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Being a knight in shining armor is all well and good – but the vast majority of medieval soldiers would have been far too poor to afford such metallic fripperies. Far more common is the simple bow and arrow – and modern LARP supplies have found ways to import the thrill of missile weaponry into your medieval-inspired LARP. Specially designed LARP arrows permit you to use them safely in a roleplay environment – so if you’re looking to buy LARP arrows to add that extra dimension to your roleplay, there’s no better place to find LARP arrows for sale. Keep reading for some historical inspiration for your LARP arrows – you might just find the hook for your next archer character!

Arrows in Prehistory

The bow and arrow is one of the most ancient forms of weapon invented by humankind – far outstripping recent inventions like the sword, which are positively modern by comparison. Although archaeologists debate exactly when the ancestor of LARP arrows emerged, it is one of the earliest mechanical technologies invented by humanity, and was certainly with us since well before the invention of agriculture.

The First Arrows

As far as we can tell, the bow and the arrow developed simultaneously, although this is largely based on logic and experimental archaeology. The development of early missile weaponry is shrouded in mystery, as the biodegradable wood, fibers and animal products used to create them means they have left virtually no trace after thousands of years. Ironically, it is the arrows – or more specifically the arrow-heads – that have given us the best archaeological evidence for ancient missile weaponry. The earliest we have been able to push the use of arrows back to is between 70,000 and 60,000 BCE. Small chips of shaped quartz found in Sibudu Cave in Kwa-ZuluNatal, South Africa, have been studied by archaeologists, who have determined that they are indeed the earliest arrows yet made. The arrowheads would likely have been affixed in a transverse manner to a wooden shaft, forming a shape blade like the end of a chisel. Determining this is no mean feat; it requires painstaking analysis not only of the objects themselves, but also of the objects’ context – where they were found, the layers of soil around them, other objects and features nearby, and their position in the landscape. These weapons were certainly not LARP arrows! In prehistorical societies, arrows were vital survival tools, used with the bow to bring down game to feed nomadic peoples.

Out of Africa

As modern humans spread out from Africa and encountered other human ancestors, they brought their arrows with them. A strange set of artefacts from the Natufian culture in the ancient Levant (c. 13,000-9,000 BCE) have given more evidence of early arrow use outside of Africa. They are a number of grooved basalt rocks, that archaeologists theorize could be arrow-straighteners. If only we had the same for modern LARP arrows. Whereas many earlier arrows were made by simply sharpening a wooden shaft to a point, the Middle Stone Age, or Mesolithic, saw the emergence of what we might recognize as proper ‘arrows’ in Europe, with proper arrow-heads, narrow wooden shafts and fletchings. Hitherto, most surviving fragments of arrows are highly fragmentary, but an excavation of an ancient glacial pond in Ahrensburg, Germany in the 1930s turned up the earliest surviving arrow shafts. They are made from pine wood, and have notches or ‘nocks’ at the base which indicate they were likely fired from a stringed bow. The arrowheads of the Ahrensburg culture are also technologically advanced: they were made from carefully-knapped flint, with a shouldered point that permitted it to stick into prey and be difficult for the animal to remove. These were made around 8,000 BCE.

Ötzi’s Arrows

No discussion of prehistorical arrows would be complete without discussing the arrows borne by Ötzi, the ‘iceman’ who was discovered frozen in the Alps in 1991. Otzi had likely died there in the closing years of the 4th millennium BCE (c. 3200 BCE), along with his prized hunting tools. As well as a copper axe, made with metal from southern Tuscany, and several flint knives, he also carried 14 arrows. These were made from common local woods: dogwood and viburnum, and twelve were untipped and were no more than simple shafts. Two, however, were handsome finished arrows, sporting finely-made flint arrowheads and fletchings. The arrowheads were leaf-shaped, and each sported a tang, a tail that was matched into a corresponding slot on the end of the shaft. They were fixed into place with thread made from animal sinew, and then secured with refined black wood resin. The fletchings were made from three half-feathers, each bound to the shaft with spirally-wound fine hair, and glued into in place with tar from the birch tree. We can see that Copper Age people employed an immense practical know-how, combining different materials with a number of different refining processes to create well-adapted objects. This increasing complexity, involving numerous different processes and skills, was the birth of the craft of fletching. His cause of death was unknown until 2001, when more advanced imaging technology revealed a flint arrowhead buried in his left shoulder. Pathologists have concluded that blood-loss from this wound was probably the cause of his death, and that even modern medicine would have been unlikely to save him. Subsequent DNA analysis of his tools, although partial and far from certain, indicates that one of his fletched arrows bears the DNA of at least two other individuals, implying that it could have been used to kill two other people, and retrieved each time. What this does tell us is that these arrowheads were clearly important, carefully-made objects: a well-made arrow was highly valued by those such as Ötzi. Enough to risk safety to retrieve it during pursuit, maybe? The complex story told by Ötzi’s arrows poses us with an ancient murder-mystery – who killed Ötzi, and why? One thing is certain – if they’d been using LARP arrows, he wouldn’t have ended up in such a mess.

