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Home > Books > Arab Archery > XL. On the weight of arrows, arrowheads, and feathers
XL. On the weight of arrows, arrowheads, and feathers

ARCHERS have disagreed violently concerning the weight of arrows, arrowheads, and feathers. Some have maintained that for a bow of twenty rotls an arrow of three dirhams should be had, and for a bow of thirty rotls an arrow of four dirhams. For every increase often rotls in the weight of the bow a corresponding increase of one dirham should be introduced into the weight of the arrow.

Others have said that the weight of the arrow should never be less than seven dirhams and never more than twenty dirhams no matter how stiff or how flexible the bow may be. If the bow is a flexible one and less than eighty rotls in weight, its arrow should be of seven dirhams, that is: six dirhams less one third of a dirham for the weight of the wood, one dirham for the weight of the arrowhead, and one third of a dirham for the weight of the glue and feathers.

If a bow is eighty rotls in weight, its arrow should weigh ten dirhams: eight and one half dirhams for the wood, and one and a half dirhams for the arrowhead, feathers, and glue. For bows above a hundred rotls in weight, the arrow should weigh from sixteen to twenty dirhams—never beyond that if you wish to insure accuracy and speed.

Ṭāhir al-Balkhi related, on the authority of his grandfather, Shāapūur dhu-’l-Aktāf [literally: Shāapūur of the shoulders; Shāapūur II, A.D. 310-379], that the weight of the arrow of a stiff bow should be twelve dirhams, ten of which belong to the shaft and two to the arrowhead and feathers. With such an arrow the kings of Persia were wont to shoot. They boasted of shooting light arrows with stiff bows. Ṭāhir said that, if the bow were thirty rotls in weight, the arrow should be eight and one third dirhams and the range one hundred cubits; if the bow were forty rotls in weight, the arrow should be the same—eight and one third dirhams—and the range one hundred and twentyfive cubits; if the bow were fifty rotls, the arrow should be the same—eight and one third dirhams-and the range one hundred and fifty cubits; if the bow were sixty rotls in weight, the arrow should be ten dirhams and the range one hundred and seventy cubits; likewise, if the bow were ninety rotls and the range two hundred cubits, the arrow should be ten dirhams; if the bow were one hundred rotls, the arrow should be from twelve to sixteen dirhams and the range from two hundred and seventy cubits to three hundred cubits. The weight of the arrow should not go beyond this and the range cannot be increased.

Some archers have maintained that target arrows should weigh from twelve to sixteen dirhams; never more for those who desire accuracy and speed. War arrows, however, should weigh from fifteen to twenty dirhams. This is, indeed, what we have tried and found good. The war arrow should have a large and wide metal arrowhead. Experts avoid using heavy arrows because of their many flaws and blemishes and because of their ineffectiveness. They would rather use light arrows with stiff bows as the arrows then travel straight without wobbling.

Others have said that arrows suitable for target shooting should be heavy and have abundant feathers. I, myself, used to shoot at the target with an arrow weighing over twenty dirhams.

It has been said that thin and fine arrows are suitable for distant targets and for enemies who are far away. Near targets, trick shooting and stunts, as well as small minute targets, require heavy arrows that are round in shape [cylindrical] and weigh about fifteen dirhams. Every archer should test himself with both varieties, the heavy and the light. In short, light arrows give greater penetration and longer range while heavy ones insure greater accuracy. For every kind of shooting, however, there is a particular weight of arrow.

The arrowhead, according to some archers, should weigh one seventh of the arrow, while the feathers should weigh one seventh of the arrowhead. Others have held that the arrowhead should weigh one eighth of the arrow and the feathers one eighth of the arrowhead. Still others have maintained that the arrowhead should equal one ninth of the arrow and the feathers one ninth of the arrowhead. If, therefore, the weight of the arrow were seven dirhams, the weight of the wood would be six dirhams less one seventh of a dirham, the arrowhead would be one dirham, and the feathers one seventh of a dirham.

When the second ratio prevails, the wood will be six dirhams and one eighth of a dirham, the arrowhead seven eighths of a dirham, and the feathers seven eighths of one eighth of a dirham. When the third ratio is followed, the wood will be six dirhams and one ninth of a dirham and one ninth of one ninth of a dirham, the arrowhead seven ninths of a dirham, and the feathers seven ninths of one ninth of a dirham.

The dirham used here is the so-called dirham of weight (dirham al-kayl). It is equivalent to fifty grains and two fifths of a grain of barley of medium size. Every eleven and one ninth dirhams of this legal weight make one uqīyah.[56] In terms of our large dirhams which are current in Morocco in the two-dirham unit, the legal dirham of weight is equivalent to three dirhams and one eighth of a dirham, approximately.

The reason for calling this dirham the dirham of weight (dirham al-kayl) is because it is the basis of the rotl (which equals twelve uqīyahs), the mudd (which equals six and one third rotls), and the ṣā’ (which equals twenty-six and two thirds rotls). It is the legal dirham of Islam. It was described by abu-Muhammad ibn-‘Aṭīyah[57] in his treatise on weights and measures (al-Makāyīl w-al-Awzaā).

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