Thursday, 15 December 2011

What is Turkish archery?

What is Turkish/Ottoman archery?
Let's think a bit...
Is it using a thumbring? Is it shooting with modern material bows which resemble the Ottoman bow form? Is it shooting off a horse? Is it shooting with shouting 'Ya Hakk'? And the arrows? Is it shooting carbon arrows or European modern style wooden arrows with a thumbring? Or does it count to be Turkish archery if just a Turk does archery?

Turkish/Ottoman archery drew the attention of many European researchers and travellers e.g. Busbeq or Payne Gallwey. It was perceived as superior to the archery of other cultures. The Mughals, Mamluks, Chinese/Manchu etc all can be classified in the Asian archery school, but the Ottomans developed this the furthest. So what is so superior to archery of other cultures? What did the Ottomans succeed with?

Below on the left I listed characteristics of Turkish/Ottoman archery. It is possible to summarize them to 4 factors: thumbdraw, arrow, bow and the archer.


1. Thumbdraw
Thumbdraw, Thumbring use

2. Arrow
Tapered shafts, Light arrows, Flat feathers, High spine arrows

3. Bow
Short bow, Composite bow, Light bow arms, 100 lbs+ drawweights

4. Archer
Shooting technique

All these factors have a common characteristic, they increase the arrow speed. The standard measurement for archery is feet per second (FPS). The biggest distinguishment of Turkish archery is that the arrow is propelled with far greater speed.

a) Low trajectory
(=lower=straighter flight path of the arrow). With a lower arrow trajectory you dont need to aim so high for targets that are further away. This also has many advantages. It will be easier to aim at targets at different distances, the elevation of the bow arm to hit a target at 20m and at 50 m will be minimised. This is a big advantage on the battlefield which will increase the hit rate dramatically. The theoretical exaggerated example would be an arrow flying as straight as a laser, then you could hit a target at 20m and at 200 with the same elevation in the bow arm. Also hitting targets from the horse will be easier. Imagine that your opponents might be (most likely) cavalry as well. On the horse when you shoot to the left, usually you would (instinctively) aim a bit to the left of the target considering the speed of the horse. With a high arrow speed and low arrow trajectory, this parallel aiming would be also reduced to a minimum.

b) Greater maximum range
This is especially important for flight shooting. According to Adam Karpowicz's research, the record shot of Tozkoparan Iskender (845 meters) was done with a 140-150 lbs bow and an arrow speed way over 350 fps. On the other hand, the max range in battle should not be disregarded completely. Armour was expensive, not every soldier could afford it and even less people could afford armour for their horse. Increasing the maximum range of war arrows on the battlefield against unarmoured opponents is an important advantage.

c) Greater armour piercing range
This is also an important point, of course it depends on the quality of the armour, but let's assume the max range for piercing a certain quality of armour was 30m, maybe with Ottoman style archery this effective armour piercing range was increased to 50m..

d) Higher armour piercing capability
Higher armour piercing ability means you can pierce thicker and better quality armour. A good example of a miniature showing pierced armour of a European knight:

Lets have a look at Newton's second law:
F=m*a          (F=Force, m=mass, a=acceleration)
That means: force = arrow weight * arrow speed

This model is a very very basic approach disregarding many other factors but still it helps to understand.
To increase the arrows (armour piercing) force you can either increase the mass of the arrow, or the speed of the arrow. The Manchu and English went a different path with their long bows, long drawlength and heavy arrows. Increasing the weight of the arrow is easier. In this way the arrows will have greater armour piercing abilities too. The Ottomans however went a step further, the highest point in the evolution of archery - speed. (For example arrow speeds of Ottoman war, target and flight bows see Adam Karpowicz's tests.)

The Ottomans have increased the arrow speed by optimising and improving the bow and the equipment. Even if we assume as a theoretical example that the armour piercing ability of Manchu/English and Ottoman war archery styles was the same, the Ottomans would have gained important advantages on the battlefield (lower trajectory and greater max range as explained above).

Gokmen Altinkulp


  1. Yes nice theory but as long there is nobody who prooves its arguments, it will stay a thesis!

    If the thesis is repeated too often without evidence, one asks himself, why there is nobody of this famous turkish nation who has the willpower to do it?

  2. Abdülmecit bey, slowly we are getting there to recreate things but it is not easy. If you look at the factors on the left of the diagram, I am producing 1. war arrows of acceptable quality 2. we are making acceptable replicas of thumbrings. The only 2 major question marks are the hornbow of good quality and the archer with a good technique and enough strength for 100lbs+ bows. At the moment only Adam Karpowicz and Lukas Novotny make war hornbows which are fast. But it is hard to get them. I am still waiting for my 90lbs Ottoman warbow. As soon as I get it, I will do some tests.
    This article has also a hidden message, I see sometimes on competitions, some of my friends trying to convince foreigners how superior Turkish archery is, but they have slow 40lbs Grozer base bows in their hand while the foreigners have fast laminated bows with low trajectory :) not very convincing then is it?