Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Crossbow

Crossbow

Overview
A crossbow is a weapon
Weapon
A weapon, arm, or armament is a tool or instrument used with the aim of causing damage or harm to living beings or artificial structures or systems...

 consisting of a bow
Bow (weapon)
The bow and arrow is a projectile weapon system that predates recorded history and is common to most cultures.-Description:A bow is a flexible arc that shoots aerodynamic projectiles by means of elastic energy. Essentially, the bow is a form of spring powered by a string or cord...

 mounted on a stock that shoots projectiles, often called bolts or quarrel
Quarrel
A quarrel or bolt is the term for the ammunition used in a crossbow. The name "quarrel" is derived from the French carré, "square", referring to the fact that they typically have square heads. Although their length varies, they are typically shorter than traditional arrows.Bolts and arrows have...

s. The medieval crossbow was called by many names, most of which derived from the word ballista
Ballista
The ballista , plural ballistae, was an ancient missile weapon which launched a large projectile at a distant target....

, a torsion engine resembling a crossbow in appearance.

Historically, crossbows played a significant role in the warfare of East Asia since the 4th century B.C., as well as Europe and the Mediterranean.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Crossbow'
Start a new discussion about 'Crossbow'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Recent Discussions
Encyclopedia
A crossbow is a weapon
Weapon
A weapon, arm, or armament is a tool or instrument used with the aim of causing damage or harm to living beings or artificial structures or systems...

 consisting of a bow
Bow (weapon)
The bow and arrow is a projectile weapon system that predates recorded history and is common to most cultures.-Description:A bow is a flexible arc that shoots aerodynamic projectiles by means of elastic energy. Essentially, the bow is a form of spring powered by a string or cord...

 mounted on a stock that shoots projectiles, often called bolts or quarrel
Quarrel
A quarrel or bolt is the term for the ammunition used in a crossbow. The name "quarrel" is derived from the French carré, "square", referring to the fact that they typically have square heads. Although their length varies, they are typically shorter than traditional arrows.Bolts and arrows have...

s. The medieval crossbow was called by many names, most of which derived from the word ballista
Ballista
The ballista , plural ballistae, was an ancient missile weapon which launched a large projectile at a distant target....

, a torsion engine resembling a crossbow in appearance.

Historically, crossbows played a significant role in the warfare of East Asia since the 4th century B.C., as well as Europe and the Mediterranean. Today, they are used primarily for target shooting and hunting.

Construction


A crossbow is a weapon bow
Bow (weapon)
The bow and arrow is a projectile weapon system that predates recorded history and is common to most cultures.-Description:A bow is a flexible arc that shoots aerodynamic projectiles by means of elastic energy. Essentially, the bow is a form of spring powered by a string or cord...

 mounted on a stick (called a tiller or stock) with a mechanism in it which holds the drawn bow string
Bow string
A bow string joins the two ends of the bow stave and launches the arrow. Desirable properties include light weight, strength, resistance to abrasion, and resistance to water...

. The earliest designs featured a slot in the stock, down into which the string was placed. To shoot this design, a vertical rod is thrust up through a hole in the bottom of the notch, forcing the string out. This rod is usually attached perpendicular to a rear-facing lever called a trigger or "tickler". A later design implemented a rolling cylindrical pawl called a "nut" to retain the string. This nut has a perpendicular center slot for the bolt, and an intersecting axial slot for the string, along with a lower face or slot against which the internal trigger sits. They often also have some form of strengthening internal "sear" or trigger face, usually of metal. These "roller nuts" were either free-floating in their close-fitting hole across the stock, tied in with a binding of sinew or other strong cording, or mounted on a metal axle or pins. Removable or integral plates of wood, ivory or metal on the sides of the stock kept the nut in place laterally. Nuts were made of antler, bone, or metal. Bows could be kept and ready to shoot for some time with little effort, allowing crossbowmen to aim better.

The bow (called the "prod" or "lath" on a crossbow) of early crossbows was made of a single piece of wood, usually ash
Ash tree
Fraxinus is a genus flowering plants in the olive and lilac family, Oleaceae. It contains 45-65 species of usually medium to large trees, mostly deciduous though a few subtropical species are evergreen. The tree's common English name, ash, goes back to the Old English æsc, while the generic name...

 or yew
Taxus
Taxus is a genus of yews, small coniferous trees or shrubs in the yew family Taxaceae. They are relatively slow-growing and can be very long-lived, and reach heights of 1-40 m, with trunk diameters of up to 4 m...

. Composite bows are made from layers of different material—often wood, horn and sinew—glued together and bound with animal tendon. These composite bows, made of several layers, are much stronger and more efficient in releasing energy than simple wooden bows. As steel became more widely available in Europe around the 14th century, steel prods came into use.

The crossbow prod is very short compared to ordinary bows, resulting in a short draw length. This leads to a higher draw weight in order to store the same amount of energy. Furthermore the thick prods are a bit less efficient at releasing energy, but more energy can be stored by a crossbow. Traditionally the prod was often lashed to the stock with rope, whipcord
Whipcord
-Fabric:The fabric whipcord is a strong worsted or cotton fabric made of hard-twisted yarns with a diagonal cord or rib. The weave used for whipcord is a steep-angled twill, essentially the same weave as a cavalry twill or a steep gabardine...

, or other strong cording. This cording is called the bridle
Bridle
A bridle is a piece of equipment used to direct a horse. As defined in the Oxford English Dictionary, the "bridle" includes both the headstall that holds a bit that goes in the mouth of a horse, and the reins that are attached to the bit....

.

