Six Medieval Arrow Types – What are they for?

Six Medieval Arrow Types – What are they for?

hi its Tod of Tod's workshop and Tod
Cutler here and today we're going to talk a little bit about longbow arrows
of English longbow arrows now the first thing I'll say is that the myth and
legend that surround the English longbow it just makes it obscures so much hard
information because there's so many people out there who just absolutely say
this is it this is fact I'll tried quite I'll try not to be one of those people
and that's not what my channel is about so I will say it the way I believe it to
be and explain why I think that and then we'll take it from there
I have six different arrow forms here and they're all during various points
fairly normal kind of arrows so we will start with the armor piercing bodkin this
is fitted to war bow shaft let's say between 30 and 32 inches long depending
I think Mary Rose is about thirty and a half inches I think and traditionally the cloth yard shaft was supposed to be 32 inches I believe so in a way 30 and a
half to 32 inches for an a shaft iron or steel head upon it which has four faces
now the four faces are quite important because if you imagine taking a round
arrow and trying to shoot that through steel what then has to happen to the
steel is you you deform it you have to break through you have to deform it and
stretch it until it's wide enough to allow the arrow to pass. Now that takes a
great deal of energy, it takes less energy if you cut four cuts in it and
then those steel panels get bent back in a very characteristic shape. The sort
of four triangles get bent back leaving enough room for the arrowhead to pass.
But… and here's the but… to try and pass arrows through armor I have yet to
encounter anybody who's really successfully done it through what I
would consider to be a decent piece of armor so if you take something like a
Agincourt they would make armour out of iron largely at the time
perhaps is a bit of Steel there but upon the breastplate for instance in the
front of the helmet the thickness can really get quite high so sort of maybe
three millimeters or up to eighth of an inch kind of in that direction and I see
people on YouTube or wherever it might be and they're putting arrows through
one point two millimeter steel they've even seen cheats where people have
pulled out an aluminium plate and go look it shoots through steel! It's like uh,
wrong colour. So again you look at the historical treatise and you talk about
French Knights for instance fearing that the arrows will go through the breaths
of their helmets not through their breastplates but through the vents of
the helmet well that of course might be a bit of a lot of a weak spot so yes he
would consider that but towards the end of the Hundred Years War what the French
were doing to effectively defeat the English archers was heads down walk
slowly bunch up maybe but basically makes sure
all the gaps are covered and they were pretty impenetrable so the whole thing
about English arrows shooting through armor yeah sure it happened occasionally
if the armor was bad or it's a weak spot or is a lucky shot but essentially
essentially it didn't really happen that's my understanding of it. Now the
other thing that's very interesting about these arrowheads is of course
wrought iron is the cheap material to make them from but wrought iron doesn't
keep a good cutting edge here and you do need a good cutting edge and again most
modern reproductions is just done at mild steel which is a bit harder than
the wrought iron but not a great deal you could fashion them completely out
steel but that becomes an expensive process so what you see in records is
you see arrowheads where it says arrowheads at X price or if they are
'steeled' they are a higher price now we don't really know the definition of the
word steeled, what they mean by that, my guess because it would be appropriate to
the arrowhead and they certainly could do, is that it's case hardening so you
can take five hundred arrowheads pack them in a box full of charcoal clay pot
bake that in a fire or eight hours ten hours and a very thin film of carbon
impregnates itself into the surface of the iron or the other
low-grade steel and you end up with a absolutely super hard
steel jacket around the arrowhead. Now, metallurgical analysis hasn't shown that in any arrowheads that I know of but there is the argument that the layer is so
very thin of high carbon steel on the outside that actually it just be rusted
away in all cases so I think it's never been proved definitively but
if you ask my opinion these things only ever stand a chance of working if they
are made from a super super hard steel or in that case case hardened a super
hard steel jacket on fundamentally a wrought iron core so that would be my
take on the armor piercing arrow this is a Needle Bodkin, now as plate armour came
in so this is very much a 13th 14th century item now as plate
armor came in this long needle upon the end it's just going to bend so that's
going to be no good at all for plate armor which is why it got shorter and
stubbier for the plate cutting arrow heads now this long one is to defeat
