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Crossbows in War: A Brief History

The military history of the crossbow highlights the devastating lethality of the weapon.

[caption id="attachment_6237" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Crossbows have been used in warfare for thousands of years. Crossbows have been used in warfare for thousands of years.[/caption] Crossbows are old. Really old. Thought to be first developed by the Chinese before the fifth century BCE, they were the staple weapon of Chinese armies for over a thousand years. As a military weapon the crossbow simply would have outperformed traditional archery equipment. Crossbows proved easier to shoot, more powerful, and offered longer shooting capability to Chinese soldiers who wielded them. Eventually the crossbow would make its way to Europe and have a similar impact on warfare on that continent. Crossbows first found a European home in Greece in the third century BCE. Early Greek crossbows were very heavy and generally unwieldy by a single man. Typically they were used for city defense on top of protective city walls. Eventually though the Greeks realized the potential of the crossbow as a hand held weapon. Later the Romans adopted the crossbow as well and used it in their eventual domination of modern day Europe. Similar to the Greeks, the Romans used large crossbows in addition to hand held models for soldiers. One of the major disadvantages of crossbows during battle was the fact they were slow to reload. There is text evidence the Romans were able to skirt around this problem by developing what has been called the polybolos. This device was reportedly able to fire an astounding 11 bolts per minute. It was actually recreated by modern engineers and is proven to have been a functional idea. After the Roman Empire fell, people in the dissolved empire still utilized the crossbow in their warfare. It became a popular weapon throughout Europe and was used by nearly every society. The tricky thing was that due to the simplicity of shooting a crossbow, nobles were at risk of being shot and killed by a lowly peasant with virtually no training. The elites of Europe couldn't have that and eventually the most powerful man in Europe, Pope Urban II, banned the use of the crossbow in Europe in 1096. Eventually the ban on crossbows would be lifted and it would once again find its place as the weapon of choice for most fighting men. Nothing lasts forever though, and the time of the crossbow as the most dominant weapon in military use was doomed after the Chinese developed the first functioning firearm. Eventually the advantages of guns were simply too good to pass up. Oddly enough, there are reports today that certain special force units within foreign militaries use the crossbow as a stealth weapon. It makes sense for a variety of reasons. Not only are they still quiet, powerful, and accurate, but the noise they create would be unfamiliar to most unsuspecting victims. Perhaps there still is a place for this ancient weapon in modern warfare. NEXT: SAS HORSE BOW; A DIFFERENT ARCHERY EXPERIENCE
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