Today we will discuss Turkish Bows. How Turkish Bows are made, how they were used, and why they just might be the best bows ever built by man.
So what is a Turkish bow? Let’s begin this discussion with the main takeaways from this article.
Key facts about the Turkish bow:
- Between 40 and 45 inches in length
- Made from animal horn, silk, sinew, and animal glue
- It is composite in nature
- It took years to make one Turkish bow
To put it into more words:
Turkish bow is a composite bow, measuring between 40 and 45 inches in length. It is built from wood, animal horn, sinew, animal glue, and silk. The composite nature of the bow allows it to be small enough to be used on horseback but powerful enough to propel arrows at great distances.
After this short introduction let’s continue with a detailed explanation of, how many years it took to make one bow, how they were used, and how powerful Turkish Bows really were.
The Origins Of The Turkish Bow
Since the Turks started off as nomadic tribes roaming the vast steps, their bow-making technology is very similar to the one used by the Huns and Mongols. This makes sense since their environment and their access to resources were the same.
This meant these tribes used horses to travel across vast distances and they used horses to conduct raids on nearby kingdoms. This reliance on horses for their very way of life meant their bows had to adapt to that.
Meaning they needed small, but powerful enough bows to shoot arrows at great distances. So, using a single piece of wood to make a bow was out of the question, given that the size would have to be too big to satisfy their need for distance.
And, the steps of Asia are not quite known for luscious forests. So, the composite bows were born. Gluing together several materials with different properties to satisfy their need for great distances and small size.
Turkish bows are said to have originated as far back as the second millennium B.C. These were likely early types of composite bows. Similar to what the Mongols used. As you can see here.
Turkish Bows are a lot better, you will see why in a moment.
The Breakdown Of The Turkish Bow
The Turkish bow is small, between 40 and 45 inches in height.
The draw length is 28 inches while the draw weight of the Turkish bow averaged around 65lbs. Obviously, the draw weight of Turkish bows varied and could go much higher.
Here you can see the Turkish Bow unstrung. There are a few main pieces of the Turkish Bow you should keep in mind and these are:
- Kabza (the bowgrip)
- Kasan and Sal (two sections of the bow limb)
- Bash (the bow tip also made from wood)
The sections where Bash and Kasan meet are named Kasan-Bash. Same with the section where Kasan and Sal meet, which is Kasan-Gezi.
How Turkish Bows Are Made And What They Are Made Of
Turkish bows are made out of:
- Maple wood
- Animal Horn (Water buffalo horn)
- Animal Sinew (leg tendons of oxes)
- Fish Glue
- Silk (to make the bowstring)
How Turkish Bows Are Made
You boil the wood for 4 to 5 hours. This enables the wood to be bent in the shape it needs to be in. After the wood cools down you have the upper and lower limbs of the bow.
You carve out your bow handle i.e. “Kabza” and glue your cooled-down bow limbs to the “Kabza”. And with that, you have the foundation of the bow set up.
The next step is you cut the Buffalo horn into stripes. Once that is done, the bowmaker scratched both the bow and the horn stripes with a metal tool named “taşin“. This tool created matching grooves on the wood and the horn stripes.
Do you see the grooves in the wood? They were created by the “taşin“. Having matching parallel grooves enables the horn and the wood to bend and act as one material when the bow is drawn.
The bowmaker brings the strips of horn and the limbs together by applying generous amounts of fish glue. And once the materials are glued together they are wrapped tightly together with a thick rope. And then they are to harden together.
Once that is done. We move on to the sinew. The oxen sinew is pounded with a hammer until it is separated into individual strands of fiber. These fibers are then separated even more with a “sinir tarağı” also known as the sinew comb.
These strands of sinew are then glued on the opposite side of where the horn was glued in the previous step. And then left to dry. As the sinew on the bow dries it warps the shape of the bow. This means that for a time the now almost-finished Turkish Bow takes the shape called “yay halkası”.
What I found most surprising is that after making the bow they waited for a year before giving it to the archer. So that everything on the bow had enough time to dry and set.
Now, you get to see how the Turkish Bow was used.
How Turkish Bows Were Used
The Turkish bows were mostly used on horseback to great effect by the nomadic Turkic tribes. This enabled them to conduct quick and mobile campaigns similar to the ones the Mongols used. Even after the Ottoman army adopted gunpowder the Turkish bow was still used in civilian competition in distance shooting. Today is known as “Menzil” archery.
Given the origin of horseback use, where traditional Mediterranian draw is impossible the Turkish bow is fired using the Thumb draw.
This technique uses the thumb and index fingers to pull back the bowstring.
The archer’s thumb is protected by a thumb ring or “Zihgir”. Its goal is to protect the thumb from the force of the bowstring. It’s usually made from bronze. The higher classes used to use ruby, gold, jade, etc.
Why Did They Use The Thumb Draw?
Because it allowed them greater control of the bow and arrow while firing from horseback. I go into more detail about the Thumb draw technique in this article, so definitely go check it out when you’re done here.
Suffice to say, this way of shooting that originated on horseback is still practiced by users of Turkish Bows to this very day. Even when not firing from horseback.
Why Turkish Bows Are The Best In History
The distance at which the arrows could be shot was enormous. The record holder for distance shooting using the Turkish bow goes to “Tozkoparan Iskender” his shot was measured at 845m. Which is mindblowing.
Several modern-day archers were able to use the Turkish bow to send their arrows up to 400 meters quite easily.
Pay close attention to the platform that is attached to his left wrist. It’s going to be important in a moment.
This short 1-minute video illustrates my point perfectly. A small 65lb pound is able to send an arrow 400 meters away. If you take into account that there were also 100lbs bows you can see why claims of 800-meter distances are believable.
There is also something else you should have noticed in the video.
The Sipar is an archery aid used when shooting with a Turkish bow. The main purpose of the Sipar is to enable the archer to shoot arrows that are shorter than the draw length of the bow.
The Sipar is attached to the wrist of the bow arm and it enabled the archer to pick up the arrows from the enemy and shoot them back.
So, if anyone even shot crossbow darts at them the archer could just pick them up and shoot them back. It is an ingenious invention.
If you add the Sipar together with the enormous distances generated by the bow you get the best bow in history.
The Turkish bow!
The Mongol bow does not even come close.
Turkish bows are slowly starting to gain traction in Turkey and elsewhere. If you ever travel through Turkey you will be able to visit a local archery range and try shooting with a Turkish bow.
You can continue exploring bows from different cultures by seeing my article on Persian bows here.
And if you wish to discover the differences and similarities between the Mongol and Turkish bows then click here for an article on just that.
Thank you for reading.