A bow (Sindarin: cú, ping; Quenya: quinga, cú ) is a long-range weapon usually, but not exclusively, made of wood that shoots arrows. A bowstring is attached to "nocks" (or notches) cut into the bow at either end to support the arrow, and also to transmit the energy which shoots it. The string is pulled back and released ('loosed') to shoot the arrow.
Bows in Middle-earth were chiefly used by the Elves, but other peoples had archers such as the people of Gondor and Rohan, the Dúnedain, Dwarves, and even Hobbits. People who use these weapons are called archers or bowmen.
As the Vala Oromë was a great hunter, he may have invented it or at the very least fathomed it for use as a weapon. However, as the Elves were firstborn, they invented it and mastered it, and from there passed it on to men and then on to others.
The longbow most likely came into existence during the First Age of Sun, but also have been first wielded during the Ages of Stars, either in Valinor or Beleriand by Teleri Elves. Wherever it made its first appearance, the longbow from the start was seen as an excellent weapon. The first to wield this deadly weapon were the Elves, but of which kind and of what part of Arda they resided in is up to debate. However, many others have also wielded this weapon in many other places of Arda.
The human woodsmen in The Hobbit were said to use great yew bows, as did Saruman's Uruk-hai.
The bows of the elves tended to have curves to allow them to shoot further and faster making them superior to bows fashioned by lesser races. Bows used by the Rohirrim were made short and compact to allow for more flexible usage on horseback, whereas the bows of Gondor were larger and were used more conventionally on foot.
Legolas was perhaps one of the most skilled bow users in the history of Middle-earth. His feats included shooting multiple enemies with one arrow, shooting down a Mumakil single-handedly (in the film rendition), felling many Uruks at Helm's Deep, and making pincushions out of orcs at a league or more.
The Longbow among Elves
Beleg Strongbow got his nickname from the massive bow he used, which was of course a longbow of Elven make. The longbow in Beleriand was used first by the Sindar Elves of Doriath and then spread to other peoples as they entered the region. Those others seen using the longbow were the Green Elves of Ossiriand (later Lindon), the Ñoldor, the Edain and later the Easterlings. The longbow had perhaps its greatest impact in Doriath, where it was used to hunt many orcs and evil creatures seen prowling around the forest. It was used in numerous battles, most notably the Nírnaeth Arnoediad (Battle of Unnumbered Tears), when the reinforcements from Gondolin, led by King Turgon, sent many archers into the fray against Morgoth. These archers also probably covered Turgon's retreat when the battle went ill for Húrin and Huor. When Beleriand fell into ruin, many peoples escaped from the destroyed land and with them went their weapons, the longbow being chief among them.
In Middle-earthMany Elven kingdoms were founded in Middle-earth after the fall of Morgoth, and each used the longbow to great effect. The Silvan realms of Lórien and Mirkwood were widely known for their expert archers, who mostly used the longbow in their surprise attacks. The High Elves of Rivendell and Lindon also had highly skilled longbowmen, such as the famous Elladan, son of Elrond.
The Mirkwood bow
The Long bow was a fantastic and deadly bow favored by Elves and is used by Legolas. It is highly deadly and very powerful and very good for long range. It has a special history and craft that make it stand out from all other bows. It was the best long range and sniper weapon in The Lord of the Rings.
Bow of the Galadhrim
A Bow of Galadhrim is the weapon used by Lorien Elves. They were amongst the best bows of all of Middle-earth. They could shoot arrows at great distances. Galadriel gave one as a gift to Legolas before the fellowship passed through Lorien. Haldir also used one of these bows. They were strung with strings of Elf-hair and they were likely made of wood from Mallorn trees.
Bow of the High Elves
A Bow of High Elves is the weapon used by High Elves of Lindon and Rivendell, the bows being amongst the best bows of all of Middle-earth, capable of shooting arrows at great distances. Elladan, son of Elrond, was reputed to use this bow to great effect. In the film rendition, the High Elven bows appear to be made of a golden metal, thus requiring great strength to use.
Among the Dúnedain
The famous Númenórean steel bows were among the greatest of the types of longbows. As the name implies, these bows were made of steel, and only the strongest among the Númenóreans could wield them. In the later days of the Dúnedain, the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor both had units of soldiers known simply as rangers, whose chief weapon was a wooden longbow, most likely made of yew or Lebethron. When Arnor fell into ruin, the surviving Dúnedain became known as the Rangers of the North, highly known for their skill with the longbow among other traits. In Gondor, the Rangers of Ithilien were formed when their homeland, Ithilien, became depopulated after Mordor's forces displaced many of the people living there. These rangers were not unlike their northern kin, skilled with a longbow and capable of organized ambushes. Apart from the Ithilien rangers, many other Gondorian soldiers made use of the longbow, such as the Blackroot Vale archers and the standard Gondorian archer.
The Men of the North most associated with the use of the longbow are those from the city-states of Dale and Lake-town. Indeed, a famous archer and later king of Dale, Bard the Bowman, is said to have single-handedly shot down the dragon Smaug the Golden through use of a well-crafted longbow. This later led to a formation of Dale archers known as the Bardings, highly skilled and copies of the famous original! In fact, the longbow was an instrument of daily use among some Men of Dale, for hunting was a great pastime among the descendants of Bard. However, the Northmen of Dale were to come into contact with another power that also made use of the longbow, and to great effect.
Among Evil Men
While the Haradrim are not recorded ever using the longbow, preferring smaller and more composite bows, Men of the East are. Granted, the Easterlings did have a love of composite bows as well, but they are also seen wielding none other than the longbow. It was the famous Wainriders who were the first to be seen with the weapon, for in their great chariots an archer or two was seen giving cover to the charioteer. The long-range missiles, coupled with the tremendous charge of the chariot, were certainly a deadly combination on the battlefield. Therefore, at the end of the Third Age of Sun, it was not surprising to see Easterling longbowmen shooting at the ranks of Dale and Dwarven defenders at the Battle of Erebor, though they were no longer situated in chariots.
The make of the longbow is simple, yet it adds up to a deadly craft. It is made of one whole piece of wood, which can be anything from mallorn to yew. The string is made from a similar range of materials, sometimes of elf hair; the string of Legolas' bow from Lothlórien was made from Galadriel's hair. The wood is slightly curved, and depending on the type of bow, may be strung with the curve or against it, the latter style making it a recurve bow which packs an extra punch. Some Elven bows may have been recurve.
The Best Longbowmen
There can be considerable debate concerning which culture boasts the best longbowmen or longbows. An obvious choice would be the Elves, specifically the Sindar Legolas. However, perhaps one would argue the skill of Bard's folk would be the greater, since it was the product of Northmen that brought to an end the dragon Smaug. Still others might nominate the highly skilled rangers of Eriador or Ithilien, whose shots are as accurate as they are far. In the end, we must settle for the Elves, for they have an infinite period of time to hone their skills and make better and better bows. However, do not question the valour and skill of the longbowmen on the battlefield, for without them a general would be deprived of killing his foe from a distance, thus minimizing his own casualties.
The longbow in real life is credited to having been made and used to great extent by the Welsh, and is associated with many English victories in the Middle Ages. This is likely where Tolkien got his idea of longbowmen.
Other Types of Bow Weapons
- Crossbow - A similar weapon to the bow. The crossbow is a non-canonical weapon in the Tolkien universe and is only seen in the movies since he never mentioned them by name.