from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Crossbow with a steel bow (Germany, 16th century)
TenPoint brand hunting crossbow

The crossbow , historical and cross bow called, is a as a launching device for bolts , arrows designed or balls remote weapon with a mounted on a center pillar arc whose chord can be held by a retaining device in the cocked position and triggered by a trigger mechanism.


The word “crossbow” goes back to the Latin arcubalista (bow thrower , also “Arcuballiste”), in French arbalète . In the 17th century the word "Balester" was still common. During the Germanization, the words “arm” and mhd. Berust / berost (equipment or armament) were combined, from which “crossbow” (regional also armborst, armst, arbrost) developed, so that a typical folk etymology could arise through derivation from the body part chest . The plural is "crossbows", more rarely "crossbows". The maker of a crossbow was the Armbruster .


The gastraphetes , an ancient Greek crossbow
Sketch of a giant crossbow (Leonardo da Vinci)
Point of a crossbow bolt from the 14th century.

The crossbow is basically a bow mounted horizontally on a central column, which allows the shooter to keep the weapon cocked without effort and thereby aim long and accurately thanks to a retainer for the string . With a suitable construction (stronger bows) the crossbow can store considerably more energy and transfer it to a projectile than is possible for an archer with bare arm strength. Therefore, long, elastic wooden arrows cannot be fired, which would break under the acceleration forces, but short, stiff bolts or - more rarely - ceramic or stone balls for hunting and sporting purposes (with a small basket as a projectile holder). Today arrows made of modern materials such as aluminum or carbon with a length of up to 55 cm (22 inches) are mainly used in crossbows with high acceleration .

The crossbow went through three main stages of development:

1. The crossbow with a wooden bow (preferably yew wood because of its elasticity) is the original form. It was usually cocked with both hands, whereby the "muzzle end" of the weapon was held on the ground with the foot / feet of the crossbowman in a kind of stirrup . Clamping aids did not need to be used because of the limited tensile force.

Stronger crossbows were stretched with the tension belt hook, an iron hook that hung on the front of a belt. To stretch the bow, the archer knelt down to place the crossbow tendon in the tensioning hook, then put his foot into the stirrup (impromptu) and tensioned the crossbow when standing up or he hooked the tensioning belt while standing, put one foot into the stirrup and kicked the crossbow down to the ground.

Two medieval crossbows with steel and horn bows

2. The more powerful form of the crossbow was equipped with a composite bow. In this variant, the bow was glued together from layers of horn and animal tendons and bent forward without a bowstring (so-called reflex). This type of bow probably came into use in Europe at the end of the 12th century through the adoption of the composite technique from Byzantium or Arabia. Because of their high tensile strength, this type of crossbow usually required a tensioning aid in the form of pulleys , lever constructions such as goat feet and seesaws, winches or screws. The composite arch was very sensitive to moisture. It should have happened that such structures dissolved in battle when it rained. A crossbow with a composite bow can be seen in the right picture below (with attached gear winch), the drawing to the right is a cross section through such a bow. It shows the structure of toothed horn rods / plates and tendon covering .

3. The historically most powerful forms of the crossbow, such as the arbalest with a steel bow, appeared in the 14th century. In contrast to the composite arch construction, it was no longer susceptible to weathering; the o. a. Aids are applied. A crossbow with a steel bow can be seen in the right picture above, on the right a gear tensioning winch with a crank.

In addition to the portable crossbows for field battles, there were also larger, stationary devices with higher power that were used on ships and for the defense of castles and cities, such as the so-called tower crossbow or pulley crossbow, similar to the Roman ballista , but in which the torsional tension of twisted fiber bundles was used. It was intended for horizontal shot and had the typical crossbow shape. Tower crossbows were built up to ten meters long. They are systematically related to historical catapults as well as modern harpoon systems and guns ( carriages , tanks ).

A heavy crossbow often works with a winch or crank for winding. The English winch is a type of pulley system that is attached to the column of the crossbow. The string is placed in the double tension hooks on the upper wheel housing and tensioned over ropes by turning the two cranks on a shaft with both hands. The so-called German winch works with a rack instead of ropes. This technical innovation appeared in the 14th century. Tensioning takes about 40 seconds because of the pulley mechanism. Because the cocking process takes a lot of time, such crossbows were mainly used for hunting or for fighting from fixed positions, but not in open field battles. The crossbow with winch develops a recoil that should not be underestimated. The heavy crossbow, with its launch power of approx. 4 to 8 kilonewtons, has enormous penetrating power with which a harness or helmet can be penetrated effortlessly at a combat distance of 50 to 200 meters.


Two fire arrows (bolts) with a preserved fire mixture from the 15th century.
Crossbow production (Pogner) around 1568
Model of a loading crossbowman behind a pavese (protective wall)
Pistol crossbow, early 19th century. Manufacturer: Frédéric Siber, Morges, Morges Military Museum in Vaud .