maille (mail) so actually it is less important it doesn't cut so much as poke its way
through the rings but essentially that's just got one ring that it needs to
defeat before it can pass deeper yes it's got the padded jack beneath it and
so on but this makes it an easier Arrowhead to make the technology of it
the steel that's required is fundamentally a low-grade wrought iron
would basically do it so there's no need to steal these ones or to case-hardened
them but this of course fell out of use as mail fell out of use so by the time
you get to about 1400 these things are not you're not facing mail on a
battlefield anymore or not so much and not against knights anyway and so these
sort of arrowheads have fallen out of use then we get the last of the military
head so have here which this is quite an aggressively barbed one but nonetheless
it's it's true for sort of type 16 as the classic ones where the barbed sort
of comes in I suppose you'd call this an open type 16 I guess
you've got to cutting faces here now that of course will not defeat Armour it
will not go through mail and it will not go through plate just simply it's just
the wrong shape but it is of course very very good at going into flesh that's the
whole point of it you've got these barbs here now as you can tell from my
dress up here I'm on a reenactment at the moment and one of the questions that
often comes is well how do you get the arrowhead out and people go "oh do you
push it through?" it's like well, that's what it's an inch wide 25 mil wide that
cutting edge if it's in your leg let's say it's not that deep in but it fits in
your leg if you've got to push that through yeah it's gonna hurt it's going
to do all those things but the other thing you've now absolutely committed
yourself to perhaps a devastating arterial injury that you simply didn't
have before and you're making a much bigger wound you know so basically
you're not going to do that. Can you cut it out? Well yes you can cut it out
because you can't really pull it but you could put a slit there and sort of like
probe into the slit but yet again you're just increasing the wound size that
you've got and if there's one thing about medieval people we know they
didn't necessarily have the technology we had but they had the same brains
we've got they feel the same pain and they weren't stupid so they find a way
and one of the ways which i think is just beautifully simple is that the
arrow goes in and and as you can see now it's catching on my flesh I can't pull
the arrow out without it ripping my hand apart now if it goes in well, you need to
find a way out to get it out so you can take a pair of feathers these it's just
a goose quill and if you poked within the wound you can just poke it on going
deep into the wound and you see there it now lodges on the end of the barb and
the barb now can come clean off my hand without any danger of it hurting me. Now
what I will say about this feather technique is, and it's one of the dangers
actually in truth of not being an academic and not following my sources up,
is I've known this "fact" for 20 years that this is how people would remove an
arrowhead where I came across that I actually
simply cannot remember I have no idea how I know this or why I know this and
as a consequence I can't actually tell you that it's true, however when
people are getting shot continuously with arrows, as happens in warfare, you
find ways, you find solutions to problems and I would put quite a lot of money on
it that this was would be, one of, the methods for withdrawing an arrow
particularly if you can't find a barber surgeon who's got all the specialist
tools and so forth because of course they existed but if
you can't afford them you can't find one where you make do don't you and some
clever guy in your band is going to work out that that's all you need to do and
you can pull your arrow. And the next we'll talk about is a very simple leaf
shape, now this sort of form was certainly used by the Saxons presumably
the Vikings also and to be honest probably went back way before that and
it just carries on and carries on through the medieval period and it's
just a simple leaf shaped Arrowhead it's wide it's got a cutting surface so it's
going to be good for sort of good levels of penetration but also is going to be
good about against moderate sized game so something like Boar perhaps, certainly
in Saxon and Viking times and I'm guessing in medieval, I don't know, but it
would also be a sort of a war head as well so both hunting and war I'd put
that type down as. Now this is an interesting one. I know it's a
Swallowtail head and it is a very broad cutting head.
Swallowtail because it's like the shape of a swallows tail and it is typically a
hunting head. Now this is fitted to a hunting shaft. Now what I will say
actually about all of these arrows is that they are the most disgusting
condition possible and they're just part of a reenactment kit that's just been
left in a garage for 20 years or something and it is embarrassing but
it's also there. Now the thing about hunting and we're going to come to
