Mongol bow

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Mongol warrior on horseback, preparing a mounted archery shot.

The Mongol bow is a recurved composite bow renowned for its military effectiveness.

The old Mongolian bows that were used during the times of Genghis Khan were smaller than the modern weapons used at most Naadam festivals today. The Mongolian archery tradition may be continuous, but archery was officially outlawed[1] in Mongolia after it was conquered by the Manchu dynasty.[2] Manchu soldiers entered gers and broke any bows that they found. Over two hundred years of enforcement these changes stuck and the ancient art of bow making was nearly lost along with a majority of archery games and traditions. Modern Mongolian bows are derived from the Chinese / Manchu tradition; they are larger and have string bridges.

In 1940 the Archery Bureau was founded, and in 1959 it organized the first modern competitions and changed its name to the National Archery Association. There are now three archery associations in Mongolia, the National, the Uriankhai, and the Buriad, each with its own cultural style and competition rules.[1]


Hulagu Khan with the older composite bow used during the time of the Mongol conquest. It is smaller in size and has no string bridges
Main article: Composite bow

Ancient and modern Mongol bows are part of the Asian composite bow tradition. The core is bamboo, with horn on the belly (facing towards the archer) and sinew on the back, bound together with animal glue.[3] As animal glue is dissolved by water, composite bows may be ruined by rain or excess humidity; a wrapper of (waterproof) birch bark may give limited protection from moisture and from mechanical damage. The bow is usually stored in a leather case for protection when not in use.

The arrows[edit]

Birch is a typical material for arrows. The normal length of an arrow is between 80 and 100 cm, and the shaft's diameter is around 10 mm.

As for fletchings, tail feathers of crane are favored, but tail feathers of all birds are usable. Eagle feathers make a particularly exclusive arrow, but since eagles are rare most arrows obviously cannot have fletchings from eagle's tail feathers. Feathers taken from the wings are said to flow less smoothly through the air, so if given the choice tail feathers are picked. The Mongols characteristically pay close attention to minutest of details. The placement of the fletchings in relation to their size, and what part of the bird they were taken from, is of great importance for correct rotation and good balance in the air. Consequently these factors are painstakingly considered when making arrows after the Old Mongol standard.

The arrowheads, or points, could be everything from wide metal blades used for big game (or in war) to bone and wooden points, which are used for hunting birds and small animals. The high impact of this bow ensures that a bony point will be lethal when hitting the body of a smaller animal or a bird. In addition to these kinds of arrows, whistling arrows are useful during hunting, because the effect on animals of an arrow whistling away high above the ground is often to make it stop, curious to see what is in the air. This gives the hunter time to launch a second arrow, this time with a game head to kill the animal. These whistling arrows made by inserting an arrowhead of bone in which air channels have been created. When shot, such arrowheads make a very audible sound through the air.

String bridge[edit]

A Timurid depiction of an Mongol archer. (Signed (lower right): Muhammad ibn Mahmudshah al-Khayyam, early 15th century).

The principal difference between the modern Mongol bow and other composite bows is the presence of a "string run" (or "string bridge") - an attachment of horn, leather, or wood used to hold the string a little further apart from the bow's limbs at the base of the siyah (stiffened tip). This attachment aids the archer by increasing the draw weight in the early stages of the draw, thus slightly increasing the total energy stored by the draw and available to the arrow. String bridges are not attested at the time of the Mongol empire, appearing in Chinese art during the later Manchu Qing dynasty.[4] The armies of Genghis Khan would have used the composite bows typical of their various nationalities at the time.


Mongol archers during the time of the Mongol conquest used a smaller bow suitable for horse archery.

An inscription thought to be from 1226 was found on a stone stele in Nerchinsk, Siberia. It may have said: "While Chinggis Khan was holding an assembly of Mongolian dignitaries, after his conquest of Sartaul (East Turkestan), [Chinggis's nephew] Esungge shot a target at 335 alds (536m)."[5]

In the historical novel "Khökh Sudar" Injinashi, the Mongolian philosopher, historian and writer, imagines the competition amongst all Mongolian men in about 1194-1195: five archers each hit the target three times from a distance of 500 bows (1 bow = at least 1 metre).[citation needed]

Mongolian draw and release[edit]

Main article: Bow draw
A Mongolian draw

The Mongolian draw, or thumb draw, uses only the thumb, the strongest single digit, to grasp the string. Around the back of the thumb, the index and/or middle fingers reinforce the grip. This is traditional across the Asian steppes, as well as in Korea,[6] Japan, Tibet, China, Turkey, India and recent Persia.[4] It was also used by Ishi, the last of the Yana, with his short bows.

It gives a narrower grip on the string, as only one digit is used, and this may help to avoid "string pinch" with shorter bows such as the composite bows normally used from horseback. Mongol archers would wear a thumb ring made from leather, bone, horn, and in some cases silver to protect the thumb.[7] It may also avoid a problem occasionally faced by archers using the Mediterranean release, when the three fingers do not release at exactly the same time and thus foul the draw. This release is normally used with the arrow on the right side of the bow for a right-handed archer, and on the left side of the bow for a left-handed archer.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Eric, Brownstein. "The Path of the Arrow". Retrieved 4 April 2015. 
  2. ^ Munkhtsetseg. INSTINCTIVE ARCHER MAGAZINE. Up-dated 18 July 2000 [1] accessed 4 April 2015.
  3. ^ John C Halpin, Halpin C Halpin, Primer on Composite Materials Analysis, CRC Press, Apr 15, 1992, ISBN 0-87762-754-1
  4. ^ a b Archery Traditions of Asia. Stephen Selby. Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence, 2003. ISBN 962-7039-47-0
  6. ^ "Korea Horseback Archery History". 
  7. ^ "Mongolian Draw and Releas". 

External links[edit]

External images
Mongol bows at an archery competition during Naadam[1]
  1. ^ "CSEN Home Page". Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads. Retrieved 2008-03-04.