Saracen bow

Last night we watched the first episode of the BBC’s new Robin Hood. Don’t bother.

But one interesting thing about this new version is that Robin of Loxley returns to England in 1192, back from the 3rd Crusade with Saracen weapons: a scimitar and a compound recurve bow.

Robin tells a very young Will Scarlet that the Saracen bow is curved the way it is to put more power into a smaller weapon.

I have no problem with folklore revisionism; updating the story to fit current concerns is an ancient and well-established part of folklore itself. I like the idea of Loxley returning from the Crusades with a distaste for bloodshed and respect for the Saracens — or at least for their technology.

But is this curvy bow a realistic weapon to put in the hands of a medieval English hero?

I love the web. The answer I found is so much more interesting than I had expected:

The composite bow that Robin uses in the TV show requires the use of very strong glues. The strongest glues at that time were made from collagen which is a main protein of connective tissue in animals. The collagen in our own skin, for example, helps bind it and keep it supple. If you boil up animal hide, sinew or parts of certain fish you can scoop of the collagen and get different types of hide glue, sinew glue and fish glue respectively. Although as strong as modern synthetic glues the biggest weakness for this type of glue is that it takes a long time to dry because any moisture in the glue will break down the bonds that hold it. And worse, once dry, if it gets wet the glue will begin to dissolve again. This is why composite bows were common in warm, dry climates but weren’t used in wetter climates, like England. So no, if Robin Hood were real he wouldn’t have used a composite “Saracen” bow. Or at least not for very long.


23 Responses to Saracen bow

  1. Wally Conger says:

    My wife and I are rather enjoying the new BBC “Robin Hood.” Of course, we began viewing it with low expectations, having been burned by our higher expectations for SciFi Channel’s “new, improved” version of Flash Gordon.

  2. Dick Clark says:

    Ahem… isn’t that a recurve bow, rather than a compound bow?

  3. stevoking says:

    yes…that IS a recurve bow, Not a composite bow. And for your information mister scientist a recurve bow can be made from a single piece of wood. as for whomever said don’t bother watching the new robin hood…why don’t you watch all 13 episodes before judging it.

  4. stevoking says:

    Also, if you were at war for 5 years in foreign lands 2000 miles away, don’t you think that you would pick up on the enemies technology, especially if it is more advanced than that of yours??? so watch episodes 10-13 and you’ll see an arms maker who’s crafted 2 to 3 “saracen” bows for Robin. Composite bows were generally used for long bows, not recurves. And lets not forget the most important thing…it’s a t.v. show that puts a MODERN twist onto the Robin Hood story.

  5. poptart says:

    America is known for lying in all their films on WW1 & 2 so don’t moan about Britain ellaborating on a generally very good BBC drama.

  6. Geri says:

    It’s not a saracen bow.It’s an ancient Hungarian recurved bow.
    The hungarian fighters used it 1500 years ago.
    “Ab saggittae ungarorum, libera nos Domine”- God save us from the Hungarian’s bows.- said the prayer of the Middle Ages, which is familier to everyone, who ever studied the tactics of the “raider” hungarians.

    This new version filmed in Hungary.That’s why this bow is in the film.

  7. It is indeed a Hungarian bow, and looks like it was made by either Kassai or Grozer, both fine Hungarian bowyers making traditional style bows. Of the two, Grozer is, I think, the best – his finest bows are made using authentic materials and designs. They are incredible testaments to engineering knowledge that dates back more than 2 millenia. I too saw the article on the web stating that the wet climate would cause the glue used to construct the bow would fail – This is not a logical argument. Firstly, the weak point of any medieval bow is the bow string – contemporary english bow strings were made from nettle or flax fibre, and would stretch when wet. Secondly, the glue (made from the swim bladders of freshwater fish) unlike hide or sinew glue, cures as it dries. This makes it far less susceptible to moisture, but for added protection the bow limbs were covered with fish/snake skin or birch bark. Thirdly, and probably most convincingly, the horn/wood/sinew composite bow was used to great effect by Ghengis Kahn across a vast and climatically diverse area – it was never a weapon limited to arid regions. Please take a look at and celebrate man’s ingenuity.

  8. cheerleader93 says:

    hey would just like to say that the Robin Hood series is ace! If it was that bad why is there a 2nd series out and a 3rd series coming in october!
    And he explained his recurved bow to LUKE scarlet not WILL scarlet.

  9. okveyay says:

    Dear bowlovers, I want to explain some facts: 1) The “curved”, indeed the composite bow of Robin isn’t a composite bow (not even a bow). The shape of this bow yes, but it’s material not. Composite means, wood,leather, and horn. 2) There is 4 common type of Eastern composite bow; a)Mongol and Chinese type b) Korean type c) Indian (Sind) type d)Ottoman type. Ottoman type (referred common Islamic type, a mixing of Selcuklu-Turkoman with Arab-Iranian bows) composite type isn’t well known, but this type bows are very similar to which used in Crusades age. Okay, there is no type of saracen bow. 3)This is the point: in this link you refer
    index_files/Page27783.htm, something is wrong; yes there is sinew glue, but how it’s used? Main body of the composite was wooden, then each the two extremity it was made of horn (“gluing” and leather stripped) BUT!!! Main body was strengthen with all along with sinew strips or muscle fiber of cow. Then wrapped with leather. I can say so Islamic type of composite bows can be use with an average of 50 years and with any exception of climate!
    Last thing; yes longbow arrows can penetrate to plate armor, yes composite bows arrows can penetrate to plate armor, but neighter of two can kill because plate armor was wearing with some protector clothes. The very point is not the bow, but arrowheads. Composite bow arrows are very different, they are smaller and lighter than longbow arrows. They cause severe injuries or accidently dead (eyes, neck) -of course against plate armor- with their various arrowheads. I said various, because very different types matchs with your purpose (varies against plate armor, or mail, or plated mail, etc.)

