Medieval Crossbow – The Effective Medieval Weapon

Medieval Crossbow (Arbalest)

The Medieval Crossbow was the first type of Medieval Bow that had a mechanized loading system and it was designed in a cross shape, hence the name Crossbow.

Medieval military man who were foot soldiers 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.

Loading a Medieval Crossbow

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.


This image shows the trigger of a crossbow used to fire bolts

Early Medieval Crossbows

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.

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.

Advancements in the design of Medieval crossbows

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.

Arbalest Crossbow

Some historians use the The term arbalest interchangeably with the earlier medieval crossbow. Although it was very similar to earlier medieval Crossbows the arbalest or arblast was a larger and more powerful weapon it incorporated the use of metal to make the frame bow much stronger and this gave it much greater power and range. A soldiers skilled in the use of a arblast could fire off two bolts per minute.

Materials used to make medieval crossbows

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.


Different sections of the crossbow are labelled in this image

Medieval crossbows | Battles

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.

Medieval Crossbow Facts:

  • The Crossbow used a winding mechanism to draw back the string.
  • The hands and feet were used to load earlier medieval crossbows.
  • Early crossbows were used by the T’ang dynasty in China and the Romans.
  • As the medieval period progressed many advancements were made to the Crossbow.
  • The Crossbow was also known as the Arbalest and the Balista (Latin).
  • The winding mechanism used on a Crossbow was called a windlass.
  • Early medieval crossbows were usually made from wood.
  • From the 13th century medieval crossbows were made of a composite material of wood, horn and sinew.


  • The Crossbow fired a bolt or quarrel.
  • A throwing engine was similar to a Crossbow but much larger and confused with the crossbo.w
  • The Normans used crossbows at the Battle of Hastings.
  • Two famous kings were killed by crossbow bolts, William Rufus and Richard the Lionheart.
  • The Pope banned Crossbow use against Christians although no one took any notice.
  • The Crossbow was widely used by mercenaries from the 13th century.

A foot soldier loads his crossbow ready for battle

  • The French regularly hired mercenary Crossbowmen in their battles.
  • The steel crossbow increase the firing range of the Crossbow from 400 to 500 yards.
  • Medieval Crossbowmen found it easier to learn how to use a Crossbow than the longbow.
  • Crossbows were easier to load than longbows although the longbow was more effective.
  • It was much quicker and easier to train foot soldiers to use the Crossbow than the longbow.
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