Crossbows are believed to have been invented by the Chinese in the 4th century BC. They require less skill to use than a longbow, which was only deadly in the hands of a skilled archer.
A crossbow is a projectile weapon which, depending on its type, shoots arrows, bolts, quarrels, stones or bullets. It consists of a bow attached crosswise to a stock, called a tiller. Unlike a longbow, the crossbow is used horizontally.
The tiller is fitted with a trigger mechanism for the release of the bowstring. Early bows were spanned by hand, but as they got more powerful mechanical devices were invented to do this. The result was that projectiles could be shot with greater force.
Smaller animals and birds were frequently hunted with balls of lead or clay rather than arrows, as the arrow would likely pass through their bodies and they might escape the hunter.
While the longbow remained plain throughout its entire life, highly decorated crossbows became quite common in the 15th century.
An English sporting crossbow of about 1600, decorated with mother-of-pearl.
Dates from 1600 | Object number: XI.295