The strings for a crossbow are typically made of strong fibers that would not tend to fray. Whipcord
Whipcord
-Fabric:The fabric whipcord is a strong worsted or cotton fabric made of hard-twisted yarns with a diagonal cord or rib. The weave used for whipcord is a steep-angled twill, essentially the same weave as a cavalry twill or a steep gabardine...

 was very common; however linen, hemp
Hemp
Hemp is mostly used as a name for low tetrahydrocannabinol strains of the plant Cannabis sativa, of fiber and/or oilseed varieties. In modern times, hemp has been used for industrial purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel with modest...

, and sinew
Tendon
A tendon is a tough band of fibrous connective tissue that usually connects muscle to bone and is capable of withstanding tension. Tendons are similar to ligaments and fasciae as they are all made of collagen except that ligaments join one bone to another bone, and fasciae connect muscles to other...

 were used as well. In wet conditions, twisted mulberry
Mulberry
Morus is a genus of flowering plants in the family Moraceae. The 10–16 species of deciduous trees it contains are commonly known as Mulberries....

 root was occasionally used.

Crossbows have a shorter draw length than bows, resulting in the need of a greater amount of draw force in order to store the same amount of energy. Very light crossbows can be drawn by hand, but heavier types need the help of mechanical devices. The simplest version of mechanical cocking device is a hook attached to a belt, drawing the bow by straightening the legs. Other devices are hinged levers which either pulled or pushed the string into place, cranked rack-and-pinion devices called "cranequins" and multiple cord-and-pulley cranked devices called windlass
Windlass
The windlass is an apparatus for moving heavy weights. Typically, a windlass consists of a horizontal cylinder , which is rotated by the turn of a crank or belt...

es.

Variants



Crossbows exist in different variants. One way to classify them is the acceleration system, while another is the size and energy, degree of automation or projectiles.

The simplest acceleration system is a straight or bent prod and it is probably the earliest version of a crossbow.

A recurve
Recurve bow
In archery, the shape of the bow is usually taken to be the view from the side. It is the product of the complex relationship of material stresses, designed by a bowyer...

 crossbow is a bow that has tips curving away from the archer. The recurve bow's bent limbs have a longer draw length than an equivalent straight-limbed bow, giving more acceleration to the projectile and less hand shock. Recurved limbs also put greater strain on the materials used to make the bow, and they may make more noise with the shot.

Multiple bow systems have a special system of pulling the sinew via several bows (which can be recurve bows). The workings can be compared to a modern compound bow system. The weapon uses several different bows instead of one bow with a tackle system to achieve a higher acceleration of the sinew via the multiplication with each bow's pulling effect.

A compound crossbow is a modern crossbow and is similar to a compound bow
Compound bow
A compound bow is a modern bow that uses a levering system, usually of cables and pulleys, to bend the limbs.The limbs of a compound bow are much stiffer than those of a recurve bow or longbow. This limb stiffness makes the compound bow more energy-efficient than other bows, in conjunction with the...

. The limbs are usually much stiffer than those of a recurve crossbow. This limb stiffness makes the compound bow more energy efficient than other bows, but the limbs are too stiff to be drawn comfortably with a string attached directly to them. The compound bow has the string attached to the pulleys, one or both of which has one or more cables attached to the opposite limb. When the string is drawn back, the string causes the pulleys to turn. This causes the pulleys to pull the cables, which in turn causes the limbs to bend and thus store energy. Other types of compound bows use either (one or both) cam shaped or eccentrically mounted pulleys in order to provide a "let off", such that the archer is not holding against the maximum draw weight of the bow while trying to aim. But in a crossbow the string is held back mechanically, so there is no advantage in providing a let off. Therefore, compound crossbows generally use only pulleys that are both round and concentrically mounted, in order to capture the maximum available energy from the relatively short draw length.
The smallest crossbows are pistol crossbows. Others are simple long stocks with the crossbow mounted on them. These could be shot from under the arm. The next step in development was rifle shaped stocks that allowed better aiming. The arbalest
Arbalest
The arbalest was a late variation of the medieval European crossbow. A large weapon, the arbalest had a steel prod . Since an arbalest was much larger than earlier crossbows, and because of the greater compressive strength of steel, it had a greater force...

 was a heavy crossbow which required special systems for pulling the sinew via windlasses. For siege warfare the size of crossbows was further increased to hurl large projectiles such as rocks at fortifications. The required crossbows needed a massive base frame and powerful windlass devices. Such devices include the oxybeles
Oxybeles
The oxybeles was a weapon used by the Ancient Greeks starting in 375 BC. The weapon was basically an oversized gastraphetes, a composite bow placed on a stand with a stock and a trigger. It was supplanted by the scientifically engineered ballista. The difference between the two is the use of...

. The ballista
Ballista
The ballista , plural ballistae, was an ancient missile weapon which launched a large projectile at a distant target....

 has torsion spring
Torsion spring
A torsion spring is a spring that works by torsion or twisting; that is, a flexible elastic object that stores mechanical energy when it is twisted. The amount of force it exerts is proportional to the amount it is twisted. There are two types...

s replacing the elastic prod of the oxybeles, but later also developed into smaller versions. "Ballista" is still the root word
Root (linguistics)
The root word is the primary lexical unit of a word, and of a word family , which carries the most significant aspects of semantic content and cannot be reduced into smaller constituents....

 for crossbow in Romance languages
Romance languages
The Romance languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family, more precisely of the Italic languages subfamily, comprising all the languages that descend from Vulgar Latin, the language of ancient Rome...

 such as Italian (balestra).

