One of the most valuable members of a medieval army was the archer. At long ranges, a medieval archer was capable of ending battles even before they began. However, one thing that people are often questioning was just how far could a medieval archer shoot? Well, fortunately for you we have the answer and more below.
On average a medieval archer equipped with a longbow could shoot an arrow a distance of between 200-300 meters. This is a range of around 650-980 feet. At this distance, a good medieval archer could inflict damage on an enemy while shooting between 8-12 arrows per minute.
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Without any further ado, here is exactly how far a medieval archer could shoot.
The Average Range of A Medieval Longbow
When it comes to how far a medieval archer could shoot most people are interested in the medieval longbow. At its peak in the 11th century, this weapon could fire a medium arrow distance of around 200-300 meters.
It is important to understand however that while an arrow could reach a distance of 300 meters it lost most of its power at this range. This was because most arrows shot by a medieval archer wielding the longbow were bodkin tipped.
A bodkin-tipped arrow differed from the traditional broadhead or triangle-shaped arrowheads in two ways. First, a bodkin arrowhead resembled a tiny dagger instead of a flat triangle. Second, the bodkin arrowhead allowed the arrow to fly further and with more accuracy when shot from a longbow.
During the medieval period, nearly all military arrows shot from longbows had a bodkin arrowhead. This allowed the arrow to pierce chainmail, leather, and at short distances even plate mail. On top of this since the arrow was more streamlined an archer could maintain an effective distance of 200-300 meters.
Depending on the archer however, the damaging range of the bodkin-tipped arrow fired from a longbow would only be around 220 meters. If the archer was talented and in shape, at this range a heavy shaft bodkin arrow could pierce nearly any type of medieval armor.
In 2017 a paper was published by the Warsaw University of Technology that detailed that longbows used at the Battle of Crecy on August 26, 1346, were capable of piercing mail armor at ranges of nearly 225 meters!
As such, it is safe to say that the average effective range of a medieval archer wielding a longbow was around 200-300 meters. This is a hotly contested topic in history but evidence has demonstrated that at 200 meters a medieval longbow archer could shoot an arrow that was capable of piercing medieval mail armor.
Average Range of A Medieval Archer With A Crossbow
Medieval archers often were fielded with a crossbow that was hand-cranked with a heavy bolt placed in the drawstring.
The maximum range of a heavy medieval crossbow with a bolt was around 200 meters. While the bolt could reach ranges of upwards of 250 meters much of the power and accuracy were lost due to the smaller and heavier crossbow bolt.
The smaller range was fine for the crossbow. A medieval archer equipped with a crossbow was used for a completely different purpose than an archer equipped with a longbow.
Crossbows were designed to fire bodkin-tipped heavy bolts that could pierce shields and platemail easily. A longbow on the other hand was designed to fire bodkin-tipped arrows high overhead and fall down on top of lightly armored troops from further away.
Because of this, the range of the crossbow was far less as the application was completely different. Heavy crossbows were brought onto the medieval battlefield later in the medieval period and were devastating against heavily armored infantry would now have almost no protection against it.
The reason why the medieval crossbow was so devastating was that at a range of 150-200 meters, it could fire a heavy wooden or iron bolt straight through armor and shields. Just like cutting through cheese infantry stood almost no chance against this type of weapon.
As such, the need for a long range on the crossbow was a moot point. A medieval commander would want the crossbow to perform at close range to be a shock weapon and prevent any form of protection from defending against it. Because of this, the effective range of a medieval archer equipped with a longbow was around 200 meters at most.
The Bodkin Arrow That Medieval Archers Shot Which Allowed Greater Ranges
One of the major reasons why the medieval archer could fire arrows and bolts 200 meters was because of the type of arrow that they used. Traditional broadhead arrowheads were cumbersome in flight and often affected the accuracy of the arrow.
However, the bodkin-tipped arrowheads were streamlined and allowed the arrow to fly further with less effort and greater accuracy. This was because a bodkin arrowhead is ‘pointier’ than a traditional broadhead one. With less air resistance on the arrowhead the medieval archer could put an arrow further downrange with greater accuracy. This technological development in arrowhead design greatly increased the effective range of a medieval archer.
Further, a medieval crossbow practically only shot the bodkin-tipped arrow. Instead of an arrow shaft the medieval crossbow shot bolts which were thicker, heavier, plumed differently, and were capable of piercing even the heaviest of armor. At the head of these bolts was an iron bodkin arrowhead. This resulted in a bolt flying nearly perpendicular to the ground and straight into an opposing force at ranges of 150-200 meters.
Generally speaking, it was this bodkin arrowhead that allowed medieval archers to push the effective range of which they shot arrows to the maximum. With a streamlined arrowhead that allowed greater accuracy, a well-trained and equipped medieval archer could shoot an arrow a distance of almost a quarter mile or around 300 meters!
There you have it; everything you could ever want to know about how far medieval archers could shoot an arrow.
Simply put, a medieval archer could lob an arrow an extremely far distance. With ranges between 200-300 meters, archers could rain down arrows on top of their enemies with surprisingly high accuracy thanks to the bodkin arrowhead.
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