The Crossbow History
thanks to John Friedman for the translation!




Many scholars believe the crossbow first appeared in China, probably by the 6th century BCE, with some archeological evidence indicating it was developed as early as 2000 BC. Other sources (Steven Selby, 2001) agree to East Asia as origin of the crossbow, but question whether it first appeared in China. A version of the crossbow, known as a ballista, was used around the Mediterranean by the Roman Empire and others during the Hellenistic Period. "Ballista" is still the word for crossbow in Romance languages such as Spanish (ballesta) and Italian (balestra).

Remains of an ancient Chinese crossbow, 2nd century BCE.The bow (called the "prod" on a crossbow) of early crossbows were made of a single piece of wood, usually ash or yew. During the Crusades, Europeans were exposed to Saracen composite bows, 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. As steel became more widely available around the 14th century, spring steel prods came into use. The crossbow prod is very short compared to ordinary bows, resulting in a short draw length. This makes crossbows less efficient at releasing energy, and to compensate they must have very heavy draw weights. Although some crossbows (ancient or modern) are drawn using only the unassisted arm strength of the archer, more powerful crossbows required some sort of mechanical device to draw the string. These drawing mechanisms were of many different forms, using levers, ratchets and pulleys in various ways. The use of these devices allowed soldiers to use and fire weapons with a draw force far in excess of what they could have handled with a bow. In the later years of the crossbow it had enough kinetic energy to penetrate any chainmail and most plate armor hit squarely: some reached a draw force of nearly 1500 lbf (6860 N), compared to the 60-180lbf (300-900 N) draw force for a longbow. Moreover, crossbows could be kept cocked and ready to shoot for some time with little effort, allowing crossbowmen to aim better and to "cover" a target area, while archers could not keep their powerful bows pulled for long periods of time.

The arrow-like projectiles of a crossbow are called "bolts." These are much shorter than arrows but 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. Bolts must be stamped with a proof mark to ensure their consistent weight. In order to accommodate the groove that the bolt rests in, bolts typically have only two fletches, rather than the three fletches commonly seen on arrows. Crossbow bolts can be fitted with a variety of heads, but the most common is a four-sided point called a quarrel. Some crossbows were made to fire stones or lead bullets. Primarily used for hunting wildfowl, these had a double string with a pouch between the strings to hold the projectile.

The mechanism that holds the drawn bowstring, called a nut, was usually made of bone, ivory or metal, and the trigger mechanism of metal. Bronze triggers with safety notches are known to have been used on crossbows from at least 200 BCE in China. Complicated iron triggers are known in Europe from the early 1400s. Leonardo da Vinci designed many trigger mechanisms for crossbows, ultimately producing a "hair trigger" that could be released with very little finger strength.

The prod was often lashed to the stock with rope, whipcord, or other strong cording. This cording is called the bridle of the crossbow. Much as a horse's bridle, it tends to loosen over time, and must be carefully re-bound when appropriate.

The strings for a crossbow are typically made of strong fibers that would not tend to fray. According to W. F. Patternson, whipcord was very common; however linen, hemp, and sinew were used as well. In wet conditions, twisted mulberry root was occasionally used.

History of the use of crossbows According to Guinness World Records(2004), the earliest reliable record of crossbow usage is in the Battle of Ma-Ling, Lingyi, China at 341 BC. By the 200s BC, the crossbow was well developed and quite widely used in China. Crossbows have been found among the soldiers of the Terracotta Army in the tomb of emperor Qin Shi Huang (260-210 BCE). The first western reference to the crossbow is to the gastraphetes ("belly-bow") of early Hellenistic period (ca. 400 BC). The Romans called the crossbow an arcuballista (hence name "arbalest"). They did not employ it as a massed weapon, but used it as a scout weapon and for hunting. Other sources note its usage in Western Africa, with enslaved Africans bringing it to America. In the American south, the crossbow was sometimes used as a hunting weapon when firearms or gunpowder were unavailable. Light hunting crossbows were traditionally used by the Inuit in Northern America, as well as being found throughout Eurasia and the Indonesian Islands. The crossbow was also often used on horseback, especially in Scandinavia.

