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Most modern archers are taught to shoot with Mediterranean style; that is, putting the arrow on the left side of the bow (if they're right handed) and pulling the string with 3 fingers. Some claim that it's how people have been shooting arrows since medieval times, because shooting on the left side of the bow is more accurate and precise than shooting on the right side. The way you pull the bow with 3 fingers also makes the string twist to the right, which pushes the arrow towards the bow and give it stability.

A youtuber named Shadiversity has made several videos claiming that people in medieval times didn't just shoot arrows from the left side, but also on the right side. He referred to several medieval artworks clearly depicting archers shooting their arrows from the right side, and stated that these aren't likely to be mistakes because how prevalent archery was in medieval times. He also demonstrated that it's possible to shoot accurately this way, with minimal adjustments on the technique.

Is there truth to his claim? And if medieval people did shoot from both sides, when and why did the norm change from "shooting both ways is fine" to "the correct way is shooting from the left side"?

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    "and stated that these aren't likely to be mistakes because how prevalent archery was in medieval times" Imagine future historians watching Hollywood action movies and concluding they depicted realistic gun usage because of how prevalent guns were in the US. – Schwern Mar 11 at 4:52
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    That's what I thought at first, but the thing is, in medieval England, it was the law that men above a certain age must practice archery. Which means that at least 50% of the population knows archery, and that most likely includes artists that created the artworks. In today's world, most people who knows guns are either law enforcement or the military, which in most countries might not even reach 10% of the population. – M Arif Rahman Winandar Mar 11 at 6:22
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    Those are sweeping generalizations like "these aren't likely to be mistakes because how prevalent archery was in medieval times". You can't reduce all medieval artists to a single average artist with an average audience. Art is not known for, nor enjoyed for, accuracy. Medieval art in particular is known for distorting the image to fit their need. Here's an illustration showing archers alongside heavy cavalry. Likely archers did shoot from both sides, the world being far less standardized than today. – Schwern Mar 11 at 7:23
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    Here's probably a stupid thought, but if a Medieval archer were left-handed, wouldn't he shoot from the right side of the bow? If so, then perhaps the illustrations the youtuber cites actually show left-handed archers. OTOH, perhaps the youtuber is showing mirror images of the illustrations to back up his (incorrect) claims? – Jurp Mar 11 at 11:58
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    As a right-handed person, I hold the bow in the left hand, and draw the string with my right. If I hold the bow at a slight angle, then my knuckles and the bow form a small nook, which provides a stable rest for the arrow. Having the arrow at the other side of the bow, I could theoretically achieve the same with my thumb, yet that would feel not as robustly. Here's a close look at the bow-hand during release – Dohn Joe Mar 11 at 13:43
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This isn't a particularly controversial claim; if you've studied archery, it is unexceptional. I've seen the same argument in multiple places, generally with evidence very similar to what Shad presents as his own research. I believe the same claim, with much of the same evidence has been presented on Modern History TV and on Malta Archery. I think Nusensei may have also addressed the topic. If I get time, I'll try to find the individual episodes; the point being that there are other sources to consult. Aside: An acquaintance of mine did some research on Shad; suffice to say that Shad's enthusiasm is more compelling than Shad's research/qualifications. I think that Shad's video generates the impression that Shad's research is novel/innovative; I don't think it is. I think Shad is attacking a straw myth - something that is not believed among scholars of the field.

  1. As a horse archer, if I draw Mediterranean, my arrow rests on the left side of the bow. (speed load - slap the arrow on the string, thread it through to the left. Arrow rests on the left side of the bow and the right side of the string as you draw your hand back, allowing the string to slip by your fingers and guiding the string into the nock. All of which must be done without taking your eyes off the target and while in a half seat on a moving horse. At all points I have complete control of the bow and the arrow. Because the horse is moving forward, wind pressure is trying to push the arrow off the left side of the bow, so I have to maintain control. I can get off an arrow about every six seconds; I think my instructor can do every 5 seconds or less at a gallop.) To address the potential geographical question, horse archery is extremely popular in Turkey, which is arguably part of European history during the period.

  2. If I draw with a thumb ring, my arrow rests on the right side of the bow - different style, but the same outcome. In this case the wind pressure holds the arrow against the bow - but thumb ring AFAIK, less common in historical Western Archery. (ASIDE 1: I haven't trained myself to do Persian, but I believe it is also right of the bow, as is, I believe Slavic and Apache).

The point is that different styles do different things. There is diversity among historical archery. (Malta Archery is a very good source on this, exploring Mediterranean, Oriental, Persian and Slavic draws among other things). Mr. Hirmer makes the point that our ancestors weren't idiots - they experimented with a variety of techniques and preserved and used what worked.

OP asks why the right of the bow became "normal". I don't have an answer to that. I have several hypothesis, but I don't have enough sources to validate any of them (could be an accident of the traditions that got preserved vs those that are lost - common in any martial art. Could be that right side of the bow is simpler to learn. Could be a combination - that left side of the bow is more practical for stalking, but right side for target shooting, and history privileged the target shooter. ) Testing any of these would require more sources than I personally have. I'm rather skeptical that we have enough primary sources to reach a reliable conclusion. If someone were interested, I'd reach out to Joe Gibbs, or possibly to Tod of Tod's workshop. Both of those individuals have demonstrated a greater respect for historiography than is present in the referenced Shad video.

I'm not expert enough to make the argument here, but I would love for someone more skilled in "living history" as historiography to comment. There are some challenges in studying the history of behaviors, practices, crafts and traditions that weren't associated with textual artifacts. I won't pretend to have enough of a background, but I think every historical research into archery I've seen consults the same handful of source materials.

Actually, this may be easier than I thought to answer; when the fletching passes the bow, it leaves a mark on the bow. On my primary bow the leather wrapping on the left side of the bow is completely destroyed and there is significant damage to the fiberglass. (I shot Mediterranean for a year before I shifted to thumb ring; the wear is much heavier on the left). I don't think we have a huge inventory of historic bows, but I know there are some recovered from the Mary Rose (with draw weights that are incomprehensible to the modern archer)- reviewing those should indicate which side of the bow the arrow passed.

(I'm making a heroic effort to suppress my desire to include my "History without sources" rant here.)

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Is it not for consideration that the artwork depicting right handed archers shooting with the arrow on the left side of the bow were made so as to show a complete arrow? If it was shown behind the bow, the artist would had to have painted the arrow in two separate parts.

Additionally, I'd suggest that knocking the arrow on the left of the bow would be much harder for a right handed archer because he would have to twist his arm in an awkward position, possibly slowing down the process. Furthermore, drawing the bow in the standard way, the archer has more control over the arrow. If for instance the arrow falls away from the bow, it would have the whole of the hand to support the arrow, but if knocked on the left the arrow might fall into space.

Usually with martial arts, there is only one way to do it - the instructor's way. I really can't imagine medieval master archers letting archers doing it their own way. Having said that, right/left eye dominance might have played a part.

(Former Somerset County Archer Instructor)

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    Weclome. Yeah, pictures are pictures. As you say, which side you shoot from depends on eye domination and handedness. Wooden traditional archers can choose, and in principle it doesn't matter which side, only allways shoot it the same way (and use correct arrows). Suggest to post a link to an archery site where the (contemporary) techniques are described. – user43870 Jun 12 at 9:34
  • If I'm shooting horseback style, the arrow is on the left side of the bow; if I shoot thumb draw it rests on the right side of the bow. Neither is awkward ;I have full control of the bow on either side. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 12 at 15:52
  • This answer seems purely speculative. – user2848 Jun 13 at 13:16

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