Metal Arrowheads

By around 4,000 BCE, metals began to replace stone as the most common material in tools and weaponry, and arrows are no exception. The earliest metal arrowheads are made from copper, and appear around the third-millennium BCE. Around a thousand years later, metalworkers began to experiment with bronze, made from alloys of copper and tin. These minerals rarely appeared close to one another, and so enormous prehistorical trade networks spanned Europe to create this vitally important material. Bronze arrowheads appear in Mesopotamia (modern Iran and Iraq) about 1200 BCE, and were in use throughout the Eastern Roman era and well into the Medieval period in the Middle East. Iron arrows actually appeared not long after bronze arrows, and followed a parallel trajectory of development. In Western Europe, iron arrows were more common, likely due to the more marginal status of these peoples, isolated from the complex trade routes that allowed bronze production to flourish. As well, Western Roman military doctrine was initially skeptical of missile weaponry, relying on heavy infantry equipped with short-swords (the famed Legionaries) – they rarely employed archers and preferred slingers if at all. However, by the Late Roman Empire, the outsourcing of much Roman military power to local governors employing levied non-Roman troops meant that, in practise, many horse archers and bowmen were serving in the Roman military. Thus, by the start of the Medieval era (c. 500 CE), archers using iron arrows were a common sight across Western Europe. Around the Roman era, we see the emergence of ‘socketed’ iron arrowheads – instead of the arrowhead having a tang that fits into a slot, socketed arrowheads fit over the end of the shaft, a much more secure joint requiring more metalwork but less arduous wrapping and gluing.

Arrows in the Medieval Era

Whilst arrows retained their use as hunting tools, we can see the distinct specialization of arrows into weapons of war during the Medieval era. The arrow was the supreme missile, used as a primary distance weapon in Western Europe well into the 17th century – when it was gradually superseded by gunpowder weaponry. Medieval arrows form the basis for most modern LARP arrows for sale today.  

The Nydam Arrows

An amazing set of early Saxon arrows were discovered with the Nydam Ship, a deposit of spectacularly well-preserved ritual offerings in a bog, discovered at Schleswig, Germany in the early 1830s. These arrows tell us a lot about how they were used. They have a characteristic bulbous nock, indicating that they were drawn, not by a traditional three-fingered pull on the string of the bow, but rather by ‘pinching’ the arrow between thumb and knuckle. The grain of the wood indicated that they were made from split timber rather than sawn, and they are also subtly barrelled – meaning that they are thicker in the middle, and narrow towards the head and the fletchings. This feature improves the stability of the arrow in flight, and is clearly a mark of a skilled arrow-maker. The arrowheads of the Nydam arrows are mixed in design and materials: some are made with iron and are socketed, and others are made of bone with a tang that fits into the slotted end of the shaft, just like Ötzi’s arrows from more than 3,000 years earlier! Although it is difficult to precisely match the degraded feathers to specific bird species, the fletchings of the Nydam arrows appear to have been made from those of the sea-eagle, which even then was a rare and powerful bird. One might theorize that this was chosen quite deliberately to infuse the arrows with the swiftness and deadliness of that creature.

The Rise of the Fletcher

By the High Medieval era, (c. 1000 CE – 1250 CE), militaries had begun to get large enough that a distinct trade of fletching had emerged. A fletcher would combine a number of skills – some woodwork, some elements of the tanning trade, some metalwork – in order to create fine arrows. The need for the mass production of arrows was significantly boosted by laws which required all men capable to practise archery on a weekly basis, usually on a Sunday, in preparation for their levying into feudal armies as cheap, easily equipped skirmishers. In England, these laws date back to at least the 13th century, and were probably enforced locally well before. The fact that fletchers relied upon many other trades – smiths for arrowheads, butchers and hunters for flight feathers, weavers and tanners for sinew and thread – speaks to the emerging economic complexity of medieval societies, particularly in urban settings, with enormous division of labor. In London, the Worshipful Company of Fletchers was formed in 1371, a trade guild designed to control the burgeoning industry. It is in the Medieval period that we see an enormous profusion of arrow types. Each was specially designed to fulfil a particular role, for civilian or military use. These included the broadhead: large, flat arrowheads with barbs that were sometimes swept backward. These were usually used for hunting large prey like deer, and would be very hard to remove by the animal. The swallowtail: enormous, swept arrowhead sharpened on both sides, which were used by skilled archers to wound soft tissue, frequently aimed at the legs of horses. Target points: due to the insatiable demand for arrows for use in practise environments, fletchers would frequently make vast quantities of near-disposable target arrows with simple blunted points. And, most fearsomely of all, the bodkin: the armor-piercing round of the medieval era, these long needle-like arrowheads could punch clean through plate armor if fired from a heavy yew longbow.  

The Mary Rose

One of the great naval disasters of the Medieval era was the sinking of the Mary Rose, the English Tudor flagship, during the Battle of the Solent. Since the wreck’s rediscovery in 1971 and subsequent refloating in 1982, more than 3,500 arrows have been recovered from her, a near-peerless trove of Late Medieval archery. The size and weight of the arrows demonstrates that archery had had to adapt to the widespread use of heavy plate armor on Late Medieval battlefields, with many bodkin arrows found amongst the Mary Rose arrows. As well, intriguingly, some of the arrows have been discovered to have been smeared with poisonous verdigris (copper carbonate). This has seriously puzzled archaeologists – and theories abound: could this have been applied to keep infestation at bay, repelling hungry rats and insects in a filthy naval environment? Or could these have been quite literally ‘poisoned’ arrows, giving credence to the frequent contemporary accusation from French sources that the English used this dirty tactic? What do you think?  

Modern LARP Arrows

So – all of this rich history has gone into forming modern LARP arrows. Obvious unlike the arrows of the past, LARP arrows are not designed to wound, poison or kill. They are made from modern material designed with safety in mind: shatter-proof fiberglass and carbon fiber are popular choices, with plastic flights. Arrowheads are often large and safe, with thick pads of foam that will deliver a satisfying impact with minimal risk of harm. When looking to buy LARP arrows, you should always check the safety rules of your LARP group: some will have strict requirements, and you should make sure that you follows these carefully. Overall, LARP arrows can add another layer of fun to your LARP gaming -importing a history of missile weaponry that stretches back into the prehistorical past.