Why guns overtook bows as primary weapons of war in Europe

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

MELBOURNE - A new study from the University of Queensland has solved one of the greatest puzzles ever - why China persisted in using bows long after Europe moved to guns as the basic weapon of war, despite inventing gun powder almost 1000 years earlier.

Physicist Dr Timo Nieminen has said that military bows became obsolete in Europe during the 16th Century as firearms evolved, but in China, guns and bows coexisted for almost a millennium.

He said that one reason could be the Asian composite war bow, considered the best.

“They were hard to make, taking a year or more, but outperformed all other bows,” ABC Science quoted him as saying.

“However, humidity was a serious problem because it weakened and eventually destroyed the glues used to bind the composite bow together.”

This meant composite bows would not last long in Europe, Japan or South East Asia, where wooden bows dominated.

The biggest problem, however, was the high degree of skill needed to use a bow proficiently.

“In Asia, the bow was part of the people’s culture, skill in its use was an important tradition for officers wanting to progress through the military ranks. So Chinese armies had a huge pool of skilled archers to pick from, European armies did not.

“Europeans therefore trained their soldiers to use firearms, which could be done relatively quickly,” said Nieminen.

“For that reason, firearms quickly eclipsed the bow in Europe.”

“Economic and social factors, especially the training of musketeers as opposed to archers, were more important factors influencing the replacement of the bow by the gun than pure military effectiveness.”

The article appears on the pre-press website arXiv.org. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

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