What’s the difference?
The longbow and the flat bow were used since ancient times. They date from the Paleolithic era and they are most well known as the bows used by Native Americans and Medieval English archers. The first book written about archery in the English language was published in 1545, and dedicated to King Henry VIII.
Both longbow and flat bow are simple straight pieces of wood bent only by the string.
The longbow shaft is a single piece of wood, straight, without a curved top and bottom. It is half round in shape when seen in profile, or D-shaped if you were look at a cross section of the wood. Because of this roundness, only the limbs bend, while the center section of the bow remains more or less straight. Certain types of wood such as yew wood, Osage orange, and mulberry are best to allow this stiff center and flexible limb configuration.
Today the long bow is also found made of wood composites and of fiberglass composites.
Photo above– Rounded wood in the center section of a long bow
The flat bow, however, does not have the rounded profile of the longbow. Like the longbow, the flat bow is straight along its length. The flat bow is shorter and allows more bend throughout the entire length of the bow.
In England, the long bow was used primarily in warfare and defense, mainly from a standing position in front of or on top of a castle.
In the ancient Americas, however, there were no castles to storm or to defend. Hunting and warfare was from horseback. Long bows would be difficult to use when riding because of their length (so aptly named). The flat bow was used. The flat bow can be shorter and made using more types of wood like maple, sycamore, and hazel, having greater elasticity. Buffalo hunting in North America was typically done from horseback using the flat bow rather than the longbow.
While archers in the Americas have used flat bows from horseback, in eastern Europe and Asia a different kind of bow was developed similar to the flat bow. This bow was specifically for shooting from horseback.