Mongolian Composite Bow vs English Longbow – Key Differences

Composite Bow vs Longbow Archery

The history of mankind’s development has always been intertwined with the development of tools and weapons. Chief among these are the bows, tools that have been pivotal in hunting, warfare, and survival for thousands of years. The versatility of bows, their accessibility, and their adaptability to different environments, made them indispensable in ancient societies. However, it was the evolution of the simple bow to complex forms like the composite bow and longbow that revolutionized the course of warfare and hunting.

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Journey of the Bow: Composite bow vs longbow

From simple bent sticks and stretched strings, bows have come a long way. The evolution from a short bow made from a single piece of wood to more complex bows made from various types of wood, horn, bowstring, and sinew, is a testament to man’s unending quest for better tools. The composite bow and the longbow are considered two of the most remarkable results of this evolution. The design of each bow, the material used, the method of construction, and the technique of usage differ significantly, each reflecting the background of the societies that used them.

About the Mongolian Composite Bow:

The composite bow, a product of the nomadic cultures of Central Asia, especially the Mongols, was a key instrument in their conquering spree. Unlike simple bows, the composite bow was a result of skilled craftsmanship. This type of bow stores more energy due to its composite construction. In contrast to bows made from a single piece of wood / limb, these were made from a composite of different materials such as wood, sinew, and horn, all glued together using animal glue.

This construction gave the recurve bow its unique ‘recurve’ shape. A ‘recurve bow’ curves away from the archer when unstrung, which allows it to store more energy when drawn. This increased energy storage results in more power and inertia being transferred to the arrow, increasing the bow’s shooting range. Despite being shorter than the English longbow, it could deliver shots with comparable power, thanks to this efficient energy storage and transfer.

The composite bow’s construction was a long and laborious process, requiring much more time compared to simpler bows. You’re looking at something that would take weeks to make.

The process involved precise crafting of the components, careful assembly, and the patient waiting while the animal glue cured and held the components together. The final product, however, was worth all the effort, making it the best choice and weapon suited for the people of the steppe.

The Mongolian Composite Bow: A Weapon of the Empire

The Mongolian composite bow was an integral part of the Mongolian warfare strategy. From a young age, Mongol children were trained in archery and horseback riding, preparing them for their future roles as warriors. Their archery practice included learning to care for their bow, repair it if needed, and fletch their own arrows. This early training ensured a steady supply of skilled archers for the Mongolian armies.

The composite bow’s efficiency and compact size made it an ideal weapon for the Mongol warriors. The composite bow’s superior energy transfer capabilities enabled it to deliver powerful shots despite its smaller size and draw weight, compared to longbows. Its small size was especially beneficial for horseback archery, allowing the archer to maneuver and shoot with ease.

Composite Bows: Pros and Cons

Pro: Horseback use

The Mongolian armies capitalized on the composite bow’s advantages and used them to their fullest extent. They developed hit and run tactics, which were perfectly suited to their composite bows and horseback riding skills. These tactics resulted in devastating losses for their enemies while minimizing their own casualties. 

Depending on their roles, the soldiers carried different types of arrows. Scouts and messengers carried lighter arrows for delivering messages or signaling. Soldiers used poison-tipped and flesh-piercing arrows, while the most commonly used arrows were the bodkin-type arrows, known for their penetrative power. Despite the variety of arrows, all were designed to be light and agile, in line with the composite bow’s design.

While there are stories about Mongolian archers shooting more than 500 meters, it’s a little bit exaggerated and in actual warfare, Mongolian soldiers wouldn’t shoot from that distance.

Read: How far a Mongolian bow can shoot

Pro: Faster Reload

To maximize the composite bow’s advantages, the Mongols used thumb rings to shoot their arrows. This technique allowed them to hold multiple arrows in their hand and fire them in quick succession, increasing their rate of fire significantly. In addition, they used the Mongolian thumb release, a technique where the thumb and a strap are used to draw the bow. This technique allowed the archer to have one arrow notched on the bow and three more between the fingers, enabling four quick shots in succession.

Con: Difficult to maintain

However, the composite bow had a significant drawback. Its layered construction and the materials used made it susceptible to humid and wet climates. The animal glue that held the components together could weaken, and the bow could lose its shape or even break under such conditions. As a result, maintaining the integrity of the composite bow was an ongoing challenge for the Mongolian archers.

The English Longbow: Simplicity and Power Combined

On the other side of the spectrum is the English longbow, an epitome of simplicity and power. This bow, unlike the composite bow, was made from a single piece of yew wood. The simplicity of longbow design and construction meant that it required less maintenance compared to the composite bow. Furthermore, its simple design also allowed for mass production, a factor that played a crucial role in equipping large English armies during the medieval period.

The English longbow is one of the most recognized weapons of the medieval period. Although they were initially called Welsh longbows due to their popularity in Wales, the English soon adopted this design. The longbow became a significant factor in the English victories against the French in key battles like Agincourt and Crecy.