The crossbow became a common weapon of war in Europe in the 9th century, and almost completely superseded hand bows in the 12th century. The Saracens called the crossbow qaws Ferengi, or "Frankish bow", as the Crusaders used the crossbow against the Arab and Turkoman horsemen with remarkable success. The crossbow also became the weapon of choice for peasants in Europe. The Finnish national epic, Kalevala, depicts Joukahainen ambushing the hero Väinämöinen with a crossbow. The legendary hero William Tell supposedly shot an apple from the top of his son's head using a crossbow, and in the process started the war of liberation for Switzerland by ambushing the landreeve Gessler.

A crossbowman of the middle ages drawing his bow behind his pavise. This crossbow shows one of the simpler mechanisms for drawing a powerful crossbow: A strap is attached to the archer's belt, a hook on the end of the strap engaging the bowstring. Holding the crossbow down by putting his foot through the stirrup, he draws the bow by straightening his legs.Crossbows were used in European warfare from roughly 800 to 1500 A.D. They supplanted bows in many European armies for a number of reasons. Although an expertly handled longbow had greater range, better accuracy (the heavy arbalest crossbow being the exception here), and faster rate of fire than an average crossbow, the value of the crossbow came in its simplicity: it could be used effectively after a week of training, while a comparable single-shot skill with a longbow could take years of practice. In the armies of Europe, crossbowmen occupied a central position in battle formations, and the rank of commanding officer of the crossbowmen corps was one of the highest positions in any army.

Crossbowmen among the Swiss mercenaries and in the army of Richard Lionheart had two servants, two crossbows and a pavise shield to protect the men. One of the servants had the task of reloading the weapons, while the second subordinate would carry and hold the pavise (the archer himself also wore protective armor). Such a three-man team could fire 8 shots per minute, compared to a single crossbowman's 3 shots per minute. The archer was the leader of the team, the one who owned the equipment, and the one who received payment for their services. The payment for a crossbow mercenary was higher than for a longbow mercenary, but the archer did not have to pay a team of assistants and his equipment was cheaper.

Hussite crossbowman with arbalest and his shield bearerMounted knights armed with lances proved ineffective against formations of pikemen combined with crossbowmen whose weapons could penetrate most knight's armor. This lead to the development of new cavalry tactics. Knights and merceneries deployed in triangular formations, with the most heavily armored knights at the front. To increase its effect, they would carry small, powerful all-metal crossbows of their own. Later, similar competing tactics would feature harquebusiers or musketeers in formation with pikemen, pitted against cavalry firing pistols or carbines.

Pope Urban II banned the use of crossbow against Christians in 1097, and the Second Lateran Council did the same for arbalests in 1139. The crossbow was seen as unchivalrous and as a threat to social order, since a peasant could kill a noble anonymously; crossbow mercenaries were usually killed immediately on capture, unlike others who might have been ransomed or set free. However, their effectiveness made them an "evil" no one could afford to be without, often in the form of hired foreign mercenaries.

Crossbows were eventually replaced in warfare by gunpowder weapons, although early guns had slower rates of fire and much worse accuracy than contemporary crossbows.

Modern crossbows are still used for target shooting and in some places for hunting, although for the latter a person generally has to have a disability or special license to use one. They are made of the same composite materials as modern bows.

Technical features

The advantages

The crossbowyer of Genova

------------------ Cerasa of Assisi

Crossbowyer of Assisi

Majores Ballistarii Asisii

Crossbowyer Indipendenti

Crossbowyer of S.Marino

Crossbowyer of Mandraccio

Crossbowyer of Gubbio

Crossbowyer of Lucca

Crossbowyer of S.Sepolcro

Crossbowyer of Pisa

Crossbowyer of Villaecclesiae

Crossbowyer of Firenze

Crossbowyer of Norcia

Crossbowyer of Ventimiglia