Battle of Chalons and archery

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guthrie
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Battle of Chalons and archery

Postby guthrie » Fri Jan 07, 2011 4:34 pm

A friend of mine was wondering if it was actually correct that, at over 70% humidity, the Hun's bows stopped working and therefore there was a lack of archery at the battle. This is suggested by an Osprey book, but obviously they aren't absolutely correct about everything, and he'd like the opinion of some more people who've done research and know about the bows of the period (451AD for those of you who have never heard of it)



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Re: Battle of Chalons and archery

Postby Medicus Matt » Sat Jan 08, 2011 9:28 pm

Leaving aside the fact that Chalons was an unusual battle for Atilla's forces in that it turned into an unexpected stand up fight between two large armies staged on open ground (Attila came to take the city of Aurelianum without a struggle as it's Alan ruler had promised to open the gates to him but the Romano-gallic citizenry had other ideas), and that the impact of 'Hun' mounted archers would not have been as significant against a well-ordered Roman and foederati infantry army under strong leadership (who were very familiar with Atilla's tactics) as it would have been in previous conflicts, there certainly was archery at the battle.

However, as Jordanes relates, it was deployed against Atilla when Aetius' forces beseiged him within his own camp:-"They determined to wear him out by a siege, because he had no supply of provisions and was hindered from approaching by a shower of arrows from the bowmen placed within the confines of the Roman camp".

Admittedly we don't know the identity of these 'Roman' archers so we don't know whether they'd be using single stave self bows or composite bows. However composite bows were used by Roman forces in the extreme West of Empire, even in Britain (remains have been found in the North of Britain) so they can't have been that susceptible to wet conditions.

I've heard from people who use traditional sinew backed Hun and Mongol recurve bows that the poundage can drop by 10-20% in very humid conditions but that wouldn't render them completely ineffective for the sort of hit and run close range tactics employed by Hun mounted archers and they only come apart completely after prolonged submersion.
I suspect that their lack of use (if we can infer a lack of use from the fact that Jordanes does not mention them in his descriptions of the battle) was due to the nature of the battle (which was basically a rapid scramble for the high ground, which Atilla lost) and of the opposition.

The mid 5th century was unusually cold and wet but I doubt if late June was any more humid in Northern France than it had been on the Eastern Steppes.


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guthrie
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Re: Battle of Chalons and archery

Postby guthrie » Mon Jan 10, 2011 12:45 pm

Thanks for that.




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