The repeating crossbow
Repeating crossbow
A repeating crossbow is a crossbow where the separate actions of stringing the bow, placing the bolt and shooting it can be accomplished with a simple one-handed movement while keeping the crossbow stationary. This allows a higher rate of fire than a normal crossbow...

 automated the separate actions of stringing the bow, placing the projectile and shooting. This way the task can be accomplished with a simple one-handed movement, while keeping the weapon stationary. As a result, it is possible to shoot at a faster rate compared to unmodified version. The Chinese repeating crossbow, Chu Ko Nu, is a handheld crossbow that accomplishes the task with a magazine containing a number of bolts on top. The mechanism is worked by moving a rectangular lever forward and backward. The weapon was mainly used as a weapon against lightly armored soldiers, since it shot small bolts that were often dipped in poison.

A bullet crossbow is a type of handheld crossbow which rather than arrows or bolts shoots spherical projectiles made of stone, clay or lead. There are two variants, one has a double string with a pocket for the projectile; the other has a barrel with a slot for the string.

Projectiles


The arrow-like projectiles of a crossbow are called bolts. These are much shorter than arrows, but can be several times heavier. There is an optimum weight for bolts to achieve maximum kinetic energy, which varies depending on the strength and characteristics of the crossbow, but most could pass through common chain mail. In ancient times the bolts of a strong crossbow were usually several times heavier than arrows. Modern bolts are stamped with a proof mark to ensure their consistent weight. Bolts do not have fletch
Fletching
Fletching is the aerodynamic stabilization of arrows or darts with materials such as feathers, each piece of which is referred to as a fletch. The word is related to the French word flèche, meaning "arrow," via Old French; the ultimate root is Frankish fliukka...

ing, commonly seen on arrow
Arrow
An arrow is a shafted projectile that is shot with a bow. It predates recorded history and is common to most cultures.An arrow usually consists of a shaft with an arrowhead attached to the front end, with fletchings and a nock at the other.- History:...

s. Crossbow bolts can be fitted with a variety of heads, some with sickle-shaped heads to cut rope or rigging; but the most common today is a four-sided point called a quarrel
Quarrel
A quarrel or bolt is the term for the ammunition used in a crossbow. The name "quarrel" is derived from the French carré, "square", referring to the fact that they typically have square heads. Although their length varies, they are typically shorter than traditional arrows.Bolts and arrows have...

. A highly specialized type of bolt is employed to collect blubber biopsy samples used in biology research.

Most modern crossbows are however designed to shoot arrows instead of bolts. Crossbow arrows are of similar construction as ordinary bow arrows, just shorter in length because of reduced power stroke.

Crossbows can also be adapted to shoot lead bullets or stones, in which case they are called stone-bows. Primarily used for hunting wildfowl
Anatidae
Anatidae is the biological family of birds that includes ducks, geese and swans. The family has a cosmopolitan distribution, occurring on all the world's continents except Antarctica and on most of the world's islands and island groups...

, these usually have a double string with a pouch between the strings to hold the projectile.

Accessories


The ancient crossbow often included a metal grid serving as iron sights
Iron sights
Iron sights are a system of shaped alignment markers used as a sighting device to assist in the aiming of a device such as a firearm, crossbow, or telescope, and exclude the use of optics as in telescopic sights or reflector sights...

. Modern crossbow sights often use similar technology to modern firearm sights, such red dot sight
Red dot sight
A red dot sight is a common classification for a type of non-magnifying reflector sight for firearms that gives the user an aimpoint in the form of an illuminated red dot...

s and telescopic sight
Telescopic sight
A telescopic sight, commonly called a scope, is a sighting device that is based on an optical refracting telescope. They are equipped with some form of graphic image pattern mounted in an optically appropriate position in their optical system to give an accurate aiming point...

s. Many crossbow scopes feature multiple crosshairs to compensate for the significant effects of gravity over different ranges.

Quiver
Quiver
A quiver is a container for arrows. Quivers have been traditionally made of leather, bark, wood, furs and other natural materials; modern quivers are often made of metal and plastic....

s can be mounted to hold ammunition. These are often made from plastic and usually hold the bolts in fixed positions along the structure. A popular detachable design consists of a main arm that is attached to the weapon, a plate on one end that secures four or more individual bolts at a point on their shafts and at the other end a cover that secures their heads. This kind of quiver is attached under the front of the crossbow, parallel to the string and is designed to be quickly detached and reattached. Other designs hold bolts underneath the crossbow parallel to the stock, sometimes on either side of the crossbow.

A major cause of the sound of shooting a crossbow is vibration of various components. Crossbow silencers are multiple components placed on high vibration parts, such as the string and limbs, to dampen vibration and suppress the sound of loosing the bolt.

Far East


According to Needham, linguistic evidence points at the crossbow having originated among the cultures neighboring ancient China where it first evolved in the form of unattended traps.

Bronze crossbow
History of crossbows
This history of crossbows documents the historical development and use of the crossbow.It is not clear exactly where and when the crossbow originated, but there is undoubted evidence that it was used for military purposes from the second half of the 4th century BC onwards.- Europe :The earliest...

 bolts dating as early as mid 5th century BC were found at a State of Chu
Chu (state)
The State of Chu was a Zhou Dynasty vassal state in present-day central and southern China during the Spring and Autumn period and Warring States Period . Its ruling house had the surname Nai , and clan name Yan , later evolved to surname Mi , and clan name Xiong...

 burial site in Yutaishan, Hubei
Hubei
' Hupeh) is a province in Central China. The name of the province means "north of the lake", referring to its position north of Lake Dongting...

. The earliest handheld crossbow stocks with bronze trigger, dating from the 6th century BC, comes from Tomb 3 and 12 found at Qufu
Qufu
Qufu is a city in southwestern Shandong province, People's Republic of China. It is located at 35° 36′ northern latitude and 117° 02′ east, about south of the provincial capital Jinan and northeast of the prefecture seat at Jining...

