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Norse Archery (Long)

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  • jameswolfden
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 21, 2007
      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.)


      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
      Kings "Heimskringla".)

      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.


      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
      bow woods.

      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.
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