Catalogue of Archery Evidence

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Viking Age Compendium articles on Archery:
VA Bow and Arrow finds.jpg
Catalogue of Archery Evidence
Viking Age Compendium articles on Archery:
VA Bow and Arrow finds.jpg
Catalogue of Archery Evidence

For explanation of terms see the Bows and Arrows pages. For finds of Arrow heads also see the Arrows page.

Bows from Archaeology

Location / Catalogue No. Condition Terminal Shape Nock Type Wood Length Date Ref.
Dublin, Ireland / DWP1 Fragment Straight Single Yew >10cm C11th-C12th [Halpin 2008]
Dublin, Ireland / DWP2 Fragment Straight Double Scots Pine >15cm C11th-C12th [Halpin 2008]
Dublin, Ireland / DWP3 Fragment  ? Double Yew >11cm C11th-C12th [Halpin 2008]
Dublin, Ireland / DWP4 Fragment Deflexed Single Yew >13cm C11th-C13th [Halpin 2008]
Dublin, Ireland / DWP5 Fragment Straight Double Elm >10cm C11th-C12th [Halpin 2008]
Dublin, Ireland / DWP6 Fragment Straight Double Yew >20cm C11th-C13th [Halpin 2008]
Dublin, Ireland / DWP7 Complete Straight Double Yew 68cm C11th-C13th [Halpin 2008]
Dublin, Ireland / DWP8 Fragment Straight Double Yew >8cm C12th [Halpin 2008]
Ballinderry, Ireland Complete Deflexed Yew 190cm Late C10th [Halpin 2008]
Adare Castle, Ireland Complete Single Yew [Halpin 2008]
Waterford, Ireland / 1 Fragment  ? Single Yew C11th ? [Halpin 2008]
Waterford, Ireland / 2-c Fragment Double Yew >71cm C11th ? [Halpin 2008]
Waterford, Ireland / 3-b Fragment Double Yew >65cm C11th ? [Halpin 2008]
Waterford, Ireland / 4-d Complete Deflexed Single Yew 126cm C11th ? [Halpin 2008]
Waterford, Ireland / 5 Fragment Double? Yew C11th ? [Halpin 2008]
Waterford, Ireland / 6 Fragment Double Yew C11th ? [Halpin 2008]
Waterford, Ireland / 7 Fragment Deflexed Single Yew C11th ? [Halpin 2008]
Cork, Ireland Fragment C11th ? [Halpin 2008]
Cork, Ireland Fragment C11th ? [Halpin 2008]
Hedeby, Denmark / 1 Complete Deflexed Single Yew 191cm 850-1066AD [Paulsen 1999]
Hedeby, Denmark / 2 Fragment  ?  ? Yew >16cm 850-1066AD [Paulsen 1999]
Hedeby, Denmark / 3 Fragment Deflexed  ? Yew >47cm 850-1066AD [Paulsen 1999]
Hedeby, Denmark / 4 Fragment Straight  ? Yew >27cm 850-1066AD [Paulsen 1999]
Hedeby, Denmark / 5 Fragment  ?  ? Yew >23cm 850-1066AD [Paulsen 1999]
Hedeby, Denmark / 6 Fragment  ?  ? Yew >21cm 850-1066AD [Paulsen 1999]
Hedeby, Denmark / 7 Fragment  ? Single Elm >37cm 850-1066AD [Paulsen 1999]
Aarlsum, Netherlands Fragment  ? Double Yew >126cm (~175-185cm) 720-890 [Lanting 1999]
Wassenaar, Netherlands Fragment Deflexed Yew >150cm (~180-190cm) 800-950AD [Lanting 1999]
Pineilh la mothe, France Complete Straight Double Elm 125cm 979-1060AD [Lansac 2008]
Burg Elmendorf, Germany Complete (Unfinished) Straight Single Yew 162cm C12th [Junkmanns 2013]
Oberflacht, Germany / Gr.7 Complete Single Yew 169cm C7th [Hoernig 2005]
Oberflacht, Germany / Gr.8 Complete Single Yew 170cm C7th [Hoernig 2005]
Oberflacht, Germany / Gr.21 Complete Single Yew 184cm C7th [Hoernig 2005]
Oberflacht, Germany / Gr. Fragment Yew >20cm C7th [Hoernig 2005]
Oberflacht, Germany / Gr. Fragment Elm >112cm C7th [Hoernig 2005]
Altdorf, Switzerland Complete Yew 180cm C7th [Hoernig 2005]

Nydem, Vimose and Kragehul, Denmark bog finds also had bows and arrows.