, Shandong, capital of the State of Lu
Lu (state)
The State of Lu, was a Zhou Dynasty ducal vassal state before and during the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history. Founded in the 10th century BC, its dukes used Ji as their family name. The first duke was Boqin |Qi]] and to the south by the powerful state of Chu...

. Other early finds of crossbows were discovered in Tomb 138 at Saobatang, Hunan
Hunan
' is a province of South-Central China, located to the south of the middle reaches of the Yangtze River and south of Lake Dongting...

 dated to mid 4th century BC. Repeating crossbow
Repeating crossbow
A repeating crossbow is a crossbow where the separate actions of stringing the bow, placing the bolt and shooting it can be accomplished with a simple one-handed movement while keeping the crossbow stationary. This allows a higher rate of fire than a normal crossbow...

s, first mentioned in the Records of the Three Kingdoms, were discovered in 1986 in Tomb 47 at Qinjiazui, Hubei dated to around 4th century BC. The earliest Chinese document mentioning a crossbow is in scripts from the 4th–3rd century BC attributed to the followers of Mozi. This source refers to the use of a giant crossbow in the 6th to 5th century BC, corresponding to the late Spring and Autumn Period. Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu
Sun Wu , style name Changqing , better known as Sun Tzu or Sunzi , was an ancient Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher who is traditionally believed, and who is most likely, to have authored The Art of War, an influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy...

's influential book The Art of War
The Art of War
The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise that is attributed to Sun Tzu , a high ranking military general and strategist during the late Spring and Autumn period...

(first appearance dated in between 500 BC to 300 BC) refers in chapter V to the traits and in XII to the use of crossbows. One of the earliest reliable records of this weapon in warfare is from an ambush, the Battle of Ma-Ling
Battle of Maling
The Battle of Maling took place in Maling, currently Dazhangjia Town , Shen County , Henan Province, in 342 BC during the Warring States Period . The combatants were the State of Qi, who fought on behalf of the State of Han, and the State of Wei...

 in 341 BC. By the 200s BC, the crossbow was well developed and quite widely used in China.


The earliest textual evidence of the handheld crossbow used in battle
Battle of Maling
The Battle of Maling took place in Maling, currently Dazhangjia Town , Shen County , Henan Province, in 342 BC during the Warring States Period . The combatants were the State of Qi, who fought on behalf of the State of Han, and the State of Wei...

 dates to the 4th century BC. Handheld crossbows with complex bronze trigger mechanisms have also been found with the Terracotta Army
Terracotta Army
The Terracotta Army or the "Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses", is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China...

 in the tomb of Qin Shihuang (r. 221–210 BC) that are similar to specimens from the subsequent Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 (202 BC–220 AD), while crossbowmen described in the Qin and Han Dynasty learned drill formations, some were even mounted as cavalry units, and Han Dynasty writers attributed the success of numerous battles against the Xiongnu
Sino-Xiongnu War
The Sino-Xiongnu War is a name given to a series of battles between the Han Dynasty and the tribes of Xiongnu between 133 BC and 89 AD. The nature of these battles varied through time between Han conquest and the possession of city-states in central Asia. The war culminated in Geng Kui driving the...

 to massed crossbow fire. The bronze triggers were designed in such a way that they were able to store a large amount of energy within the bow when drawn, but was easily fired with little recoil when the trigger were pulled (this allowed it for precision shooting). The metal portions of the crossbow were also mass produced with precision, with the bronzer mechanisms being interchangeable. Finally, the Qin and Han Dynasties also developed crossbow firing lines, with alternating rows of crossbowmen firing and reloading similar to a musket firing line.

Different varieties of crossbows were also developed, such as the repeating crossbow
Repeating crossbow
A repeating crossbow is a crossbow where the separate actions of stringing the bow, placing the bolt and shooting it can be accomplished with a simple one-handed movement while keeping the crossbow stationary. This allows a higher rate of fire than a normal crossbow...

, multi-shot crossbow, and repeating multi-shot crossbow.

Ancient Greece


The earliest reasonably reliable date for the crossbow in the Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 world is from the 5th century BC. The historian Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who flourished between 60 and 30 BC. According to Diodorus' own work, he was born at Agyrium in Sicily . With one exception, antiquity affords no further information about Diodorus' life and doings beyond what is to be found in his own work, Bibliotheca...

 (fl. 1st century BC), described the invention of a mechanical arrow firing catapult (katapeltikon) by a Greek task force in 399 BC. The weapon was soon after employed against Motya (397 BC), a key Carthaginian stronghold in Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

. Diodorus is assumed to have drawn his description from the highly rated history of Philistus
Philistus
Philistus , son of Archomenidas, was Greek historian of Sicily. Philistus was born at Syracuse about the beginning of the Peloponnesian War. He was a faithful supporter of the elder Dionysius, and commander of the citadel. Cicero who had a high opinion of his work, calls him the miniature Thucydides...

, a contemporary of the events then.

The date of the introduction of crossbows, however, can be dated further back: According to the inventor Hero of Alexandria
Hero of Alexandria
Hero of Alexandria was an ancient Greek mathematician and engineerEnc. Britannica 2007, "Heron of Alexandria" who was active in his native city of Alexandria, Roman Egypt...

 (fl. 1st c. AD), who referred to the now lost works of the 3rd century BC engineer Ctesibius
Ctesibius
Ctesibius or Ktesibios or Tesibius was a Greek inventor and mathematician in Alexandria, Ptolemaic Egypt. He wrote the first treatises on the science of compressed air and its uses in pumps...

