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Medieval Artillery
Article by: Erik Roth - Mediaeval Arts

Article Features At A Glance
Artillery Defined
Types of Arrows

Arrows were of wood, from one foot in length for crossbows, up to five feet. These latter were not meant to be shot from bows although they looked quite like oversized arrows, even to the fletching. They and others of varying lengths were intended to be thrown by hand and were called darts or javelins. Some arrows were made to be fired from early ordnance such as muskets and bombards, the only situation in which arrows can properly be described as being "fired", unless one wishes to include the igniting of incendiary arrows.

Arrows were armed with heads of various types, usually of steel. Some of the old Danish arrows had pointed heads of bone. For practice and hunting small game, large blunt heads of wood or horn were used. For a stable flight, arrows were provided with feather vanes. Crossbows/shafts carried vanes of thin wood, parchment, leather or even copper. Some arrows, for use at short range, had no fletching at all.

Types of arrows were named according to shaft style, arrowhead style or use, for example; breasted arrow, broad arrow, butt arrow. While the term bolt is used for blunt crossbow missiles, it seems also to have designated blunt handbow arrows and perhaps other types as well. The term quarrel is derived from the French word quarré, meaning square and is applied to short crossbow arrows with armor piercing heads square in section.

The impressive longbow was not chosen by the English in the 14th century as their major missile weapon because it shot farther than the short bow. It does not. However, the longbow will cast a heavier arrow that a short bow does not have the mass to cast effectively, and weight means penetration. There are other advantages - a long arrow flies more steadily than a short one, and a heavy arrow flies more steadily than a light one and stand better in a wind.

The English found the longbow in the hands of practiced archer a more effective weapon than the crossbow. Other nations, unable or unwilling to have a citizenry sufficiently practiced in the use of the longbow, retained the crossbow, which had been the major missile weapon in the thirteenth century.

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