    Note: A war depend to the strategy and tactics. To say “Plate armor is a strong thing, who not wear armor is weak” is not true. Armorless or few armouring doesn’t mean “can’t harm”, it means “can harm in a fastest way”. A good exemple; Horses are very intelligent. You can’t drive your horse into a pike line even you wear it armor, because this animal “smell” the danger. But if you’re a nomad warrior you can do this. How? A horse have a great confidence to his master (it means if you are a true master, an emotional connection) and if you bind up his eyes you can charge to the death!

  10. Wolfmoon says:

    The bow Robin Hood uses in the new series is a Hungarian style reflex composite horsebow.

  11. MMM says:

    I love Robin Hood on BBC. Favorite show ever. Anyway, his weapons are very interesting. I find it a bit odd that, although he fights for England, he fights with a saracen bow and a saracen sword. Hmmm.

  12. Adam says:

    This type pf bow is often called a “horse bow” . Developed by the Mongols, it was used on horseback (hence the smaller size). Despite it’s small size it packs incredible power. This is becuase of its shape, and matrials used in it’s construction. Wet weather is not a problem, anchiet archers (much more anchient than the middle ages) covered these bows with a layer of birch bark to protect them from the elements. These bow easily percied the plate armor of roman or chinese soliders. This weapon was the reason Gangus Kaun was able to rule the largest empire known to man.

  13. pissed off JATT says:

    wtf it says nothin about a sarecen sword

  14. John says:

    Just started watching the first season on iTunes and think this show is aces! WOW I am really enjoying it.
    Signed, a big Robin Hood fan

  15. Bows says:

    Despite what people have said above, the bow Robin Hood uses is a Reflex bow not a Recurve. To be sure one would have to see Robin Hoods bow unstrung but the general shape is of a Reflex. Reflex bows like Recurves are made from single pieces of wood. But on a side note, Reflex bows require incredible skill to make, far more than a Recurve or Self Bow, but have an unfortunate tendency of reversing themselves making them highly unreliable in the long term. As such they are not used as weapons of war or by hunters, and instead were almost exclusively used by wealthy individual with bow obsessions. The Mongolians had fixed many of these problems with their bows which are technically Reflex Bows, but other than them their are no major uses of the bow outside of enthusiasts. Regardless of what Robin claims his bow to be, it looks very similar to many modern recreations of Mongol bows, and it is probably from there that the design for the bow in the show came.

  16. Bowstick says:

    It does look like a grozer. the one pictures is made from 2 layers of .050 fiberglass on the outside and 2 inner layers of approx 1/16″ maple… all glued together (hence “composite”) with epoxy. the above picture is a composite bow of modern materials. the one above is not a reflex bow, the shape of this bow in the unstrung position is very similar to its strung position just not stressed. The only thing that keeps the book looking natural is that there is hemp wrapping and horn overlays on the syahs or what everyone is calling recurves. They are in essence “static” recurves, meaning they do not bend, they only proide leverage for a smoother draw and allow more flex on the limbs giving more arrow speed. Grozer is a fine bowyer however I am very dissapointed that he is now casting and molding the entire core of the bow from a solid piece of fiberglass and wrapping it in leather to cover it up. There is no talent needed there… and not very traditional either. If your looking for some quality all wood bows where you’re not gonna get ripped off… try

  17. Dalma says:

    It’s a Grozer bow, you can see Grozer’s mark on the bow in the dvd covers. Grozer makes really beautiful bows

  18. Calvin says:

    Mongol bow, Black friar tuck….that’s a good start, but I’d like to see a realistic representation of Robin Hood. Robin was, of course, an Asylum seeker who was persecuted by racist English thugs, the forerunners of the evil BNP. Robin triumphed over his tormentors by waylaying rich people and persuading them to donate to the cause of tolerance and diversity by singing U2 songs at them. Robin used the money to finance the Sherwood gay and lesbian ethnic minority outreach centre.

  19. Emlyn says:

    we have someone that shoots this type of bow in our club and he has no problems with disintegration, wouldn’t the glue reset if it got wet anyway you just have to be careful not to change the shape to much

  20. Robin says:

    He tells a young Luke Scarlet mind you. Not Will Scarlet. And you are wrong about your bow facts. Trust me, after shotting a bow for 30 years you learn a thing or two.

  21. ash says:

    so is his bow a recurve or reflex? i really want to know because i’m trying to help my little brother make a replica.

  22. Baleegh says:

    It is a saracens bow as told to the public by robin hood himself so please dont get fooled on this thanks

  23. TJ says:

    Hey let me know we’re I can buy one let me. Know k thanks bro let me know

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