, this weapon was inspired by an earlier hand crossbow, called the gastraphetes
Gastraphetes
The gastraphetes was a hand-held crossbow used by the Ancient Greeks. It was described in the 1st century AD by the Greek author Heron of Alexandria in his work Belopoeica, which draws on an earlier account of the famous Greek engineer Ctesibius...

(belly shooter), which could store more energy than the Greek bows. A detailed description of the gastraphetes, along with a drawing, is found in Heron's technical treatise Belopoeica. The gastraphetes was powered by a composite bow. It was cocked by resting the stomach in a concavity at the rear of the stock and pressing down with all strength. In this way considerably more energy can be summoned up than by using only one arm of the archer as in the hand-bow. The heavy weight and bulk of the gastraphetes may have necessitated a prop to keep it standing, i.e. by mounting it on a defensive wall or using a portable prop.

A third Greek author, Biton (fl. 2nd c. BC), whose reliability has been positively reevaluated by recent scholarship, described two advanced forms of the gastraphetes, which he credits to Zopyros, an engineer from southern Italy
Taranto
Taranto is a coastal city in Apulia, Southern Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Taranto and is an important commercial port as well as the main Italian naval base....

. Zopyrus has been plausibly equated with a Pythagorean
Pythagoreanism
Pythagoreanism was the system of esoteric and metaphysical beliefs held by Pythagoras and his followers, the Pythagoreans, who were considerably influenced by mathematics. Pythagoreanism originated in the 5th century BCE and greatly influenced Platonism...

 of that name who seems to have flourished in the late 5th century BC. He probably designed his bow-machines on the occasion of the sieges of Cumae
Cumae
Cumae is an ancient Greek settlement lying to the northwest of Naples in the Italian region of Campania. Cumae was the first Greek colony on the mainland of Italy , and the seat of the Cumaean Sibyl...

 and Milet between 421 BC and 401 BC. The bows of these machines already featured a winched pull back system and could apparently throw two missiles at once.

From the mid-fourth century BC onwards, evidence of the Greek use of crossbows becomes more dense and varied: Arrow firing machines (katapeltai) are briefly mentioned by Aeneas Tacticus
Aeneas Tacticus
Aeneas Tacticus was one of the earliest Greek writers on the art of war.According to Aelianus Tacticus and Polybius, he wrote a number of treatises on the subject. The only extant one, How to Survive under Siege , deals with the best methods of defending a fortified city...

 in his treatise on siegecraft written around 350 BC. An Athenian inventory from 330–329 BC includes catapults bolts with heads and flights. Arrow firing machines in action are reported from Philip II
Philip II of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon "friend" + ἵππος "horse" — transliterated ; 382 – 336 BC), was a king of Macedon from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC. He was the father of Alexander the Great and Philip III.-Biography:...

's siege of Perinthos in Thrace
Thrace
Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. As a geographical concept, Thrace designates a region bounded by the Balkan Mountains on the north, Rhodope Mountains and the Aegean Sea on the south, and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara on the east...

 in 340 BC. At the same time, Greek fortifications began to feature high towers with shuttered windows in the top, presumably to house anti-personnel arrow shooters, as in Aigosthena
Aigosthena
Aigosthena , also Egosthena, was an ancient Greek fortified city of Attica NW of the ancient city of Megara to which it belonged. The fortified port was built in a forested, hilly area beside the coast of the Gulf of Corinth. The walls of the ancient city are preserved to significant height...

.

The transition to the torsion
Torsion (mechanics)
In solid mechanics, torsion is the twisting of an object due to an applied torque. In sections perpendicular to the torque axis, the resultant shear stress in this section is perpendicular to the radius....

 catapult
Catapult
A catapult is a device used to throw or hurl a projectile a great distance without the aid of explosive devices—particularly various types of ancient and medieval siege engines. Although the catapult has been used since ancient times, it has proven to be one of the most effective mechanisms during...

s, which are not considered crossbows and came to dominate Greek and Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 artillery design is first evident in inventories of the Athenian
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 arsenal from between 338 and 326 BC. Torsion weapons, which rely on the energy generated from twisted animal sinew became siege weapons and light artillery – such as the Greek ballista
Ballista
The ballista , plural ballistae, was an ancient missile weapon which launched a large projectile at a distant target....

 or the Roman scorpion
Scorpio (dart-thrower)
The scorpio or scorpion was type of Roman artillery piece. Also known by the name of the triggerfish, it was described in detail by Vitruvius...

.

In Roman times the crossbow became to be known as arcuballista.

Roman Empire



Besides the gastraphetes, the ancient world knew a variety of mechanical hand-held weapons similar to the later medieval
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 crossbow. The exact terminology is a subject of continuing scholarly debate.
Greek and Roman authors like Vegetius
Vegetius
Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, commonly referred to simply as Vegetius, was a writer of the Later Roman Empire. Nothing is known of his life or station beyond what he tells us in his two surviving works: Epitoma rei militaris , and the lesser-known Digesta Artis Mulomedicinae, a guide to...

 (fl. 4th century) note repeatedly the use of arrow firing weapons such as arcuballista and manuballista respectively cheiroballistra. While most scholars agree that one or more of these terms refer to handheld mechanical weapons, there exist disagreement whether these were flexion bows or torsion powered like the recent Xanten
Xanten
Xanten is a historic town in the North Rhine-Westphalia state of Germany, located in the district of Wesel.Xanten is known for the Archaeological Park or archaeological open air museum , its medieval picturesque city centre with Xanten Cathedral and many museums, its large man-made lake for...

 find.
The Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 commander Arrian
Arrian
Lucius Flavius Arrianus 'Xenophon , known in English as Arrian , and Arrian of Nicomedia, was a Roman historian, public servant, a military commander and a philosopher of the 2nd-century Roman period...

