Archery

Vikings for all occasions, no foe too far

Manaraefan Herred

Comments on this site should be sent to Roger Barry

The bow was a popular weapon with the Vikings and did not have the stigma of lowliness that it accrued later.  Viking warriors fought with the weapons they were good at using, for most this meant using a spear, if he was a skilled archer though it made sense that the warrior use a bow.  Gunner of Hliderend was a renowned Icelandic archer and all-round heroic champion, he had the status of a chieftain and suffered no loss of dignity or face for using a bow in battle, his deeds are recounted in Njal’s Saga.  Arrow Od’s Saga recounts the tale of another chieftain, arguably fictitious, whose favoured weapon was the bow.

What the proportion of bows to other weapons used on the battlefield was is impossible to estimate, however before Viking armies closed for hand to hand combat there was usually an exchange of missiles, mostly hand hurled, but this would have included arrows from longer ranges.  Hand to hand combat is very tiring and if no break through is made quickly opposing warriors would draw apart to catch their breath before the next assault, not wishing the enemy to rest too much the archers take up the fight.  This is best illustrated the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066 where Norman archers took up the battle every time the infantry and knights withdrew from the fight.  Accounts of the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 23 September 1066 also speak of archers, indeed, like king Harold at Hastings the Norwegian king Harald Hardrada is said to have been wounded by an arrow (it may be that the accounts of the two battles have been conflated).

The bows used were technically longbows, being long!  They were not the monstrously powerful weapons used by the English archers of the Hundred Years War which are more properly termed “war bows”.  

Some of the warriors of Manaraefan use bows in our re-enactments, to do so we have to take some safety precautions that were un-necessary in the Viking Age!  The most obvious is that we don’t use sharp arrows!  The arrows are fitted with a rubber blunt originally designed for bird hunting, the arrow can still hurt so a further modification is needed. 

Archers can enliven a combat display, a single archer acting as a roving sniper keeps the warriors on their toes and adds an extra dimension to the action for the audience to enjoy.  In large battles a mass of archers do the same on a much grander scale.

They had a draw weight of around 70 pounds (this is a measure of how much energy is required to draw the bow and how much energy is imparted to the arrow) and could shoot an arrow 200 yards or a little more, at their extreme range they could hurt but would not necessarily inflict a severe wound.  Most of the bows energy is used up in the first half of the arrows flight so at ranges of 100 yards or less more damage could be inflicted upon the enemy. 

If using an armour piercing arrow head, a long thin head called a “bodkin” or needle, the archer had a reasonable expectation of wounding an armoured warrior such that he may consider alternative employment for the remainder of the day!

Arrows normally have three small feathers, flights, at the rear of the arrow, these flights stabilize the arrow by causing the rear of the arrow to slow down before the front using drag.  This is important as the bows energy is delivered to the arrow at the rear and without the flights the rear of the arrow will try to catch up with the front and make it unstable, we increase the drag effect by adding extra flights and making them bigger than is usual. 

We also restrict the draw weight of the bows to a maximum of 35 pounds.  All archers and warriors are required to train and take a test to ensure they understand the safe use of the weapon, warriors train how to be safely shot at as once the archer has loosed the arrow he no longer has control over it.  Finally we have to carefully consider where and when we use our bows, many small events are unsuitable for their use.

Finally some pictures of Manaraefan archers and friends in action or striking a pose.