Gaston Phoebus we're going to talk about him in a minute, he was an author around
about just before the Year 1400 who wrote some fantastic books, Illustrated,
all about medieval hunting, extraordinary things if you can find them and what
you see there again and again is that men are not shooting
from 100 meters away or 50 meters away they're doing it from really close. They're stalking, they're getting right in there and the reason for that is, and
I can tell you because I've done it, is at 25 meters (25 yards), if you're watching
the man who's shooting the bow you can step aside from the arrow (I did it with
blunts by the way I'm not that brave or stupid) but you can step aside from the
arrow and if I can step aside from the arrow at 25 yards sure as hell a deer is
going to hear it and start and run and you'll miss so you've got to get very
close now the other reason that you get very close is that these big veins on
the front they steer the arrow itself so the long shaft length allows some
stability and it's good stability because of the long shaft but still
you've got these big vanes on the front and that wants to steer it in other
directions and so it is never going to be a very accurate arrow, now what is
particularly the case, and I discovered this myself, is I wanted to put them on
to crossbow bolts. Big swallowtails like this and you see it throughout things
like manuscripts like yes of phoebus you see these big arrowheads on these
crossbows I shot that at five six meters yards and I shot the Swallowtail
straight at the centre just testing it out and no kidding aside it literally it
went down and it rose again and it's what swept in and so this whole bolt
this crossbow bolt over such a short distance went like that Italy unusable
and very annoying because that's what I wanted to fit now I can only come to the
conclusion that the illustrations that you see in works there guess the fever's
what they're doing it's a very medieval thing but they're highlighting the fact
that these crossbows had hunting heads on them and so they're drawn bigger than
they would otherwise be that's my premise on it because I've
tried it and I just cannot see it I had to cut mine right down to about 28
millimeters (inch and a bit) something like that in width before it would start
behaving yourself this has large cutting faces that would be sort of chopping up
razor sharp really and so when that goes in
the chest of a beast a deer or something what you really trying to do is to make
the thing bleed out as fast as possible so like an armor-piercing head although
that stuck through the heart of a deer or something it's not going to do it any
favors it's still gonna run and it in dense woodland it can run far enough
that you can't find it and it's not leaving a massive blood trail because
the arrow shaft is plugged in the hole that it's made one like this you're
cutting 50 mil 2 inches wide or maybe more with a small hole plugging it so
you get a good blood trail that you can follow but the other thing that's
interesting about these is that when they go in if you imagine that this is
the chest of the beast and this is the muscles on the side as they move as the
thing runs it stirs the arrow shaft around and so if it is sharpened up
razor-sharp it does move around and and you can kind of see that it can actually
walk itself deeper so the actual action of the beast running causes it more
damage so this will allow the beast to drop as swift as possible and then the
last of the arrows were going to come to is a mystery or at least I believe it to
be a mystery now talking of Gaston phoebus again you see this
crescent-shaped head again on hunting crossbows you see that quite a lot why
it's this shape I have no idea I can't imagine but they're not necessarily as
people say for hunting birds because they're not shown in that context
they're shown in the context of beasts boar and deer in such things I haven't
seen a manuscript with this on a longbow so I don't know for certain that they
are longbow arrows maybe somebody out there does but you do see them on
crossbows I've heard so many different versions of it I've heard that there for
birding I've heard for goodness sake that they're for cutting rigging on
ships I've heard many different things but there are two things about them that
I know one you see them Gaston Pheobas in hunting scenes where they're hunting
beasts not Birds the other thing I know about them is if you do shoot them onto
the ground if your roving in a field or something like that
and your arrow if it hits the grass will just otherwise bury itself these do stop
catch and fall over they act like in the modern archery sense, a judo point, they
keep the arrow on the surface and that is also correct saying that a
wooden blunt upon the end and I think they would probably used a lot actually
a wooden blunt upon the end does exactly the same thing it doesn't bury itself in
the ground so there we have it really we have six different arrowheads longbow
heads six different varieties all fitted to very poor condition arrows, I'm sorry
about that, and that is my take on what they are, what they're for and and how
they did it, thank you very much.

