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Your Crossbow and YOU

Discussion of topics concerning life in the middle ages around the world, including architecture, history, and warfare.

Your Crossbow and YOU

Postby LEGOFREAK » Tue Oct 05, 2004 7:02 pm

Throughout various threads there have been comments relating to how crossbows were only in use in late medieval times.
This isn't accurate.
The Chinese had crossbows earlier than 300 BC
The Romans used crossbows by about 300 AD (It is interesting to note that the Romans stopped using crossbows, for some reason.)
Crossbows were widely used on the European continent by 1000 AD.

Now, as to whether or not they were a significant military force or not, I couldn't tell you. I leave that to the master tacticians.

Along these same lines are things like siege weapons: mangonels, trebuchet, catapults, etc. (statements to the effect that they were only in use in later medieval periods).
I do know that the Romans were masters of siege engineering, but am a bit hazy on some of the details. I am willing to bet that our resident historians can enlighten us as to specific weapons and their periods of use.

Just thought I'd bring this up.

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Postby jwcbigdog » Tue Oct 05, 2004 7:19 pm

If I am not mistaken, Romans had both catapult-like weapons as well as ballista-like seige weapons, so those have been around for a long time. As far as towers and rams, I am not sure.

When it comes to the crossbow, I am not sure where exactly it originated, but I know that it was considered a "crude" weapon in much of Europe during the dark and medieval ages due to its accuracy and power when compared to the longbow. It was considered unfit for use on the proper battlefield and from what I have read the great William Wallace even appealed to the Pope to ban them while he battled the English. Just some more tidbits.

Let me know if I am not historically accurate, this is just what I have picked up in my reading.
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Postby TwoTonic Knight » Tue Oct 05, 2004 8:21 pm

I can't say that I recall anyone saying that crossbows were only from the late medieval period - steel arbalests were from the late medieval period, but that is only one form of the crossbow. Crossbows have been a round a long time over many different cultures, but they were most popular in europe, rising in use over the course of the 11th century (note the high amount of regular archers along the borders of the Bayeaux Tapestry) and finaly became enough of a nuisance that their use was banned by the Church in 1139 (which stopped absolutely no one). Designs improved and x-bows got more powerful throughout the course of the middle ages.

To adress jwcbigdog's comments: The x-bow was not considered crude. It had two great advantages: one was that it could penetrate armor for a fair distance (and when one considers the prevalence of armor in europe, one starts to see why the x-bow was popular there), and two is that it was easy to learn. It's primary disadvantage was that it was slow to reload, and it was heavy and expensive. It appeared on many battlefields and was most certainly not considered unfit for such a role. It was superceded by the longbow, but no one could develop longbowmen in any great numbers beyond england since it took a long time to develop the strength and skill to use it properly, and so the x-bow remained in widespread use until it was finally eclipsed by firearms completely in the 16th century.

Roman's had mangonels, catapults, ballista, and other seige weapons - they were tremendous engineers. The one they didn't have was the trebuchet, which wasn't developed until the middle ages.
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Postby JPinoy » Tue Oct 05, 2004 8:51 pm

The Greeks had a Crossbow-like weapon around 100 years after the Chinese first invented them around 5th century BC. It was called the Gastraphetes (belly bow).
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The operator of the device would use his entire body weight to push down the longer part of the Gastraphetes until the end portion reached the back of the rack. Then he'd pick up the whole thing, push the lever and the arrow would get launched. In actuality its considered more of "1-man artillery weapon" than an actual crossbow as they were used primarily for sieges and was basically a portable version of their balistas.

http://depts.washington.edu/chinaciv/mi ... ossbow.htm

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Here's a Chinese made "repeating crossbow" called the Chu Ko Nu. http://www.arco-iris.com/George/chu-ko-nu.htm
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Postby jwcbigdog » Wed Oct 06, 2004 11:46 am

Thanks for the clear-up 2Tonic. I was referring to them being crude in terms of their capabilities in peircing armor and causing damage, but your point is well taken!

I am almost positive that the story about William Wallace is true, but does anyone happen to know exactly when he lived to give me a time reference?
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Postby TwoTonic Knight » Wed Oct 06, 2004 3:26 pm

jwcbigdog wrote:I am almost positive that the story about William Wallace is true, but does anyone happen to know exactly when he lived to give me a time reference?


Dunno about Wallace writing to the pope one way or the other, but he lived from approximately 1270 to exactly 1305.
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Postby The Blue Knight » Thu Oct 07, 2004 5:43 am

Top marks TTK and JP! The crossbow was the most feared seige weapon. But not by the defenders, they used it to terrible effect on the attackers. Its slow rate of fire made it impractical on the quick moving battlefield. It was relatively expensive, but other wise a good weapon other wise. Within a week any poor schmuck could be proficient with it. It was an equalizer not eqauled until the advent of gunpowder.
The Roman version was a take-off on the Greek Gastraphetes, used for laying siege. It was larger and less weildy than it medieval cousins. I believe they called it a arctillus, though thats a bit dodgy.
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Postby TwoTonic Knight » Thu Oct 07, 2004 3:19 pm

The Blue Knight wrote:Its slow rate of fire made it impractical on the quick moving battlefield.


And yet it was widely used on many battlefields throughout the entire middle ages, which would seem to cast a great deal of doubt that it was impractical as a battlefield weapon.
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Postby The Blue Knight » Fri Oct 08, 2004 4:57 am

Touche. I meant that in a fluid battle there would be no time to reload unless you were "covered" in some way. Of course I've never been in a medieval battle, but one look at my daughter's room and you may agree it could qualify as a battlefield. :wink:
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