Recently, the youtuber JoergSprave released a new video, where he built a bow capable of firing an arrow unpracticed at full power every second, as opposed to his initial 1 every 4 seconds. He does this by building the quiver into the bow itself so as you pull back the string, an arrow in pushed into its launch.

I want to know, is this weapon feasible for medieval combat? That is, it is realistic for a army to built, train and use this design in an actual battle? If not, how close can we get?

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    $\begingroup$ If the opponent fires arrows, raise your shields. They will run out of arrows in a short while unless they get resupplied. Not many armies did that. There actually were little casualties from arrow fire during battles since they were so easily blocked. If you fire faster, you run out of arrows faster. I think this even might be a disadvantage - but not in all cases. Could you maybe explain the tactics you would employ? Or are you asking how one would utilize such a bow in battle? $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ It reminded me of the Cho ko nu, the Chinese repeating crossbow. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ Shields are often only wood enhanced by some steel, and therefore easily pierceable by bolts, which you would shoot with such a bow. I'd also say the bow show in the video was rather a crossbow than a normal one :) $\endgroup$
    – Luatic
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ looking at the latter video of the Instant Ghengis Khan from the same guy it would be pretty possible to make and doesn't seem to be too hard to make with pretty much any wooden tools so you could make it pretty much bronze age and up I would guess as for if it would be useful in combat then again yeah if the draw weight is high enough then it could properly do a pretty similar thing to early guns with ease of training but be cheaper and more accurate although would probably not be too good against anyone with plate armour $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ One should temper their pooh-poohing of this idea against the fact that the Dynastic Chinese actually fielded similar weapons, more than a thousand years ago. They built them more like a crossbow (the bow was held horizontally and the arrows fed from the top), and because of their operating mechanism the bow had to be pretty light (25-30 pounds draw was about the limit, as far as I know) but they were at least as fast, even against lightly armored conscript infantry a literal overcast of even weakly propelled arrows was daunting, at a minimum. They also used the magazine loading Sprave talks $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 15:41

8 Answers 8


It's impractical.

The technologies to make the device work didn't exist in the middle ages, and it doesn't add value over a traditional bow within the context of the medieval battlefield.

The purpose of archery during medieval battles was massed fire into infantry formations. The auto loader contains only four arrows. Archers were expected to fire more than four arrows before reloading. The reload time seems to seriously reduce the effective rate of fire.

Medieval English longbows could have draw weights upward of 150 lbs, with the average being around 100 lbs. The bow in that video is significantly lighter probably around ~20 lbs. A compound bow could be used to reduce the strength required to draw a similarly weighted bow, but that requires technologies not available in the middle ages.

Compound bows are a modern invention first created in 1966. They are built to take advantage of many modern innovations like precision machining, carbon fiber, complex pulley arrangements, and aluminum. Furthermore, the construction of the mechanism relies on multiple elastic bands. Elastic bands didn't exist as a medieval technology.

  • $\begingroup$ This page says 90-110 pound draw weights being more common: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_longbow#Draw_weights and from personal experience I had 70 pound compound bow that a lot of people had trouble with. I can't imagine a 150 pound bow being feasible and still hoping to maintain accuracy. Unlike a compound bow, with a long bow you have to hold the full weight at the draw length until you loose. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ @SurprisedDog You're not wrong. I've updated to clarify the average draw weight. When firing in combat you didn't need to hold at full draw and take careful aim, since you were firing into a formation. It's much easier to hit a target when the size of the broad side of a barn. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ Repeating Crossbows were first utilized as early as 4th century BC and even recorded being used 180 A.D en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repeating_crossbow. It is not unrealistic for similar mechanisms to be designed for bows. These would definitely be very effective vs. lightly armored formations as you wouldn't need high penetration to deal damage. $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ Tod of Tod's workshop who makes medieval weapon replicas is now trying to create a version of the Instant Legolas using only tools available in the middle ages. Interesting to see how that goes. $\endgroup$ Commented May 11, 2020 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ The fact that the repeating crossbow failed to make an impact should tell us something $\endgroup$ Commented May 11, 2020 at 16:40

That's an "engineer approach to archery"... utterly useless.

Have a look to this and/or this.

The two nice videos essentially try to show the real feat with "professional" archery has nothing to do with how fast you manage to nock the arrow, because this can be done quite fast, given a certain amount of training.

