Facts About Crossbows

Updated April 17, 2017

The crossbow is an ancient weapon that was used primarily for military purposes. The crossbow was used by armies all over the world and drastically changed the way battles were fought. Operation required little training and was relatively easy compared to other ancient weapons, which greatly increased the amount of damage done. Today, its primary purpose is for target practice and recreational hunting.


Crossbows consist of a prod mounted onto a stock. Historically, the prod and stock were made out of oak or maple. The stock is constructed with a mechanism to wind and shoot bolts, which are often referred to as quarrels. The bolt or quarrel rests along the shelf, a flat section of wood with a groove. The strings to launch the bolt are made from strong, resilient fibres. In the 1400s, a trigger mechanism was implemented into the crossbow design.

Bolts and Accessories

Bolts were shorter in length than arrows, but often several times heavier to achieve optimal range in relation to the weight and size of the crossbow. Bolts often had three fletches -- aerodynamic vanes used to stabilise flight. Bolts were fitted with a variety of different heads. Modern crossbows are actually designed to use arrows, which are better suited for the purpose of game hunting. Medieval crossbows used crude iron sights as an accessory. They were the predecessors of modern laser sights.

Early History

The ancient crossbow dates back to 600 B.C. in Ancient China. Remains of bronze bolts and repeating crossbows have been discovered in tombs throughout China. Crossbows are thought to have been used widely in ancient China. Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," features a chapter describing crossbows. Greece developed its own variation of the crossbow around the same time, but it was cruder and less effective than the Chinese version. The Roman Empire used crossbows and a variety of similar mechanical weapons.

Medieval History

The crossbow was introduced to England by William the Conquerer in 1066. Crossbows could penetrate armour easily and were usable by untrained soldiers. As a result, the crossbow was considered to be a peasant's weapon and an abomination. At one point, it was banned by Pope Urban II. Additional ban attempts were conducted by Pope Innocent II and the Magna Carta. Despite the ban, crossbows were widely used in medieval armies. Crossbows also gained popularity as sport hunting weapons.They were especially favoured by Queen Elizabeth and King James.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Jessica Ring began writing and editing professionally in 2006 for "The Voice," her university's collegiate newspaper. She is a certified English teacher with a Bachelor of Arts in communication and English literature. She is currently in the process of obtaining her master's degree in education.