 (ca. 86 – after 146) records in his Tactica Roman cavalry training for firing some mechanical handheld weapon from horseback.
Sculptural reliefs from Roman Gaul
Roman Gaul
Roman Gaul consisted of an area of provincial rule in the Roman Empire, in modern day France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and western Germany. Roman control of the area lasted for less than 500 years....

 depict the use of crossbows in hunting scenes. The specimen are remarkably similar to the later medieval crossbow, including the typical nut lock (see image).

Medieval Europe


The crossbow is portrayed as a hunting weapon on four Pictish
Picts
The Picts were a group of Late Iron Age and Early Mediaeval people living in what is now eastern and northern Scotland. There is an association with the distribution of brochs, place names beginning 'Pit-', for instance Pitlochry, and Pictish stones. They are recorded from before the Roman conquest...

 stones
Pictish stones
Pictish stones are monumental stelae found in Scotland, mostly north of the Clyde-Forth line. These stones are the most visible remaining evidence of the Picts and are thought to date from the 6th to 9th centuries, a period during which the Picts became Christianized...

 from early medieval Scotland
Scotland in the Early Middle Ages
Scotland in the early Middle Ages, between the end of Roman authority in southern and central Britain from around 400 and the rise of the kingdom of Alba in 900, was divided into a series of petty kingdoms. Of these the four most important to emerge were the Picts, the Scots of Dál Riata, the...

 (6th to 9th centuries): St. Vigeans no. 1
St Vigeans
St Vigeans is a small village and parish in Angus, Scotland, immediately to the north of Arbroath. Originally rural, it is now more or less a suburb of the town of Arbroath. The name St Vigeans is derived from Vigeanus, a Latinised form of the Old Irish name Féichín. Saint Feichin flourished in...

, Glenferness, Shandwick
Shandwick
Shandwick , a village near Tain in Easter Ross, and is in the Scottish council area of Highland, Scotland.Hilton, Balintore, and Shandwick are known collectively as the Seaboard Villages. It is well-known because of the nearby Clach a' Charridh or Shandwick Stone, a Class II Pictish stone.-External...

, and Meigle
Meigle
Meigle is a village in Strathmore, Scotland. It lies in the council area of Perth and Kinross in the Coupar Angus and Meigle ward. The nearest town is Forfar in neighbouring Angus. Other smaller settlements nearby are Balkeerie, Kirkinch and Kinloch. Meigle is accessed from the north and south...

. The use of crossbows in European warfare is again evident from the Battle of Hastings
Battle of Hastings
The Battle of Hastings occurred on 14 October 1066 during the Norman conquest of England, between the Norman-French army of Duke William II of Normandy and the English army under King Harold II...

 until about the year 1500. They almost completely superseded hand bows in many European armies in the twelfth century for a number of reasons. Although a longbow
Longbow
A longbow is a type of bow that is tall ; this will allow its user a fairly long draw, at least to the jaw....

 achieves comparable accuracy and faster shooting rate than an average crossbow, crossbows release more kinetic energy and can be used effectively after a week of training, while a comparable single-shot skill with a longbow takes years of strength training to overcome the draw strength of the longbow, as well as years of practice needed to use it with skill.

In the armies of Europe, mounted and unmounted crossbowmen, often mixed with javeliners and archers, occupied a central position in battle formations. Usually they engaged the enemy in offensive skirmishes before an assault of mounted knight
Knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

s. Crossbowmen were also valuable in counterattacks to protect their infantry. The rank of commanding officer of the crossbowmen corps was one of the highest positions in any army of this time. Along with polearm
Pole weapon
A pole weapon or polearm is a close combat weapon in which the main fighting part of the weapon is placed on the end of a long shaft, typically of wood, thereby extending the user's effective range. Spears, glaives, poleaxes, halberds, and bardiches are all varieties of polearms...

 weapons made from farming equipment, the crossbow was also a weapon of choice for insurgent peasants such as the Taborite
Taborite
The Taborites were members of a religious community considered heretical by the Catholic Church. The Taborites were centered on the Bohemian city of Tábor during the Hussite Wars in the 15th century. The religious reform movement in Bohemia splintered into various religious sects...

s.

Mounted knights armed with lances proved ineffective against formations of pike
Pike (weapon)
A pike is a pole weapon, a very long thrusting spear used extensively by infantry both for attacks on enemy foot soldiers and as a counter-measure against cavalry assaults. Unlike many similar weapons, the pike is not intended to be thrown. Pikes were used regularly in European warfare from the...

men combined with crossbowmen whose weapons could penetrate most knights' armor. The invention of pushlever and ratchet drawing mechanisms enabled the use of crossbows on horseback, leading to the development of new cavalry tactics
Cavalry tactics
For much of history , humans have used some form of cavalry for war. Cavalry tactics have evolved over time...

. Knights and mercenaries deployed in triangular formations, with the most heavily armored knights at the front. Some of these riders would carry small, powerful all-metal crossbows of their own. Crossbows were eventually replaced in warfare by more powerful gunpowder
Gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

 weapons, although early guns had slower rates of fire and much worse accuracy than contemporary crossbows. Later, similar competing tactics would feature harquebusiers
Arquebus
The arquebus , or "hook tube", is an early muzzle-loaded firearm used in the 15th to 17th centuries. The word was originally modeled on the German hakenbüchse; this produced haquebute...

 or musket
Musket
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....

eers in formation with pikemen (pike and shot
Pike and shot
Pike and shot is a historical method of infantry combat, and also refers to an era of European warfare generally considered to cover the period from the Italian Wars to the evolution of the bayonet in the late seventeenth century...

