Bows and arrows in the viking age

Bows and arrows have for millenniums got used when hunting and also during battle situations. The reason why they were handy, and remain as such, is that you can target prey or an enemy from far and still maintain a safe distance. During battles, archers were the first line of defense before the armies came together to fight.  

When you do think about the Vikings, you would think that was always the case because they were indeed considered one of the greatest warriors in history. However, from what has been unearthed, the reality about Viking bows and arrows is slightly more mundane then based on war. Read on to find out.

Viking bow and arrow facts

There are a few things that are known about bows and arrows in the Viking age. They were sometimes made out of rare species of trees. The other aspect to recognize is that the Vikings mostly used the bows and arrows for domestic purposes (we will cover later why). The bows and arrows found over Viking territory do vary, indicating that there was a uniqueness in how the bows and arrows got made, especially the arrowheads.

The types of bows that got used during this era were longbows, which are a type of bow that is about the same size as the user. Myths are claiming that the bow length was from five feet tall in the 11th century. In the 15th century, the height went up by an extra foot. The average size was, however, about a meter and one point eight meters.

There is evidence of other types of bows, such as the recurve bow that was more common at the time in Europe and Asia. The recurve bow tends to be stronger when it comes to the energy in which it releases the arrow. They were also practical in instances such as in the forest where the longbow was not as effective. The recurve was also generally better to use on horseback because of their design.

Do Vikings use bows?

Yes, Viking did use bows and arrows, and several folklores refer to the use of bows and arrows. In these instances, the men in the stories show a real act of heroism and their impressive ability to use bows and arrows to defend themselves. With just this weapon, they were able to ward off attack from the enemy even when they were outnumbered.

Overall, based on historical findings, bows, and arrows were not typically found in the graves of the warriors. Instead, they were found in households. That indicates that bows and arrows were not a tool of war, but it was for domestic purposes. It can be assumed that the bows and arrows were meant for hunting. In the folklore, a lot of these stories center around men who were defending their homes.

What are the bows and arrows usually made of?

The bows were made from either elm, ash or yew wood. The shafts are thought to have been made out of hardwood, though evidence of the same is limited. There are bows found in Denmark that date back to 2800BC and made from elm. There is also found in a different location within the country and date back to 1500-200BC. Iron and horn got used to strengthen the bows, while the nocks of the bow got made from horn or wood.

What bow and arrow size did the Vikings use?

They were between 1.6 and two meters in length. When it comes to the arrows, there is more variety in terms of the shapes and sizes they come in. The shortest arrowhead that has been found from 10th-century sites in Norway is about 12cm long. Those found in Iceland tended to be between 10 and 15 centimeters long. Some are longer, and that was perhaps dependent on the person. When it came to the shaft, those that have gotten found are about 70 to 80 meters long. In diameter, they were about 10mm.

How important is bow and arrow for the Vikings?

Given the evidence of where the bows and arrows got found, it is assumed that bows and arrows were more of a domestic tool than a tool of war. It is the same way that different communities have different weapons around the house for various things such as hunting or protecting the household from intruders, animals included. That is the assumption given that a lot of the arrowheads excavated were indeed found in home sites.  

Bows and arrows in the Viking age

It is thought that the range for the bows at this time was about 200 meters and also had a draw weight of 90lbs. That is as per the evidence of the 10th-century bows and arrows found. Based on the medieval Icelandic law, however, it shows that the range went up to as high as 480 meters. It is thought that was for archers. Additionally, the draw weights varied depending on a person’s capabilities. It is thus likely that they changed, making it somewhat challenging to establish an average draw length.

Another aspect of bows and arrows in the Viking age is that it was unclear how they got carried around. The reason for that is because evidence of the existence of quivers is limited. The only reference of it is in the stories of war passed down through the generations. Also, there were remnants of a quiver made of leather, but even that is assumed as such.  

Wrap up

There was more than the Vikings did with bows and arrows. It was not merely about battles and bloodshed. The evidence of this lies in the fact that most of what got found is in the household. Therefore, one can assume that apart from battle, the bows and arrows the Vikings used were more for domestic purposes than anything. There are different variations, and that also perhaps speaks of the artisans of the time.


 Viking Jewelry