Arrow Shafts from Archaeology

  • Scotland
    • Scar (AD 875-950) [Owen & Dalland 1999]
      • 9 Arrow fragments made from Scots Pine. Leaf heads. Surviving length of shaft 12cm.
  • Ireland
    • Dublin [Halpin 2008]
      • DWP11: C11th. Complete made from Scots Pine. Leaf head. Total length 60cm (including head), Shaft 54cm. Diameter 10mm.
      • DWP12: C11th-12th. Fragment made from Willow. Surviving length of shaft 22cm.
    • Waterford [Halpin 2008]
      • Complete, unknown wood. Bodkin head.
      • Fragment made from Yew
    • Cork [Halpin 2008]
      • 2 Arrow fragments made of Yew.
  • Norway [Farbregd 1972]
    • Oppland (9th-10th C)
      • 42: Fragment, 38cm. Birch. Tanged shouldered arrow head.
      • 58: Complete, 69cm Birch. Tanged leaf arrow head. Traces of resin from holding the flights. [Roesdahl & Wilson 1992]:p.249 cat.88
      • 59 & 38: Fragment, 57cm. Birch
      • 60: Fragment, 64cm. Birch
    • Femund (AD 800-1000)
      • birch shaft with tanged head attached by lashing with tendon (sinew), then covered with birch bark. [Roesdahl & Wilson 1992]:p.249 cat.88
    • Snohetta
      • birch shaft with tanged leaf shaped head. Traces of resin from holding the flights [Roesdahl & Wilson 1992]:p.249 cat.88
  • Denmark (old)
    • Hedeby
      • Harbour: 13 blunt heads were found in the harbour, and one knock end fragment. 11 were conical, two were double conical (widest point in the middle) [Westphal 2006]:p. 61 These 13 heads can be added to those found in the settlement giving a total of 58 blunt heads. Sizes of the conical heads: Length 31-82mm, diameter of the head 9-35mm (21mm average), diameter of shaft 6-14mm (9mm average). Sizes of the bi-conical heads: Length 31-82mm, diameter of the head 12-23mm (18mm average), diameter of shaft 6-10mm (8mm average). The type of wood could be determined for 46 fragments. 31(67%) were ash. 7 (15%) hazel, and one each (2%) of oak, fir, pine, elder, spruce, alder and maple. [Westphal 2006]:p.61
  • Germany
    • Elisenhof (8th-11th C). 6 arrow shafts were identified in Elisenhof. [Szabo 1985]:p.26, taf. 4
      • 24: complete blunt of unknown wood type. Length 34.00cm, 0.6cm diameter, 1.2-1.5cm head diameter, 0.3cm deep knock. The head is oval in cross section and flat at the end.
      • 25: broken at the lower end, made of elder. Length now 48.00cm, diameter 1.1cm, deep knock 16.5cm and 9.5cm from the knock are two grooves, possibly form the attachment of feathers.
      • 26: broken at the lower end, unknown wood type. Length now 37.00cm (probably not much longer when complete), 1.0cm diameter, and 1.5cm at the feathers, 0.3cm deep knock. 1.0 adn 2.5cm from the knock are some grooves possibly to give the fingers a better grip. 8.0cm from the end there are the remains for some metal pins, possibly to fasten the feathers. Between the metal pins and the grooves are the remains of feathers.
      • 27: broken lower part of a blunt arrow, made of hazel. Length now 13.5cm, diameter of the shaft 0.7cm, diameter of the head 1.5cm. The blunt head has a round cross section and has a flat end which is blackened.
      • 28: broken lower part of a blunt arrow, made of hazel. Length now 11cm, diameter of the shaft 0.6cm, diameter of the head 1.2cm. The head is round in cross section and flat at the end.
      • 29: Broken lower part of a blunt arrow, unknown wood type. Length now 6.3cm, diameter of shaft 0.6cm, diameter of head 1.6cm
  • Switzerland
    • Altdorf (7th C) [HORNIG 2004]
      • 8 Arrows made from Hazel, Ash and Honeysuckle.

Arrow Heads from Archaeology

This is not intended to be a comprehensive list. It is intended to give an overall impression of the types of arrow heads and the areas where they have been found.

Tanged Arrows - leaf or shouldered

  • England
Leaf shapped heads are not common in Britain [Ottaway 1992]:p.711

Socketed Arrows - shouldered or leaf

Bodkin heads

  • Dublin, Ireland Late C10th/C11th [Halpin 2008]:p.169 54% of heads
  • Trellborg, Denmark C11th [Halpin 2008]:p.169 56% of the arrows
  • Staigard/Oldenburg, Germany C11th [Halpin 2008]:p.169 majority of heads

Archery depicted in Art

Archery is frequently depicted in Viking Age art. The images below are of just a few of them.

Archery mentioned in Literature

Capitulary of Charlemeigne

Mobilization alert: Aachen, mid-April 806 [King 2007]

Each horseman is to carry shield and spear, long-sword and short-sword, bow, quivers and arrows, and your carts are to contain implements of various kinds”


Written c.1000 [Garnet 1912]

  • Lines 1432-1435
“The prince of the Geats
With, his arrowed bowdeprived one of life,
Of strife with the sea, so that stood in his vitals
The hard war-arrow : he was in the holm”
  • Lines 1744-1746
“Who from arrowed bow spitefully shoots.
Then is he in his breast pierced under his helmet
With a sharp arrow : he cannot defend him”
  • Lines 1765
“Or grip of the sword, or flight of the arrow.”
  • Lines 2437-2439
“Since him did Haethcyn from his horned bow,
His own dear lord, with arrow pierce,
Missed he the mark and his kinsman did shoot,”
  • Lines 3115
“Him who oft awaited the iron-shower,
When the storm of arrows, loosed from the strings,
Leaped over the shield-wall, the shaft did its duty,
Fitted with feathers followed the barb."