), pitted against cavalry firing pistol
Pistol
When distinguished as a subset of handguns, a pistol is a handgun with a chamber that is integral with the barrel, as opposed to a revolver, wherein the chamber is separate from the barrel as a revolving cylinder. Typically, pistols have an effective range of about 100 feet.-History:The pistol...

s or carbine
Carbine
A carbine , from French carabine, is a longarm similar to but shorter than a rifle or musket. Many carbines are shortened versions of full rifles, firing the same ammunition at a lower velocity due to a shorter barrel length....

s.

Elsewhere


The Saracen
Saracen
Saracen was a term used by the ancient Romans to refer to a people who lived in desert areas in and around the Roman province of Arabia, and who were distinguished from Arabs. In Europe during the Middle Ages the term was expanded to include Arabs, and then all who professed the religion of Islam...

s called the crossbow qaws Ferengi, or "Frankish bow," as the Crusaders used the crossbow against the Arab and Turkoman horsemen with remarkable success. The adapted crossbow was used by the Islamic armies in defence of their castles. Later footstrapped version become very popular among the Muslim armies in Iberia
Iberian Peninsula
The Iberian Peninsula , sometimes called Iberia, is located in the extreme southwest of Europe and includes the modern-day sovereign states of Spain, Portugal and Andorra, as well as the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar...

. During the Crusades
Crusades
The Crusades were a series of religious wars, blessed by the Pope and the Catholic Church with the main goal of restoring Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem...

, Europeans were exposed to Saracen composite bow
Composite bow
A composite bow is a bow made from horn, wood, and sinew laminated together. The horn is on the belly, facing the archer, and sinew on the back of a wooden core. Sinew and horn will store more energy than wood for the same length of bow...

s, made from layers of different material—often wood, horn and sinew—glued together and bound with animal tendon. These composite bows could be much more powerful than wooden bows, and were adopted for crossbow prods across Europe.

In Western Africa and Central Africa, crossbows served as a scouting weapon and for hunting, with the Spanish bringing the technology to America. In the American south, the crossbow was used for hunting when firearms or gunpowder were unavailable because of economic hardships or isolation. Light hunting crossbows were traditionally used by the Inuit
Inuit
The Inuit are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada , Denmark , Russia and the United States . Inuit means “the people” in the Inuktitut language...

 in Northern America. The native Montagnards of Vietnam's Central Highlands were also known to have used crossbows, as both a tool for hunting, and later, an effective weapon against the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Montagnard fighters armed with crossbows proved a highly valuable asset to the US Special Forces operating in Vietnam, and it was not uncommon for the Green Berets to integrate Montagnard crossbowmen into their strike teams.

Hunting, leisure and science


Crossbows are used for target shooting and bowhunting
Bowhunting
Bowhunting is the practice of killing game animals by archery. It has been a normal use of archery in every culture that had bows.- Technique :...

 in modern archery
Archery
Archery is the art, practice, or skill of propelling arrows with the use of a bow, from Latin arcus. Archery has historically been used for hunting and combat; in modern times, however, its main use is that of a recreational activity...

 and for blubber
Blubber
Blubber is a thick layer of vascularized adipose tissue found under the skin of all cetaceans, pinnipeds and sirenians.-Description:Lipid-rich, collagen fiber–laced blubber comprises the hypodermis and covers the whole body, except for parts of the appendages, strongly attached to the musculature...

 biopsy
Biopsy
A biopsy is a medical test involving sampling of cells or tissues for examination. It is the medical removal of tissue from a living subject to determine the presence or extent of a disease. The tissue is generally examined under a microscope by a pathologist, and can also be analyzed chemically...

 samples in scientific research.

Modern military and paramilitary use


Up to WW2, the OSS used the Big Joe 5 crossbow
Big Joe 5 crossbow
The Big Joe 5 crossbow was a weapon developed by the Office of Strategic Services to be used for assassinations up to 200 meters. The weapon was created with compactness in mind...

s for assassinations. Nowadays, crossbow are no longer used for this, but there are still uses for a crossbow. For example, in the Americas, the Peruvian army (Ejército) equips some soldiers with crossbows and rope, to establish a zip-line
Zip-line
A zip-line consists of a pulley suspended on a cable mounted on an incline...

 in difficult terrain. In Brazil the CIGS (Jungle Warfare Training Center) also trains soldiers in the use of crossbows. In the United States, SAA International Ltd manufacture a 150 ft/lb crossbow-launched version of the U.S. Army type classified Launched Grappel Hook
Grappling hook
A grappling hook is an anchor with multiple hooks , attached to a rope; it is thrown, dropped, sunk, projected, or fastened directly by hand to where at least one hook may catch and hold. Generally, grappling hooks are used to temporarily secure one end of a rope. They may also be used to dredge...

