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What is a Crossbow?

Kat Yares
Kat Yares

A crossbow is a modified bow and arrow system. Invented by the Chinese as early as 6 B.C. for military use, it did not become popular in Europe until over a thousand years later. The crossbow has a bow attached to a stock, allowing it to remain loaded when not in use. A lever attached to the stock aides in the loading of the crossbow. When the lever is released, the arrow, or bolt, will fire.

Crossbows are deadly accurate and have a firing range longer than a traditional longbow. They are easier to operate and are the perfect weapon for those who do not have the strength to effectively pull the classic bow. The disadvantage of the crossbow is that it takes longer to load and six to seven arrows can be shot by a longbow in the minute it takes to load the crossbow.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The extended range of the crossbow explains its appeal. Compared to the longbow, which can shoot about 280 feet (255 meters), the crossbow can cover approximately 380 yards (360 meters). At tactical range, both weapons can pierce plate armor provided the arrow was correctly tempered.

The Roman Army knew about the existence of crossbows, but chose to stay with the traditional longbow as the weapon of choice. It is believed that crossbows were introduced to Europe by William the Conqueror, at the Battle of Hastings, in 1066. The army of Richard I carried crossbows into the Middle East during the crusades and the crossbow was the preferred weapon for assassins of the time period. The use of crossbows spread across Britain and Europe and were used in battle until the 15th century.

After that time, they were mainly used for hunting. The use of a crossbow is still popular for hunting game and target practice. Crossbows today are made of many materials, including wood, metals and polymer plastics. Crossbows can be found in many styles and sizes from pistol grip crossbows to full size military models.

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Discussion Comments


The Chinese repeating crossbow was a fast and effective asset to the rulers it served. This was very much a predecessor to the modern machine gun, complete with bolt magazines and firing multiple shots per minute.


When the English conquered Wales, they gained the important asset of Welsh Longbowmen in their army. England was well known to have employed soldiers from the surrounding Celtic nations which it subjugated, and these soldiers worked as well for the new empire as their predecessor Gauls had for the previous Roman Empire. Their advanced siege and competitive battle techniques were brought under a single command and became a strong force in the hegemony of the British island nation.


It has been argued that the victory of the British against the French at the Battle of Agincourt was a result of the superior Welsh Longbowman usage of longbows versus the Burgundian crossbows. Due to the relative speed at which the longbows could be reloaded and shot, as well as a greater number of archers, the English were able to rain arrows on the French at a much faster rate, and therefore had an easy victory.

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