Real problems are:

  1. You have to provide the energy to shoot the arrow with your arm muscles and this is an heavy job even for trained archers. Increasing the "fire rate" is very demanding if you want to give your arrow enough power to be really damaging. The time needed to nock the arrow is negligible compared with the recovery time of your muscles with a powerful (e.g.: 105lb ~= 50kg ~= 450N) longbow. (note: compound have a drop, so it is much easier to keep the stance while aiming, but you have to provide the energy all the same).
  2. Aim fast and true. "Fast" is needed to avoid tiring arms uselessly by keeping bow bent.
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    $\begingroup$ You're second video proves your point wrong, while very interesting, The shooters admits it took years of practice, while the bow we are questions takes little to no practice $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ @TrEs-2b The bows used in the second video are extremely low draw weight. They're being used to shoot at targets at point blank range. While that is an impressive feat, it is also not practical for hunting or war. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ @TrEs-2b: NO way you can use a bow without proper training. Even if your "instant Legolas" manages to help you nocking the arrow it remains the large part of archery: use your muscles to bend the bow and send the arrow where you want it. English "long bow" is considered the only true "secret weapon" that was used over end over for several centuries because the real "secret" was the training the longbowmen were subjected to. $\endgroup$
    – ZioByte
    Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, and they were paid according to the draw weight of the bow, some bored had draw weights around 150 pounds. No way you can draw that workout some serious muscle development. $\endgroup$
    – Pliny
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 3:34

The latest versions of the Instant Legolas are extremely practical and would have utterly changed warfare.

It’s now a 7-shot pump-action with an ergonomic handle that decreases the load on the fingers, has a trigger release and a perfectly consistent draw. All of these features mean that an equally trained archer will be able to draw a slightly heavier bow and shoot more accurately because consistency is key to accuracy.

People have said that the high fire rate isn’t much of an advantage for a heavy draw weight because you tire the archer. There’s 3 answers to this.

First, Joerg’s latest model has a tab at the front that lets the archer use two fingers on their left hand to assist in holding the bow at full draw. This reduces fatigue because the effort of holding the draw is better distributed during aiming.

Second, I think of this more as an anti-cavalry and anti-charge feature. There’s nothing stopping archers from loosing one or two shots per volley and then reloading so that they stay fresh. Then if enemy cavalry charges, they can shoot all their arrows in a massive volley, likely breaking the charge.

Third, it’s an ideal ambush weapon that would have shifted the emphasis of warfare to small unit tactics and skirmishing. Historically, ambushes usually entailed an initial volley to soften up the opponent and then a charge to press the attack, because the casualties inflicted by one volley wouldn’t be enough to make the ambush worth it. But 7 shots each is probably worth it without the charge. A small band of elite skirmishers could take chunks out of the enemy force, and even if the men picked up shields quickly they might still be able to wound or kill the horses and prevent enemy cavalry from ever reaching the battlefield.

These are all significant advantages with very little downside. I don’t think it’s reasonable to think that this wouldn’t have changed things.


Something that other answers doesn't seem to address it's that the instant legolas bring two really important game-breaking mechanics:

Anybody can shoot an arrow now: As long as they have the arm strength (not too hard since most of the population was already doing manual labors) you can instantly turn a town of farmers into a half-decent archery unit. That greatly expands your military might and reduces your training time to almost zero without much added cost.

You can have an ample and constant flow of arrows: since now you can rise a big archery unit without much costs, why would you even have knights? just carry a really lot of arrows and do something like Oda Nobunaga three line formation and keep spamming them until they die. Even better you can pick the used arrows (both yours and your enemy) and recycle.


The last 10 minutes of this video do completely answer your question; credit to Shad for the answer. It is a breakdown of the function of the bow, the crossbow, and how the benefits of each are combined in the SIL with none of the penalties. If you look at some of the crossbows manufactured at the time, you can see that the material science was there at the time to create a version without aluminium.

In other words, it was both possible and would have been a game changer. If only one side was thusly equipped they would have had an advantage. If both sides were equipped so, then the tactics of combat would likely have had to change dramatically (but may not have for social reasons). You can read more about crossbow technology here if you don't think the technology existed to create the SIL. For reference, some crossbows drawn with a winch (drawing a crossbow is actually called spanning) are a poundage of 1000 lb or more. These are hand-held crossbows. There were, of course, larger crossbows mounted on walls with arms broader than 10 feet. These were also drawn with a winch and I'm not really sure how much force they capped out at.