36 Replies to “Six Medieval Arrow Types – What are they for?”

  1. I want to preface this with I AM NOT AN EXPERT AND AM NOT TRYING TO CROSS YOU OR QUESTION YOUR LOGIC, but this is just sort of a logical discrepancy I noticed. In your “sword breaker” video you say that there must have been a flaw with the “sword breaker” because we don’t see many of them. If this logic stands then we could assume that these armor piercing arrows, which seems to be quite common and widely used, must have been successful in achieving their desired task. Either they were piercing armor of the day or that was not actually their designed purpose. I think that maybe you are over estimating the strength of the armor of they day. I am not sure, and am not an expert on the topic at all, but this is just something that I was thinking.

    I hope you see this and respond because I would love to learn more. I just found this channel and it seems super amazing! Awesome information!

  2. As a modern day Archer and knowing little about the history of war Archery,
    1st Plate Cutter and 2nd Needle Bodkin have no real modern use, but the definition given sound fine.
    3rd Barbed Type 16 and 4th Swallow Tail – 
    Resemble some broad-heads still made today and are most likely the same style head, The larger size and seeing it on x-bows more then longbow is due to the x-bow requiring a heavier bolt to get better penetration, over Arrow's that are longer making them heavier then x-bow bolts and due the longer power stroke of a longbow giving it a faster shot, to over come this running heavier broad-head's on x-box helps with this. 
    This method is still done today, An arrow will normally have 100gr to 125gr broad-head and a crossbow will run 150gr to 175gr.
    4th Leaf Shape – 
    This is still used and preferred by big game hunters today, the revers taper at the back is so the head will fall out and leave a blood trail but with modern equipment nearly all shot will penetrate through animals like deer.
    6th Crescent – 
    I am 90% shore this is for rabbits and foxes for definition given in video, if it was for cutting rope id think it to be 4 blade not 2 blade, as an arrow spins when it is shot making a 2 blade much harder to cut rope with,
    7th a blunt – 
    Is really not that good at small game hunting with a longbow, and the only real reason for them is so your arrow won't get stuck in a tree, normal you will use full size feathers this arrow is called a flu-flu.

  3. Man, you are BRILLIANT. Thank you for a really interesting and helpful video — as a deer specialist, the swallowtail discussion was particularly interesting to me. Excellent work!

  4. I've seen documentaries on the crescent shaped arrow heads a lot in Japanese archery. Perhaps there was a lost in translation here? Maybe someone got an arrow head from somewhere else and perhaps it got mixed in? @Tod's Workshop

  5. So I have no experience with bow/arrow. That being said I do have a theory about that last arrow. Is it possible it’s meant for wounding/breaking bone? The half moon looks like it would be good redirecting energy and centering on a bone. The flat would make a good high pressure on low surface area. But that’s just a thought. Would be intriguing if someone did a test.

  6. The crescent is for rabbit, fish, rodent. You're right about it not being for bird, feathers are actually excellent armor against broad cutting edges. But let me point out that it would be EXCELLENT at knocking down fruit higher in a tree than most people could reach/climb. Such a tip could also be used to harvest mushroom without having to draw a knife.

    Make some and try fishing with them!

  7. Thank you for this presentation. A long time ago I was putting an archery impression for an Eastern Viking camp and I ran across allot of similar discussions regarding each style of arrow head. Your explanations of each arrow head seam very plausible.