Life of St Guthlac

[Goodwin 1948]:p.29

“that he might wound the hearts of men therewith, suddenly, as from a bended bow, he fixed the dart of his temptation in the soul of Christ’s soldier. When, therefore, the blessed man was wounded with the poisoned arrow of the accursed spirit,….. Thus had the devilish arrow wounded him with desperation”
“and lo ! this same thorn, as an arrow speeds from the bow, so did it fly from the man, and go to a distance;”

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

[Ingram 1912]

  • Battle of Brumby AD 938
there lay many
of the Northern heroes
under a shower of arrows,
shot over shields;
  • AD 1083
The Frenchmen broke into the choir, and hurled their weapons toward the altar, where the monks were; and some of the knights went upon the upper floor, (103) and shot their arrows downward incessantly toward the sanctuary; so that on the crucifix that stood above the altar they stuck many arrows. And the wretched monks lay about the altar, and some crept under, and earnestly called upon God, imploring his mercy, since they could not obtain any at the hands of men. What can we say, but that they continued to shoot their arrows; whilst the others broke down the doors, and came in, and slew (104) some of the monks to death,

Battle of Maldon

AD 901 – Written? [Killings 1996]

  • Lines 70-71
“nor might any harm the other unless through an arrow's flight death receive.”
  • Lines 107-110
“On Earth was the battlecry.
They then sent forth from their hands shafts hard as file,
murderously sharpened spears flew.
Bows were busily at work, shields received spears.”
  • Lines 265-272
“Thus the hostage himself willingly helped;
he was a Northumbrian of a brave family,
Ecglaf's child; he was named Aescferth.
He hesitated not at the play of battle,
but shot forward many arrows;
here striking a shield, there cutting down a warrior,
at almost every moment giving out some wound,
all the while with his weapon he would wield.”

Song of Roland

[Bacon 1914]

  • Verse 62
" Give me the bow that in thy hand thou evermore dost bear.
That no man shall reproach me that I dropped it, I deem well.
  • Verse 63
The bow which thou hast offered give now into his hand….
And the King gave it over, and Roland took the bow. [Bacon P.30]
  • Verse 162
And many a feathered arrow and many a lance and spear.
They pierced and rent his buckler, and made havoc of his gear. [p.91]
  • Verse 170
Farther than crossbow shoots the bolt into the land of Spain [P.95]

Poetic Edda - Rígsþula, The Lay of Rig

[Ashliman 2010]

  • Verse 21
There was the husband, string a-twining,
shafting arrows and shaping bows:
  • Verse 27
“Grew Earl forthwith in the halls and 'gan
to swing the shield, to fit the string,
to bend the bow, to shaft the arrow,
to hurl the dart, to shake the spear,
to ride the horse, to loose the hounds,
to draw the sword, and to swim the stream.”
  • Verse 35
“Young King rode once through thicket and wood,
shooting arrows and slaying birds,”

Master Wace, The Chronicle of the Norman Conquest

[Taylor 1837]

“Then began a fierce melée, and many a stroke of lance and sword. The knights struck with their lances, the archers shot from their bows, and the villains attacked with their pikes; “ [p.60]
The duke was in his park at Rouen. He held in his hand a bow, which he had strung and bent, making it ready for the arrow; and he had given it into the hands of a page, for he was going forth [p.94]
The archers came forth, and touched land the foremost; each with his bow bent, and his quiver full of arrows slung at his side. All were shaven and shorn, and all clad in short garments, ready to attack, to shoot, to wheel about and skirmish. [p.127]
The duke and his men tried no further negotiation, but returned to their tents, sure of fighting on the morrow. Then men were to be seen on every side straightening lances, fitting hauberks and helmets; making ready the saddles and stirrups; filling the quivers, stringing the bows, and making all ready for the battle. [p.155]
the men on foot were well equipped, each bearing bow and sword: on their heads were caps (‘Gueldon’ – hoods?), and to their feet were bound buskins (‘Panels’). Some had good hides which they had bound round their bodies; and many were clad in frocks (‘Gambais’), and had quivers and bows hung to their girdles….. Those on foot led the way, with serried ranks, bearing their bows. The knights rode next, supporting the archers from behind. [p.171-172]
bows and barbed arrows that are swift, and fly fleeter than the swallow." [p.181]
men ranging themselves in line, lifting their shields, raising their lances, bending their bows, handling their arrows, ready for assault and for defence. [p.186]
The Norman archers with their bows shot thickly upon the English; but they covered themselves with their shields, so that the arrows could not reach their bodies, nor do any mischief, how true soever was their aim, or however well they shot. Then the Normans determined to shoot their arrows upwards into the air, so that they might fall on their enemies' heads, and strike their faces. The archers adopted this scheme, and shot up into the air towards the English; and the arrows in falling struck their heads and faces, and put out the eyes of many; and all feared to open their eyes, or leave their faces unguarded. [p.197-198]


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