One interesting fact in all this is the skill of the archers of the time. At the Battle of Agincourt it was reported by historians that the French knights lowered their visors and bent their heads forward to protect their eye and breathing holes from archers. That's some serious skill, so it isn't simply about technology, but the English archers were indeed notorious for their ability.

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    $\begingroup$ I guess lowering your visor and tilting your head forward also makes good sense even when facing an army of bad archers, since with a large enough volume of "fire", the likelyhood of getting hit is pretty large. Modern soldiers tend to seek cover when they are shot at, less due to the ability of the shooter but more to minimize their risk of getting hit. Increasing your own protection always makes sense, regardless of your opponents ability. $\endgroup$
    – Dohn Joe
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 9:03

I think that it would be a game changer in naval warfare, maybe even up to the early musket era. During ship boardings, fire rate is very important, and once you start closing in, so having someone draw a low-powered version of these at 50m and pump several shots in a row might be more practical than loading a black powder weapon. And while it's more complex and prone to failure than a regular bow or crossbow, when your high at sea you have more down time to fix things.

This kind of weapon might also beat a crossbow when it comes to self-defence when travelling. While it's bulkier than a crossbow, you can always keep it loaded without causing any damage to its mechanism, whereas if you keep a crossbow ready to fire at all times, you'll be putting a lot of stress on the limb.

While it might not be effective for volley firing, it's definitely an advantage for skirmishers looking to ambush the enemy. A small group of IL archers emerging from a valley can wreak havoc on a platoon of soldiers marching downrange. Killing as many enemies as quickly as possible is fundamental in such a situation.

Another situation when it might come in handy - defending against an assault on a defensive structure. Pop out from the crenelations, fire your magazine away, pull off, reload and repeat.

It also seems like it might be a good hunting instrument. Maybe a bit too noisy, but maybe better when you're being charged at by a boar or aurochs.

To summarise, it would be a game changer in short engagements but not so in open field battles. Finally, if none of these advantages are convincing, it does lead to significant reductions in training cost vs. a regular bow. The question is how maintenance and manufacturing costs would compare to the savings in training. My guess is that having a semi-proficient unit of IL users vs a semi-proficient unit of archers would be more cost-effective, but having a professionalised unit of IL units would not pay off.


4 arrows to the one means you just brought an automatic weapon to a single shot fight, yes in war this is absolutely a game changer. the US civil war used single shot rifles when 6guns and chain guns were available. then Germany armed all there troops with sub and machine guns and nearly conquered the old world. from a war perspective this is absolutely a game changer. all troops are mobile weapons. in the medieval world one man has now become the equivalent of 2-3 men. you just force multiplied your army.


Chinese repeating crossbow

I would like to raise what was already mentioned in passing by Alberto Yagos in a comment into a proper answer and build on it.

First a little bit about crossbows in general:

The crossbow was a scary weapon when it first appeared in Europe. It takes significantly less training to make a simple peasant adept at the weapon compared to a bow. Combine this with the fact that a single crossbow bolt can take out an armored noble at medium range. A feat that right before the crossbow entered was actually really difficult. Continuous improvements in armor-smithing together with proper layering with a gambaeson(impact reducing cloth armor worn under armor) an arrow would not penetrate unless it hit somewhere like the armpit. This and then the introduction of the first muskets would begin the decline full body armor in Europe.

Repeating Crossbow

I think you should consider the Chinese repeating crossbow (real name either Cho-ku-nu or Lián Nú). We know the first version was already in existence between 4th century BC so the technique for creating this weapon is definatley avaliable. It is effective enough that it was used for hundreds of years.

While it is neither as accurate or has as high impact as a normal crossbow an adept can fire large amounts of bolts quickly. It does however seem that the repeater was never used very much in favor for the 'normal' crossbow. Some of the issue does seem to stem from that the arrows for some models where not fletched. There is probably in theory a better design that can still utilize medieval craftsmanship if won where to combine the best aspects of the several types of repeater crossbows.

Final words:

Combining repeating crossbows and normal crossbow units could perhaps give rather good ranged capacities to an army in short amount of time if the weapons are available but you lack trained soldiers. Repeaters for the output and even a small company of normal crossbow adepts becomes a real dangerous anti-armor addition to a medieval army.

But if just a large amount of projectiles in a short amount of time is what you want a professional archer during this era could nock and fire an arrow with incredible speed. Actually Legolas firing speed is about on par with this. It is e.g said it was an entry test for the renowned Saracen archers to fire 4 arrows before the first hit the ground something that has been proven to actually be possible.


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