15 September 2015

Bian Jian (邊箭)

Ming Chinese Majra Solenarion
Drawing of a Bian Jian, from 'Bing Lu (《兵錄》)'.
Bian Jian (邊箭, lit. 'Border arrow' or 'Side arrow') is a short arrow designed to be shot from an arrow-guide. The arrow-and-guide combination allows the archer to shoot small but high velocity arrows, which are hard to spot and harder still to dodge. Furthermore, Bian Jian has longer range than normal arrows and cannot be reused by enemy archer unless they have arrow-guides of their own.

Chinese archers had been using arrow-guide, then known as Tong Jian (筒箭, lit. 'Tube arrow'), as early as Tang Dynasty.

Tong-ah 통아
A Pyeonjeon (left) and Tong-ah (middle) alongside a normal arrow (right), from 'Yungwon pilbi (《융원필비》 or 《戎垣必備》)'.
Korean equivalent of Bian Jian is known as Tong-ah (통아 or 筒兒) for the tube and Pyeonjeon (편전 or 片箭) for the short arrow. Other similar devices include Byzantine Solenarion (σωληνάριον) and Turkish Majra or Navek.


  1. Any idea why these mini-arrows had a longer range than normal ones? One would expect a shorter arrow to have less momentum, and thus succumb to the effects of drag more quickly. What's going on here?

    1. I am not very well-versed in arrow physics, presumably the arrow is launched with significantly higher speed that's enough to offset the stronger drag.

    2. If the same amount of energy is transferred to a lesser mass, the lesser mass will of course achieve a greater speed. Of course, this isn't a linear process and yes, a lighter arrow will have less mass and more difficulty retaining its energy.

      You can think of it as a medieval equivalent to extended-range basebleed shells in modern artillery; the shells are going to contain less explosive due to their design, but the ERBBs achieve better range and provide good counterbattery fire at extreme distances. Bolts (arrow guides were developed as a way for nomads to shoot crossbow bolts back at crossbow users) shot from an arrow guide are going to be less damaging and have abysmal penetration, but they go far enough and fast enough to permit archers (and more importantly cavalry archers!) to outrange conventional archers and crossbowmen.

  2. For as far as I know this has to do with arrow weight and draw length. The longer the draw length the further and faster an arrow flies. The heavier an arrow is, the slower and shorter it will fly. So the bowstring has to push less weight which means the arrow can built up more speed and gravity doesn't effect it as much because it's lighter, so it can fly further. To demonstrate this you can compare historical and modern crossbows. Where the old crossbows have a very high draw weight, very short draw length (often only a few inches) and pretty heavy bolts, compared with the modern crossbows which have a long draw length, much lower draw weight and often they are also using rather light bolts/arrows for a similar or even better performance.
    Using the arrow guide is like shooting an arrow with a crossbow. (I think, there are video's that explain this better.


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