Longbows: Pros and Cons

Pro: Easy to Produce

Unlike the composite bow, the longbow was made from a single piece of yew. The entire body of the bow was carved out of the yew, eliminating the need for complex construction or assembly. This simplicity also meant that the bow was robust and durable, capable of withstanding tough conditions without the risk of falling apart.

During the medieval period, every English household was required by law to practice archery. Given the readily available supply of yew wood, the longbows were easy to produce, and most English households knew the basics of bow making and maintenance. As a result, longbows could be mass-produced more easily than other bows or a crossbow, providing the English armies with a steady supply of this powerful weapon.

Pro: Penetration Power

The English longbow was a powerful weapon, capable of delivering powerful shots and piercing armor. The longbow had a higher initial draw weight than the composite bow, which, combined with the longbow’s larger size, allowed it to deliver more powerful shots. Its length also provided a longer draw length, which, coupled with the high draw weight, meant that it could achieve greater penetration even at longer distances.

However, contrary to popular belief, even the mighty longbow could not penetrate a well-made late medieval breastplate. A fresh, well-made breastplate could withstand the impact of an arrow without a scratch, often shattering the arrow upon impact. This is not to say that the longbow did not have penetrative power. It could penetrate chainmail, gambeson, and thin plate armor, making it a lethal weapon against lesser-armored opponents.

Con: Too big

However, the longbow’s size and weight were a disadvantage. It was unwieldy in confined spaces and difficult to use on horseback, limiting its versatility compared to the composite bow.

Key Differences: Which is Better? Recurve Bow vs Longbows

The comparison between the composite bow and the English longbow is not a straightforward one. Each bow has its strengths and weaknesses, and each was developed in response to the specific needs of the societies that used them.

In terms of overall performance and versatility, the Mongolian composite bow has the edge. Its efficiency, portability, and adaptability make it a superior weapon. It may not have the longbow’s penetrative power, but its quick reload time and accuracy, particularly when used on horseback, offer significant tactical advantages.

However, if the task is to equip an army in a limited time period, the English longbow is the bow of choice. Its simple construction, durability, and ease of mass production make it a practical choice for equipping large armies quickly. While it requires more training to master, its power and range make it a formidable weapon on the battlefield.

Final Thoughts

While the Mongolian composite bow and the English longbow are both exceptional bows, they are designed for different roles and tactics. The choice between them would depend on the specific requirements of the user. Regardless of the choice, it is clear that both the composite bow and the longbow have left a lasting legacy on the art of archery and the history of warfare.

Frequently Asked Questions

Difference Between a Compound Bow and a Composite Bow

As a novice or an expert in the realm of archery, you may find yourself looking into various bow types to find the one that best fits your needs. The two bow types that you may come across often in your research are the compound bow and the composite bow. Both are unique in their construction and use, and understanding the key differences between these types of bows will play a significant role in your archery journey.

The compound bow, popular with many modern archers, is your best pick if you’re looking for power and accuracy combined with convenience. Unlike traditional bows, compound bows store energy more efficiently due to their unique pulley or ‘cam’ system. When a compound bow is at full draw, the cams take over most of the bow’s weight, which means the archer uses less energy to hold the bow at full draw and can take more time to aim. Compound bows also provide better speed and accuracy due to their rigid construction, often made from modern materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber. If you plan on hunting or are new to archery, a compound bow is your best pick due to its lower care and maintenance requirements compared to longbows or composite bows.

On the other hand, the composite bow, including styles like the Mongolian bow or longbow, has a rich history dating back to various empires. These bows sometimes referred to as self-bows, can be made from various types of wood or a combination of sinew, horn, and wood, glued together with animal glue. Composite bows and longbows, such as the Welsh longbow, often require much more time to construct and maintain. Bowyers, or those who make longbows, usually use a single piece of wood, while a composite bow is made from multiple materials. Despite the additional cost and maintenance, composite bows, especially when used on horseback, are favored by traditionalists and expert archers for their unique feel and style.

What type of bow would be best for a beginner in archery?

If you’re new to archery, a recurve bow could be a solid choice. Recurve bows are a type of traditional bow that offer a good balance between power and ease of use. They are simpler in design than compound bows, with fewer moving parts, which makes them less daunting for beginners. Furthermore, they provide a direct feel for the archery basics, allowing you to hone your skills in aiming, anchoring, and release techniques. That said, many beginners find compound bows appealing due to their mechanical advantage that makes them easier to draw, hold at full draw, and shoot accurately. The choice ultimately depends on your personal preference, physical strength, and the type of archery you’re interested in.

What factors contribute to the durability of different bow types?

The durability of bows depends on several factors. One primary factor is the material used in their construction. For instance, traditional longbows made from a single piece of yew wood are generally robust and require minimal maintenance. Composite bows, on the other hand, made from layers of different materials such as wood, horn, and sinew, require a high level of care to prevent the layers from separating due to changes in humidity and temperature. Compound bows, made from modern materials like carbon fiber, aluminum, and fiberglass, are exceptionally durable and resistant to environmental changes but have more mechanical parts that could potentially fail. Other factors affecting durability include the craftsmanship, the amount and type of use the bow gets, and how well it’s cared for and maintained.

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