Points and Purpose
By Lady Traeacaigh OÍSuilleahbain of Woodenbridge,
Lieutneant of Archers Chastel Pellerin

There were many varieties of arrowheads used during the period in which we try to recreate. They range from the pile, to the bodkin to the broadhead depending on the specific application, for example to practice, to hunt or to pierce armor in military applications.

The Pile and Blunt

Designed to cause minimal damage to targets, piles and blunts fit close to the shaft of the arrow, and they were lighter with no cutting surface or barbs. The tip was sometimes rounded or "blunted" to reduce penetration.

There was a proviso in the Assize of Arms of 1180 that was renewed in 1252, during the reign of Henry III which stated that those who possessed bows and arrows could only fit them with broadheads if they lived outside the vast areas of the Royal Forest. Those who lived within, must only fit their arrows with blunts or piles. The ineffectiveness of blunts and piles for hunting made poaching the Kings deer difficult.

The Broadhead

Broadheads in general are characterized by a wide and flat profile with long cutting surfaces, primarily suited for slicing through flesh. Early broadheads used by the Anglo-Saxons were not "barbed" and were used for hunting large animals like boar, deer and elk as well as against men in times of War.

Later broadheads were more often "barbed" so that once the arrow penetrated, movement by the prey, regardless of man or beast, would cause continued penetration and internally slice muscle tissue and organs. When attempting to remove a barbed broadhead, one would have to break off the fletching to reduce the chance of infection and push the arrow through. Simply withdawing the barbed broadhead would cause it to lodge into the tissue causing tearing and greater damage and often the head was not pinned to the arrowshaft so if the arrow was withdrawn the head would come loose and remain in the body.

A variety of these barbed type heads were common. Small straight broadheads were used for hunting small to medium game and human targets during War. This type was used at the Battle of Bosworth. Larger straight broadheads were used for hunting medium to large game.

Curved Broadheads were somewhat larger and used for hunting larger game at short distances. The curved cutting surface more easily sliced muscle and flesh to cause severe bleeding and immobility. These were sometimes used against horses to severely reduce the mounted knights advantage in combat. To maximize the cutting surface the Swallowtail broadhead featured extremely long barbs. They flew well and cut deep and were used in the Battle of Agincourt.

The Bodkin

Mainly used to pierce armor, the bodkin also took a variety of forms. The Needle bodkin took a long slender shape designed to penetrate chainmail and was used early in the medieval period such as at the Battle of Poitiers. Most others took a shorter profile. The Roman style bodkin used from Roman times throughout the Medieval period were common. Conical, fluted, square and triangular bodkins as well as the War bodkin, which was the most common, were similar in design to the Roman type, all short and came to a quick point. These worked well against the developing plate armor of the time. These were not generally used for hunting as they were specifically designed to pierce armor and the man inside and were not best suited for disabling unarmored prey.

Specialty heads

The forked head, although common it is rarely mentioned maybe due to its use being somewhat unclear and its odd shape. They were crescent or fishtail shaped with the points extending forward, the inside of the head being the sharpened surface. There are theorys on its use including cutting ships rigging, hunting birds and small game, and the use against horses to inflict pain in hopes to throw the rider. This type head was used at the Battle of Tewkesbury.

Fire arrows, used from ancient times, were not so much a type of head rather than a means of setting fire to wooden fortifications and ships, where some flammable material, such as cotton, wool, or dry grass possibly soaked in oil, would be secured to the arrow just behind the head or around it and shot into the wooden structure.