 (LGH), amongst other mine countermeasure solutions designed for the middle-eastern theatre. It has been successfully evaluated in Cambodia and Bosnia. It is used to probe for and detonate tripwire initiated mines and booby traps at up to 50 meters. The concept is similar to the LGH device originally only fired from a rifle, as a plastic retrieval line is attached. Reusable up to 20 times, the line can be reeled back in without exposing oneself. The device is of particular use in tactical situations where noise discipline is important.
In Europe, British based Barnett International supplied crossbows to Serbian
Serbs
The Serbs are a South Slavic ethnic group of the Balkans and southern Central Europe. Serbs are located mainly in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and form a sizable minority in Croatia, the Republic of Macedonia and Slovenia. Likewise, Serbs are an officially recognized minority in...

 forces which according to The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

 were later used "in ambushes and as a counter-sniper weapon", against the Kosovo Liberation Army
Kosovo Liberation Army
The Kosovo Liberation Army or KLA was a Kosovar Albanian paramilitary organization which sought the separation of Kosovo from Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the 1990s....

 during the Kosovo War
Kosovo War
The term Kosovo War or Kosovo conflict was two sequential, and at times parallel, armed conflicts in Kosovo province, then part of FR Yugoslav Republic of Serbia; from early 1998 to 1999, there was an armed conflict initiated by the ethnic Albanian "Kosovo Liberation Army" , who sought independence...

 in the areas of Pec and Djakovica, south west of Kosovo. Whitehall launched an investigation, though the department of trade and industry established that not being "on the military list" crossbows were not covered by such export regulations. Paul Beaver of Jane's defence publications commented that, "They are not only a silent killer, they also have a psychological effect". On 15 February 2008 Serbian Minister of Defence Dragan Sutanovac
Dragan Šutanovac
Dragan Šutanovac is the current Minister of Defence in the Government of Serbia.- Background :...

 was pictured testing a Barnett crossbow during a public exercise of the Serbian army's Special Forces in Nis, 200 km south of capital Belgrade
Belgrade
Belgrade is the capital and largest city of Serbia. It is located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, where the Pannonian Plain meets the Balkans. According to official results of Census 2011, the city has a population of 1,639,121. It is one of the 15 largest cities in Europe...

. Special forces in both Greece and Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

 also continue to employ the crossbow. Spain's Green Berets still use the crossbow as well.

In Asia, Chinese armed forces use crossbows at all unit levels from traffic police to the special force
Special Force
Special Force is a first-person shooter military video game, published by Hezbollah, created using the Genesis 3D engine. The game is set in a 3D environment, in which the player takes the role of a Hezbollah combatant fighting the IDF...

 Snow Leopard Commando Unit of the People's Armed Police
People's Armed Police
The People's Armed Police , officially Chinese People's Armed Police Force is a paramilitary or gendarmerie force primarily responsible for civilian policing and fire rescue duties in the People's Republic of China, as well as provide support to PLA during wartime.In contrast to public security...

 and the People's Liberation Army
People's Liberation Army
The People's Liberation Army is the unified military organization of all land, sea, strategic missile and air forces of the People's Republic of China. The PLA was established on August 1, 1927 — celebrated annually as "PLA Day" — as the military arm of the Communist Party of China...

. One justification for this comes in the crossbow's ability to stop persons carrying explosives without risk of causing detonation. Furthermore, during the Xinjiang riots of July 2009, crossbows were used alongside modern military hardware to quell protestors. The Indian Navy
Indian Navy
The Indian Navy is the naval branch of the armed forces of India. The President of India serves as the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy. The Chief of Naval Staff , usually a four-star officer in the rank of Admiral, commands the Navy...

's Marine Commando Force were equipped until the late 1980s with crossbows supplied with cyanide
Cyanide
A cyanide is a chemical compound that contains the cyano group, -C≡N, which consists of a carbon atom triple-bonded to a nitrogen atom. Cyanides most commonly refer to salts of the anion CN−. Most cyanides are highly toxic....

-tipped arrows, as an alternative to suppressed handgun
Suppressor
A suppressor, sound suppressor, sound moderator, or silencer, is a device attached to or part of the barrel of a firearm which reduces the amount of noise and flash generated by firing the weapon....

s.

Comparison to conventional bows


With a crossbow, archers could release a draw force far in excess of what they could have handled with a bow. The disadvantage is the greater weight and clumsiness compared to a bow, as well as the slower rate of fire and the lower efficiency of the acceleration system, but there would be reduced elastic hysteresis, making the crossbow a more accurate weapon.

Crossbows have a much smaller draw length than bows. This means that for the same energy to be imparted to the arrow (or bolt) the crossbow has to have a much higher draw weight.
A direct comparison between a fast hand-drawn replica crossbow and a longbow show a 6:10 rate of fire. Or a 4:9 rate within 30 seconds and comparable weapons.

Legal issues



Can. 29 of the Second Lateran Council under Pope Innocent II
Pope Innocent II
Pope Innocent II , born Gregorio Papareschi, was pope from 1130 to 1143, and was probably one of the clergy in personal attendance on the antipope Clement III .-Early years:...

 in 1139 banned the use of crossbows against Christians.

Today the crossbow often has a complicated legal status due to the possibility of lethal use and its similarities with both firearms and archery weapons. Within the United States, regulations vary by state. Hunting is allowed in many states with only a few states still limiting their use to people with physical limitations that causes them to be unable to draw a conventional bow. In general, hunting regulations are being progressively relaxed.

See also

  • Arbalist (crossbowman)
    Arbalist (crossbowman)
    An arbalist, also spelled arbelist, is one who shoots a crossbow.-Equipment and Competition:Arbalists shoot crossbows markedly different from medieval artillerymen. Current-day target crossbows must conform to various limitations according to the governing body under which the shoot or tournament...

  • Bow (weapon)
    Bow (weapon)
    The bow and arrow is a projectile weapon system that predates recorded history and is common to most cultures.-Description:A bow is a flexible arc that shoots aerodynamic projectiles by means of elastic energy. Essentially, the bow is a form of spring powered by a string or cord...

  • Master of Crossbowmen
  • History of crossbows
    History of crossbows
    This history of crossbows documents the historical development and use of the crossbow.It is not clear exactly where and when the crossbow originated, but there is undoubted evidence that it was used for military purposes from the second half of the 4th century BC onwards.- Europe :The earliest...


External links