ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Crossbow

Updated on December 18, 2016

Crossbow, or arbalest, is a missile weapon formed by fastening a bow at right angles in a tiller or stock. The drawn string is held in a latch or lock and is released by a trigger. It threw a bolt (arrow) 7 to 15 inches (18-38 cm) long. Unlike the longbow, the crossbow could be set in advance and held ready, an advantage in hunting. Hunting bolts had many shapes and were carefully finished; war bolts, called quarrels, were crude shafts with square iron heads.

How It Works

With early crossbows the string was drawn back to the latch with both hands and the bow, or lath, was of wood. Improvements soon followed such as the 'belt and claw' where a hook, hung from a waistbelt, was used to bend or span the bow. The cord and pulley and the windlass with winding handles were both in use in the 13th century, the latter giving a power advantage of about 40:1. Composite laths of horn and sinew appeared in the 12th century and steel at the beginning of the 14th century.

The cranequin (or rack), employing toothed gear wheels, was the most powerful spanning device with an advantage of over 100:1. All systems and designs continued to be used as well as lighter military crossbows, bent by the goat's-foot lever, where speed of shooting was more important than power. The latch on most crossbows until the first quarter of the 16th century was a rotating cylinder, or nut, carved to take the drawn string and slotted for the tail end of the bolt. A long trigger lever engaged the underside of the nut directly. As the crossbow began giving way to firearms for military use, interest redoubled for hunting and sport.

Trigger mechanisms were often complex with a chain of interacting levers to provide a hair trigger. Though the nut continued in use, other forms of latch appeared, such as the tumblers with a rocking or semi-rotary action. Light stone, or pellet, crossbows were widely used against small game from the beginning of the 16th century, followed in the second half by more powerful bullet-shooting forms with a built-in spanning lever. A development of this type was popular in England from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century. The advantage offered was the relative silence that would not scare game in the same way as a gun. This feature led to the modern use of the crossbow for game preservation or veterinary purposes where a drugged dart can knock out even the largest animals.

The constant effort to increase the crossbow's power resulted, first, in a composite bow made by adding horn and sinew to the original wood, and second, in the arbalest, created by switching to a steel bow in the 15th century. Increased stiffness required mechanical bow-drawing aids. A sliding lever, the "goat's-foot," would set a composite bow, or let a boy or a woman set a light hunting bow. The power to bend an arbalest came from a crank and gears or from a tackle of windlass and pulleys. An arbalest would penetrate most armor at close range but never approached the longbow for accuracy or distance. Extreme range was 120 yards (110 meters).

History of the Crossbow

Early crossbows were made of wood, and the string was drawn by hand. Steel crossbows were later developed that required a winch attachment to enable the archer to load. This type of crossbow was used primarily as a military weapon and was called an arbalest.

Crossbows were widely used during the Middle Ages, and earlier forms were known to the Romans. They were able to fire iron bolts or arrows with considerable accuracy. The oldest example of a latch and trigger is in bronze from China, 228 BC, and these were widely used in the Han dynasty, 221 BC-AD 220. The Chinese also devised the repeating crossbow and existing examples hold up to 20 bolts in their magazines. There is Greek and Roman evidence for use of early hand ballistas, but the crossbow appeared for general military purposes at the end of the 10th century. It was effectively used by the Norman attacks on the Byzantines in 1096, and also during the Crusades in Palestine.

It appeared in warfare near the end of the llth century, but was a poor war weapon. Even at its best it was useless when wet weather relaxed its thick gut bowstring. Nevertheless, a man too weak to draw a longbow could set a crossbow. Since the crossbowman could sight his target directly, as the longbowman could not, he bypassed the archer's long training. Crossbows defended fortifications. In the field they provided a mass discharge ahead of advancing knights.

The crossbow was extremely powerful but was difficult to manipulate. In England it was replaced in about the 14th century by the longbow, a much lighter weapon that could be fired more rapidly than the slow-action crossbow.

Companies of crossbowmen, formed in many cities for their defence, became societies that continued to exercise their art. Several exist today and shoot both horizontally at targets and at the popinjay in the form of a bird, or birds, on the top of a tall mast. Elegantly decorated heavy sporting crossbows, with draw-weights up to 450 kg, spanned with the rack, were introduced in the 16th century and used against deer and wild boar.

Hunting with simple crossbows continues in parts of South-East Asia, where they are of ancient use, and in parts of West Africa following their more recent introduction from visiting whalers, on which they are used to launch light harpoons from boats.

Modern crossbow enthusiasts include the old companies, mostly using powerful versions needing some spanning device, but other societies limit the power by requiring the string to be retracted by hand. The British crossbow target championships are shot at a 5 zone, 70 cm target with 5 dozen arrows at 60, 50 and 40 yards (54-86, 45-72 and 36-57 metres). The international round is shot at a 10 zone, 80 cm target with 30 arrows at 65 metres, 50 metres and 35 metres.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • ata1515 profile image

      ata1515 

      6 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      Great hub. Bow hunting is really interesting and I would love to get a functioning historical replica of a crossbow.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)