In ancient Greece since the 5th century BC A prototype of the crossbow attests to the Gastraphetes . In Xanten on the Lower Rhine , archaeologists found metal remains of a Roman torsion crossbow from the time of the birth of Christ in a gravel pit . Remnants of similar weapons have already been discovered in Spain and Iraq . A military use of the crossbow by Roman soldiers is therefore likely. The Romans called these weapons ballistae . Roman crossbows with horn bows can be seen on the reliefs of Solignac and Saint Marcel near Le Puy . The representation of the latter is dated to the 1st century AD. Both weapons have a short shaft. The string was held in tension by the so-called nut (to judge from the Solignac relief) .

Early forms of crossbows can also be found in China, e.g. B. the ceramic figurines of the first emperor Qin Shihuangdi († 210 BC): When invasion threatened by equestrian peoples from the northwest, fortified farmers were equipped with them so that they were protected from the "10,000 Li" (= "infinitely") long Great Wall of China fended off the onslaught of the cavalry hordes.

middle Ages

At the latest, the Normans in France managed to develop the crossbow into a weapon suitable for war in Europe. In the Battle of Hastings (1066) the Normans used crossbows against the Anglo-Saxons . The Bayeux Tapestry , which depicts this battle and its prehistory, does not, however, show any crossbows; their existence was only known through excavations of crossbow bolts on the battlefield.

In Europe, the use of bows and crossbows in battles between Christians was banned by the Second Lateran Council in 1139, as they were considered unchivalrous because of their range and their penetration against armor. Use against pagans, especially against Arab-Islamic opponents, however, remained permitted. However, this moral ostracism was not enforceable in wartime practice. Irony of fate: Ironically, a well-known sponsor of the crossbow, Richard the Lionheart , died in 1199 from a crossbow bolt.

The cadence was compared to the 13/14. Century more successful longbows from England much slower (1 to 2 per minute compared to a maximum of 10 to 12 with the longbow). It was therefore less suitable for open field battles, but more as a sniper weapon for static siege battles . Furthermore, the training of the archer on the crossbow was easier and made less physical demands than that of the archer, so that due to all factors it became the main weapon of the townspeople. From this tradition, the rifle guilds (see also Schützenbruderschaft ) and regular rifle competitions as training and performance tests for well-trained or conscripted citizens emerged.

Modern times

In the late 15th century, the arquebus (hook rifle) was designed as a portable firearm, which displaced both the bow and the crossbow as a weapon of war in large parts of Europe by the middle of the 16th century. The Atlantic Codex by Leonardo da Vinci , dated from 1478 to 1518, contains designs of a giant crossbow. It continued to be used as a hunting weapon. Both the early crossbows and the hunting crossbows, which were used from the 16th century in parallel to firearms with matchlocks, wheel locks and later flintlocks, had the typical cheek shafts that were only held against the archer's right cheek. In parallel to the wheel lock rifles that were manufactured at the same time, the shaft, known as the “column” on crossbows, assumed an increasingly pronounced triangular cross-section because the shaft cheek was made more and more ergonomic.

In China there was a repeating crossbow as a variant . A guide with a magazine box was attached above the firing rail. The crossbow was operated with a rocker arm. Lever forwards: the tendon is hooked into the guide. Lever back: the tendon is tensioned and released when the end point is reached, taking a bolt with it from the magazine. With this mechanism, a high rate of fire (rate of fire) is achieved for crossbows, but the range, accuracy and penetration is low. That is why this type of weapon was mainly used to ward off mass attacks, with some poisoned bolts being used. There is evidence that such weapons were still used during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Versions of the crossbow are the Balester as well as the fire crossbow . Several versions of historical crossbows can be found, for example, in the Bavarian Army Museum , Department for the Middle Ages, in Ingolstadt .

Modern crossbows

Modern field and hunting crossbows (late 20th century ) are shot from the shoulder stop and have bows made of plastic reinforced with glass and carbon fibers . Otherwise, they are mainly made of light metals and high-quality plastics and are therefore relatively light and insensitive to the weather. Modern materials are also used for the bolts. As a rule, they are longer than they used to be, which is why the term “arrow” now predominates. Thanks to the screw thread, the tips of the arrows can be changed quickly as required without complex tools. For example, the tips can be exchanged for broadheads. Through the use of recurve and especially compound bows , the performance of modern crossbows could be significantly improved with a lower draw weight. The compound bow with the eccentric rollers in particular makes it possible for the highest tensile weight to be at the beginning of the tensioning process, which makes tensioning much easier physically and relieves the trigger mechanism. At the same time, the string path along which the arrow is accelerated can be significantly lengthened without increasing the span of the bow, the striking part of the string and thus the vibrations during the shot and the wear and tear. The arrow speed is increased by this and by the higher speed of the tendon movement as well as the overall precision of the shot. In addition, various clamping aids, which have a crank on some models, can be attached. Many modern models also have quick adjustments for the sighting devices.


