Medieval Crossbow

A crossbow is basically a bow that is attached to a stock and has a primitive trigger system. The bow string is controlled by a mechanism that holds it drawn.

This weapon was originally invented in China. During the Middle Ages, it became very popular in Europe and the Mediterranean, and it hugely affected local warfare. For example, the crusaders used it with much success against Saracen armies.

A crossbow bow, also called the prod, was much shorter than ordinary bows, it was usually made from the layered wood, and it sometimes contained other materials, such as horn. A trigger system had to be very though, so it was made of iron or steal. The crossbow strings were made of whipcord, fiber such as linen or hemp, or animal sinew.

The trigger system became more and more complex over time. At the beginning of the 15th century, it was so advanced that it allowed nearly anyone to use it.

This was a great change because in earlier times it was really hard to be a good archer. After crossbows had been invented, a week of training was enough for people to learn how to shoot well.

Crossbow Bolts

Crossbow arrows, usually called bolts, had a similar shape as ordinary arrows but they were shorter and much heavier. Most bolts could hurt someone wearing chain mail. Like other arrows, bolts had three fletches, and there were several types of arrowheads.

Crossbow at War

Crossbowmen were very important on medieval European battlefields. On horseback or on foot, together with archers and javeliners, they had a central place in battle formations. Crossbowmen were equally valuable as an offensive force and as a defense. They could deal with a lot of enemy knights without going too close to them. As defense force, they could cover and support their infantry.

Crossbowmen came from various levels of society, including peasants. However, the officer who had the command over the crossbowmen corps in an army was really important. He was one of the key people in the army.

New Cavalry

The invention of the crossbow was a large achievement, but the inventions of ratchet drawing mechanisms and pushlever was just as important. That’s because those devices enabled the use of crossbows on horseback.

As a result, cavalry changed, and new tactics were developed. Men on horses moved in triangular formations. The knights were at the front, so they had to be heavily armored so that they could survive arrow torrents from the enemy.

At the same time, those knights carried small and very advanced metal crossbows. The smallest such crossbows were called pistol crossbows.

Eventually, crossbows got replaced by gunpowder weapons, but that did not happen overnight. It took a while for guns to achieve faster rates and become as precise as contemporary crossbows.

Bows vs. crossbows

Each weapon had its own advantages. When crossbows were first introduced, they were less accurate than bows. They were also large and heavy, which made them hard to carry.

Overtime, however, crossbows became more accurate and less heavy, and their advantages were great. Draw force that could be achieved with a crossbow was much bigger than that of a bow.

What’s more important, crossbows were always ready to shoot. They could be – and often were – kept drawn for a long time before the actual use. Crossbowmen did not have to worry about it; they only had to concentrate on aiming.

A bronze crossbow trigger mechanism


Arbalests were huge crossbows that were developed in the latte middle ages. Those were used in sieges and could cause a lot of damage to fortifications.



What is a bolt?

A bolt is a crossbow arrow.

Who invented the crossbow?

The Chinese invented this weapon.

Which big medieval European army achieved great success by using a crossbow?

It was the army of crusaders.

Why people still used crossbows after guns had been invented?

That was because the first guns were imprecise, and they had slower rates.