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From Ancient Chinese Crossbows To Modern Times - A Brief History Of The Crossbow

Aug 9, 2008
A crossbow is a bow that shoots bolts. It is mounted on a stock with a mechanism to hold the bow in place when it is drawn, until the shot is released when the trigger is pulled. Crossbows have been used since about 400 BC and have been used extensively in Asia, North Africa and Europe in warfare.

Early Use of the Crossbow

Evidence suggests that the first crossbows were made towards the end of the fourth century BC in China and surrounding areas. They appear to have been first used as toys or for untended traps. Crossbows are mentioned in the famous document by Sun Tzu, The Art of War, written sometime between 500 and 300 BC and a fourth century BC document, also from China, has references to a giant catapult. The tomb of the emperor Qin Shi Huang, famous for the Terracotta Army, contains crossbow remains.

In Greece the crossbow appeared around the fifth century and was known as a gastraphetes. The Greek besiegers to the city of Tyre in 332 BC used crossbows and they were also used in the year 397 BC at the siege of Motya. The gastraphetes is believed to have been invented around the year 400 BC and consisted of a composite bow which was cocked by pressing down on the stock which was rested on the stomach. Heron of Alexandria described the gastraphetes in the famous work the Belopoeica. Composite bows comprised of a trigger and stock, operated on a stand and known as oxybeles, were developed from the gastraphetes, and further development led to the much larger ballista.

Europe

Crossbows were used by the roman armies and figured in the Battle of Hastings in Great Britain in 1066. They were increasingly used in preference to long bows until they effectively replaced them by the twelfth century. They had distinct advantages over longbows, most notably in a much shorter training period. A crossbow can be mastered in as little as one week while a longbow takes years of practise to use effectively. Battle formations often consisted of archers, javelin throwers and crossbowmen as a central component protecting the infantry, and crossbows were often used in pre-battle skirmishes and sneak attacks. Knights in armour had little defences against an attack by crossbowmen and pikemen and with the invention of better drawing mechanisms, crossbows could also be used while on horseback.

With the invention of gunpowder weapons crossbow use started to decline, although in the early years gunpowder weapons were less effective than crossbows as they were slow to reload and less accurate.

In Other Places

In Asia crossbows were used as siege weapons and the Saracens used composite crossbows in their was against the Crusaders. Saracen bows were made from composite materials, usually layers of wood, sinew and horn that were glued and held together with animal tendons. Muslim armies in Spain used crossbows and throughout Africa they were used for hunting and by scouts. The technology crossed the Atlantic to North America with the slave trade and light crossbows were used by the Inuit for hunting.

Today

Crossbows today are mainly used for target practice although they are still used in some parts of Asia, Africa and North America for hunting. They are even used by some military forces, for example the Marine Commando Force of the Indian Navy, as a quieter weapon than a handgun.
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For more information and some good deals on new and used Crossbows visit Horton Crossbows or Barnett Crossbows
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