The Medieval Crossbow was also called an Arbalest or Balista in Latin in Medieval times, this was the first type of Medieval Bow that had a mechanised loading system and it was designed in a cross shape, hence the name Crossbow. Medieval military man who were footsoldiers used the Medieval Crossbow weapon to great effect, it was much easier to load than conventional bows which needed to be drawn back manually and required much less training.
The Crossbow mechanism draws back the string of the Crossbow and Crossbowmen would use a winding mechanism to draw back the Crossbow string over a nut on the stock of the Crossbow. The string was released by a trigger on the Crossbow, this trigger when retracted the nut that was holding the string in place when pulled and in turn fired the bolt. The Medieval Crossbow is fairly small compared to longbows but the design is thicker and more solid, they had a small wooden stock which the Crossbowmen could hold comfortably, because they were fairly small they were easy to handle.
Medieval Crossbows existed before the Medieval period and there is historical evidence of them being used in the ancient world by Chinese and Roman warriors, however these early Crossbow’s were not as advanced as the later medieval crossbows and had to be drawn back by using the foot to hold the bow in place whilst drawing back the string with the hands.
Different mechanical devices were invented to make the loading of bolts into the Crossbow much easier by drawing back the string, these advancements continued throughout history, mechanical devices such as the goats lever which was a type of pulley, the windlass which was a winding device and the cranequin were invented. Later in the medieval period steel crossbows were made and this was one of the best advancements because it increased the firing range of the crossbow from 400 to 500 yards, during this medieval period the Crossbow came into its own as a Medieval weapon.
Early medieval crossbows were made from wood, however by the 13th century crossbows were made out of a mixture of materials using Wood, Horn and sinew to make a composite material that was ideal for the purpose of the Crossbow design. From around the 15th century metal Crossbow started to be introduced however the composite material used before was still popular. The nut part of the Crossbow was usually made from animal horn.
Medieval crossbows were used by footsoldiers, they were excellent weapons against medieval pikemen and knights who were usually sitting ducks and could be picked off at a distance. The Normans used crossbows in the Battle of Hastings and they were often used by mercenaries who could be hired by medieval armies as Medieval longbowmen were. The French for example hired Genose Crossbowmen in various medieval battles including the Battle of Crécy. The Crossbow was not commonly used in England in the early medieval period but it was used in later periods, in battle Medieval Crossbowmen would load and fire off a bolt or quarrel that fitted into the groove on the stock of the Crossbow at the enemy.