A Complete Guide To The Scythian Bow

Today we will take a look at the Scythian bow. It is one of the first composite bows that originated from the Asian steps. The Scythian bow is the predecessor to the other famous composite bow that came from the Asian steps thousands of years later.

Now, before you delve deeper into the article let’s take a look at the short definition of what the Scythian bow is? What were its dimensions and what the Scythian bow was made from?

The Scythian bow was a composite bow used by the Scythian people. It was made from tamarisk wood, which was common to the region, and the horn of an ibex. The horn was sandwiched between the wood to add elasticity and power to the bow. For added power sinew was added to the bow, this increased its power even further. Based on excavated replicas it is estimated the draw weight of a Scythian bow was between 80 and 140 pounds.

Now that we got the short introduction out of the way. Let’s take a look at the weird shape the Scythian bow is famous for. How it was made and how it was used.

Let’s begin.

The Complete Breakdown Of The Scythian Bow

The Scythian bow was a composite bow used by the nomadic people on the Asian steps. It was one of the earliest known designs of a composite bow made from tamarisk wood, animal sinew, the horn of an ibex animal, and animal glue (which held the pieces together).

This is the overall picture. Let’s see how it looked.

The Scythian Bow – Strung And Unstrung

As you can see above the actual shape of the Scythian bow is rather weird-looking. So, the measurements are rather odd as well. As you will about to see.

The Length of the Scythian bow was 51,2″ or 130 cm when measured along the back of the bow. When measured along the belly of the bow the length is 141 cm or 55,5″.

Here is a picture and a table with measurements to make it easier for you.

Crude Length44″ or 112 cm
Length measured along the limb at the back51,2″ or 130 cm
Length measured along the limb at the
55,5″ or 141 cm
Width of the limb Segments A & E1″ or 2,5 cm
Width of the limb Segments B & D0,74″ or 1,9 cm
Width of the limb Segment C1.37″ or 3,5 cm
Depth in the belly-back dimension1″ or 2,5 cm
Measurements of a Scythian bow

There you go. Measurements of a standard Scythian bow.

How The Scythian Bow Was Made

The nomads on the Asian steps, who the Greeks named “Scythians”, left us now written language. So, we have to analyze the composition of the bows we found on archaeological sites like the one in modern-day Xinjiang and deduce how they were made.

So, the wood used by the Scythians for their bows was likely tamarisk. It was abundant in the region and also known to be used in other periods to make composite bows. The horn used was likely that of an animal called the ibex.

The Scythian bow was a composite bow. This means a core made out of a horn was sandwiched between two pieces of wood. Now before all of the pieces could be joined together they had to bend the pieces into the right shape. And then glue the pieces together.

So, how did they bend the pieces?

They added humidity and heat. Given the fact they lacked modern equipment, adding humidity can be achieved in an enclosed tent, even adding a pot of boiling water can help in the process of introducing moisture to the wood.

As the wood absorbed the moisture it could be bent, without breaking the wood. This was achieved by slowly applying pressure, against a mold.

Kind of like this.

Bending the wood in order to make a Scythian bow

As you can see in the above picture. After applying slight pressure in order to bend the wood. You apply rope and a wooden mold in order to allow the bow to set in the new shape.

After the two pieces of wood (belly and back) were bent into the desired shape, the same was done with the horn. Which was then glued between the two pieces of bent wood. The glue used for these occasions was made from animal parts.

What Kind of Glue Did They Use?

When it comes to the animal glue used, I will quote Karpowicz and Selby. The two archaeologists excavated the tombs in Xinjiang and found wonderful remnants of ancient Scythian bows.

“Hide glue was used for wood-to-wood joinery and sturgeon bladder combined with tendon glue for horn–to-horn and horn-to-wood. The glues are traditionally made by boiling the respective animal tissues. Generally, fish bladder glues are preferred for difficult to glue materials, such as horn, for their better adhesion and greater elasticity in drier climate. However, all above mentioned glues are suitable”

Adam Karpowicz and Stephen Selby – Scythian bow from Xinjiang

After gluing the three pieces together, the bowyers glued sinew on the back of the bow. The sinew stretched all the way up to the tips. With varying thicknesses. At the grip and the limbs, the thickness of the sinew was around 0,5cm or 0,2″, and as the sinew reached the tips the thickness of the sinew was reduced to 0,2-0,3 cm or roughly one-tenth of an inch.

The Bowstring Used By The Scythians

Quite similar to the later Composite bows like the Turkish bow, the Scythians used animal sinew to make their bowstrings.

Several strands of sinew were twisted together to make the bowstring. While the string loops were wrapped in soft chamois leather.

Scythian bowstring loop found in a Xinjian tomb

So, why were the bowstring loops wrapped in leather? The best assessment is that they wanted to improve the durability of the bowstring. By wrapping it in leather they protected the bowstring from the friction that occurs between the bowstring and the bow when the archer draws the bow.

How Did The Scythians Use Their Bows?

The Scythians used their bows while on horseback. They were in fact the first civilization that used the tactics of mounted archery in warfare. They put these tactics to good use on the Asian step and in their wars against the Persian empire.

To see more about the Scythian culture and their way of life and waging war I suggest you take a look at the video below.

A video On the Scythian culture and way of life

In Conclusion

The peoples that Herodotus named “Scythians” are an interesting force in history. They managed to create a vast yet loosely controlled empire that came even before the Persian empire. The thing that helped them achieve that was their use of the Scythian bow on horseback.

This gave them added maneuverability on the battlefield. And to put it simply they managed to get from point A to point B a lot faster.

This was huge, back in the day.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you wish you can continue learning by reading an article on one of the most advanced composite bows in history. The Persian bow. Feel free to take a look at the article by clicking here.

Take care

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