A Crossbow consists of a bow mounted on a wooden stock, with a mechanical string holding and release mechanism. This design allows the crossbow to aimed more easily, allowing effective use with minimal training. This design also allows the bow to be held drawn and ready to fire for extended periods of time, and allows for the use of mechanical devices such as stirrups, levers, cranks, and windlasses to pulled back the string with greater force than with muscle power alone. The crossbow was first invented in ancient China, around the 6th century BC, and saw used in the Warring States period. However, the crossbow would not reach Europe until around 1000 AD. The weapon immediately proved so lethal that Pope Innocent II prohibited its use against Christians. Nonetheless, the crossbow saw use in medieval Europe until the 1500s, when they were largely replaced by firearms, though crossbows are still manufactured and used, mostly for hunting, but occasionally they are used by special forces and guerrillas as a silent sniping and assassination weapon. Over the years, a number of variants of the crossbow have been designed and manufactured.
The Gastrophetes (literally "belly shooter" or "belly releaser") is a crossbow-like weapon designed by the Ancient Greeks in the 200s BC and later described by famous ancient Greek inventor Heron of Alexandria. The weapon consisted of a bow attached to a stock with a concave rest for the stomach, which the user held the bow in while he pulled by back the string with both hands, with greater force than a conventional archer, who had to use only one hand. The Gastrophetes later evolved in the ballista, a siege engine similar to an oversized crossbow.
The ballista is a siege engine similar in appearance to a giant crossbow. The ballista was invented around the 4th century BC, and used first be the ancient Greeks and later by the ancient Romans. The weapon differed from a true crossbow in that its "bow" part consisted of two arms held in twisted skeins of ropes, using the torsion of the ropes to store energy.
The repeating crossbow, or Chu Ko Nu, is a crossbow capable of firing multiple bolts before needing to be reload. The weapon accomplishes this by using a magazine, typically of about ten bolts, mounted on top of the weapon. The bow is operated by pulling a lever, meaning it can be fired rapidly, but with less stopping power than a regular crossbow. For that reason, Chinese armies often used a combination of repeating and standard crossbows. The repeating crossbow was invented in the 4th century BC and was used in military forces until the 1890s, giving it one of the longest service histories of any weapon.
The Arbalest is a European crossbow design first appearing in the 12th century. The weapon had a steel bow piece, or prod, allowing for greater strength, and thus, greater draw weights. This resulted in a powerful weapon capable of piercing plate armor, however, it took a long time to reload as a windlass or crank was often needed to pull back the string.
The pistol-crossbows roots began in the late Middle Ages, with small crossbows used by cavalry, however, these were largely supplanted by pistols and carbines by 1600. For then on, pistol-style crossbows were mostly for sport shooting, having less stopping power and range, making them less desirable for hunting. Pistol-style crossbows are still manufactured today, mostly for sporting purposes.
Modern-day crossbows retain the basic principle of ancient and medieval versions, but are often made from metal and high-impact plastics. Compound crossbows have pulleys on the end of the bow to further increase draw force and stopping power. Modern crossbows are mostly used for hunting and sport shooting as an alternative to firearms, however, some special forces units and guerilla forces use crossbows as silent sniping and assassination weapons.