  8. This was thoroughly entertaining and educational. Thank you so much! Now to go find the Gaston-Phoebus you mentioned. 😀

  9. I’m only guessing but I think the last one was for shooting at the rope of someone who was hanging to free them.
    I think I saw it on a Robin Hood movie when i was younger

  10. The only one I wanted to know had no answer haha. Though with that said I very much enjoyed everything about your video. Got an extra sub here. Thank you for your time making this video.

  11. Very interesting. Your theories on the aspects of these different arrows that you are not certain about make good sense and I do believe them true.

  12. With a brief look online, mostly regarding the cutting of ships sail, found this really nice blog about the crescent arrow head, not sure how it fares up, but seems worth the read to anyone interested. Nice testing on the blog writers part, trying to reduce bias as much as possible aswell.

  13. i Would love to find a archaeologist recreator to make period correct "steeled " heads and test them,but alas cost.
    Also In regard to the barbed arrow , i forget the name but a roman source stated that a wound 2 inches wide and 2 inches deep was invariably fatal unless treated by a skilled physician immediately.

  14. I could believe the two arrows (swallow tail and crescent) are more than likely used on a crossbow as a finishing/mercy shot. e.g. track an animal to find it is suffering. You would have your man finish off the beast at point blank range.

  15. What you said about the crescent shaped arrow head having the ability to be shot toward the ground and not burying itself in the ground is the best clue to its use I think. If you are hunting small ground based prey like rabbits, ground squirrels, and maybe pheasants, you want an arrow if u miss not to bury itself in the ground and possibly break the shift from hitting a rock or something. Especially if u are firing the arrow from a short distance which the impact of the arrow will have a lot of force behind it. Arrow shafts were probably not that expensive but why pay more if u do not have to if you use that arrow head? Nice video keep up the good work.

  16. Hi Todd, this is Levente from Hungary, co-founder of the Nap Parducai traditional archery group. We actually teamed up with the Natural History Museum of Hungary to investigate and reproduce traditional arrows for them and later these were distributed out across various museums in Europe. The last arrow head we actually know in 2 versions of: the one you show in the video, and the other is a more opened up one, where the 2 endpoints are bent back like a tulip. The inner side is sharpened in these, and legend has it you could hunt birds with it by aiming at the neck (not true)….. actually it’s one of the most devastating warheads against leather armour or flesh. As you noticed in your video, as soon as the head catches in something it turns on to the contact point (judo point), causing a massive penetration point, in extreme cases you could cut limb off with it, as the inner ‘blade’ combined with the ‘cone’ shape (mind that the arrow is rotating due to the twisted fletching, giving you a virtual cone) somewhat collects flesh and other material, instead of pushing it out of the way.

    If you are interested in these in more depth, let me know.

    Kind regards: Lev (contact)

  17. Forget the nonsense talked by the frivolous late-night accidental watchers. This man is credible in the way that most people should aspire to be. Great and informative talk. Thanks.

  18. steeled means they make the body and most of the head out of Iron but forge weld on a tip of Steel. because steel was more expensive and harder to work with it saved on cost to make the majority of the head with cheaper material then tip it with the more costly material which holds a better edge.

    This was common practice among blacksmiths making all kinds of tools, especially in places where they were far from where the iron was mined and smelted. Most smiths did not smelt their own iron/steel. And shipping cost was higher for steel than iron because it was A: more costly material to begin with and B: heavier. so harder to transport larger quantities over distance.


  19. The original crescent was created by a Roman emperor for use in the Colosseum to kill ostriches. They probably had a different use in the period you are discussing but the original purpose was just to kill ostriches easier.

  20. You need exposure to bow hunters over here in the states.

    You will get a quick education on tuning a bow/arrow/broadhead combination.

    It is completely possible to get a broadhead to shoot very well, even with no fletching, from a well tuned bow.

  21. The presenter was great! It’s obvious they have a lot of experience and contact with medieval tools and texts! Very cool video!

  22. No previous interest in archery, but glad some algorithm thought it might peak my interested, because it did. Well done that man in a forest.

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