sweden and Jarl Eric plotted
together against King Olaf Tryggveson of Norway. If successful,
Norway would be split between the three men and Jarl Eric would be
on the throne. With the aid of Jarl Sigwald, the powerful and
cunning chieftain of the Jomsvikings, Olaf Tryggveson is lead into
an ambush in waters off the island of Svolde.
118. OF EINAR TAMBARSKELVER.
Einar Tambarskelver, one of the sharpest of bowshooters, stood by
the mast, and shot with his bow. Einar shot an arrow at Earl Eirik,
which hit the tiller end just above the earl's head so hard that it
entered the wood up to the arrow-shaft. The earl looked that way,
and asked if they knew who had shot; and at the same moment another
arrow flew between his hand and his side, and into the stuffing of
the chief's stool, so that the barb stood far out on the other
side. Then said the earl to a man called Fin, -- but some say he
was of Fin (Laplander) race, and was a superior archer, -- "Shoot
that tall man by the mast." Fin shot; and the arrow hit the middle
of Einar's bow just at the moment that Einar was drawing it, and the
bow was split in two parts.
"What is that."cried King Olaf, "that broke with such a noise?"
"Norway, king, from thy hands," cried Einar.
"No! not quite so much as that," says the king; "take my bow, and
shoot," flinging the bow to him.
Einar took the bow, and drew it over the head of the arrow. "Too
weak, too weak," said he, "for the bow of a mighty king!" and,
throwing the bow aside, he took sword and shield, and fought
The Norse Bow was the predecessor of the English Longbow.
In the Nydam Moor near Sleswig, the Norse equivalent of the Mary
Rose was found. Three longships from the fith century AD were
discovered preserved by the silt. The find included both bows and
The bows were made from yew or fir. Their length varied from 66" to
78" and the thickest bow was 1.25". Poundage is estimated at 50
pounds. All are selfbows. The yew is not premium with knots and pin
suggesting a branch (bough) of the tree was used instead of the now
preferred trunk (boole). The yew being a better wood than fir were
thinner. All the bows used either a D or an oval cross section..
While some bows had horn nocks there were others that used iron
nocks, sharpened to double as a weapon. Many used side nocks and
some had two nocks cut into each end to all which would allow an
archer to shorten his string and increase the drawstrength of his
A few of the bows show signs of being wrapped by some linen thread,
sinew, or some type of ribbon approximately 1 centimeter wide. Some
wrappings were spiral and some were crisscrossed similiar to that
of the Meare Heath, a neolithic bow. Only the evidence of glue
remains so what the bows were wrapped with or why is not known. It
may have been decorative or it may have been to strength the weaker
While D and oval cross sections represent the majority of medieval
selfbows discovered, there were exceptions. In Stigtoma, Sweden, a
flatbow made of Spruce was found.
No bow strings were found. Since other fabric material were
preserved, it is possible that the bowstrings were made from organic
material. Most likely this was sinew but animal hair could have been
used. In Njall's Saga, the bowstring of the character Gunnar breaks
while under siege from his enemies. He asks his wife for strands of
her hair to make a new string. (Because of an earlier slight, she
refuses and Gunnar dies.) Hemp and flax tend to make a narrow
bowstring whereas sinew and animal hair result in a thicker strand.
The arrows found indicate the string was of a thick strand.
For Persona purposes, the ideal choice would be D or Oval cross-
section bow made from either white woods or from yew. If one wanted
to mark it as a Norse bow, they could wrap the bow with linen thread
at intervals up and down the limbs. A sinew bowstring can be
simulated using white Dacron B-50. Artificial Sinew can also be used
but some artificial sinew is made from nylon which stretches too
much to be a good string material.
The arrows found were made of fir and varied from length from 29" to
37". It is unlikely that the bows found would allow a draw of 37".
The nock ends were bulbous suggesting a form of pinch draw might
have been used. There have been some arrows found with bronze
bulbous nocks. However, there was no reinforcement of the nock slot
with horn or other material.
There is indication from the recovered arrows that some Norse arrows
were four fletched. A shaft was grooved where the feather was glued.
The feathers were about four to five inches long. Thread and glue
(pitch) were used to hold it down.
The shaft was also grooved with simple runic symbols and the arrows,
like other Norse weapons, might be given a name which would be
carved into the arrow.
Arrowheads varied but the leaf-shaped tanged arrowhead was quite
common. Heads were made from different materials including bone and
iron. Tanged arrowhead were more common than socketed arrowheads but
both have been found. Hector Cole makes a Viking Tanged Forked Head.
A forked head is usually used in hunting small game and birds.
For Persona purposes, use four fletched self-nocked arrows. You can
create the bulbous nock by using thicker diameter shafts and
tapering the nock end except for the last centimeter. Instead of
numbering your arrows, mark them with your favourite runes. Include
a few demonstation arrows with leaf arrowheads in your quivers.
At Nydam, a wood quiver was found. The Bayeaux Tapestry shows the
simple cloth bag. This is shown worn around the hip and slung over
the shoulder. Despite wearing a quiver, one archer is still shown
holding arrows in his bow hand.
For Personna purposes, use a simple cloth quiver similiar to ones
shown in the Bayeaux Tapestry.
Nothing specific on Norse Bracers found.
For personna purposes, use a simple leather bracer. If desired,
decorate it with appropriate symbols or runes.
Nothing specific on Norse Archery gloves found. If a pinch grip was
used, then gloves might not have been required.
For personna purposes, a tab could be used to give the illusion on
not wearing gloves. Otherwise, just wear simple leather gloves.