Modern hunting crossbow

In some jurisdictions, such as Canada, Spain, South Africa, and numerous US states, hunting with the crossbow is legal and common. Crossbow manufacturers (e.g. Excalibur, Horton or Tenpoint) offer special crossbows and arrows for this. There are special harpoon arrows for fishing. In Germany, hunting and fishing with crossbows and bows and arrows are partially prohibited in most federal states by the Federal Hunting Act in conjunction with the respective state hunting law. H. on ungulates , in some states prohibited in principle, exemptions from the competent authority, however, are possible according to their respective provincial hunting laws. The specific handling of these hunting regulations and their relationship to the application of the Animal Welfare Act are currently still unclear.

Shooting sports

Field crossbow
Swiss match crossbow, approx. 1970, tension lever, bolt
Shooting range at the Munich Oktoberfest during the German Championship 2008, crossbow 30 m national target
Target holder, on the left with target and bolt, on the right the lead core in the holder after shooting
Modern crossbow bolt
Wooden crossbow as a children's toy

Today, the crossbow is also used as a sports device in sports shooting competitions according to the sports regulations of the German Shooting Federation, the International Armbow Shooting Association (IAU) and the World Crossbow Shooting Association (WCSA) . According to IAU rules, it is shot on targets either standing at 10 m or 30 m kneeling and standing in rifle houses or as a "field crossbow" at 35, 50 and 65 m. There is also a discipline that involves shooting at 100 m and more.

In the "Crossbow 10 m" discipline, air rifle targets made of thicker cardboard are fired on and attached to a holder with a lead core. The thicker cardboard of the targets is required because the crossbow bolt often tears out the shot hole in simple air rifle targets and thus makes evaluation more difficult. The lead core lies exactly behind the 10 ring mirror of the target and catches the bolt. The core is replaceable and is cast in many clubs from used air rifle ammunition. The wood surrounding the core is also able to stop the bolt, but begins to break after just a few hits. In addition, it is more difficult to loosen the bolt from the wood than from the lead core.

The discipline "Crossbow 30 m international" is shot with a stronger crossbow over a distance of 30 meters with 30 shots standing and 30 shots kneeling at a target with 10 rings specially designed for this discipline.

"Field crossbow" is shot at targets like in archery . A competition consists of two days of competition, on each of which 90 shots are fired. On the first day, 30 competition shots are fired at a distance of 65 meters, then at 50 meters and 35 meters. On the second day the shooting takes place in reverse order, i.e. H. first to 35 meters, then to 50 meters and finally to 65 meters. The maximum number of rings is 1800 rings.

In contrast to the internationally practiced disciplines of 10 meters, 30 meters and field crossbows, the variant “crossbow 30 m national-traditional” is only common in German-speaking countries. Here a target with only 6 instead of the usual 10 rings is shot, and a competition only has 20 shots plus a maximum of 10 test shots. The German championship "Crossbow 30 m national-traditional" takes place at the Munich Oktoberfest on a shooting range in the Armbrustschützenzelt , a competition that is demanding due to the background noise alone.

Another type of crossbow sport is u. a. exercised in southern Germany. Here the historical high crossbow (bird tree crossbow) is shot, which is manufactured today in a modern design. The targets are located on a pole about 30 m high, the so-called bird tree and we also speak of bird shooting . There are either 18 so-called platters on rods in a radial arrangement, the so-called star, or an eagle composed of partially glued or nailed wooden parts. When shooting the star, it is important to hit the Plattl in such a way that they fall down, as only then will they be scored. In eagle shooting, the aim is to shoot pieces of wood from the eagle in the order prescribed at the beginning, which are then scored according to their weight. In star shooting, a German championship will also be held parallel to the national traditional target shooting mentioned above. Eagle shooting is reserved for friendship and festival shooting. The crossbows are tensioned by means of a tensioning lever, a tensioning bracket or a hydraulic device.

Crossbow shooting is considered a precision sport .

Other uses

Even today, the crossbow is still used in various applications, for example in rainforest research as an aid for installing climbing ropes by shooting thin leader lines. A spool of thread is attached below the bow, similar to a fishing rod, and the end of the line is attached to the blunt end of the arrow.

A similar approach can still be found today with the first or re- erection of suspension bridges and sometimes also with the erection of antenna systems (e.g. for amateur radio ) with the help of natural features such as trees.

Legal situation


In terms of weapons law , the crossbow, in contrast to the bow , is equated with firearms. However, it is one of the free weapons: acquisition, possession, trade and manufacture do not require a permit. Objects considered to be equivalent to firearms include those "portable objects in which solid bodies are fired in a targeted manner as intended, the drive energy of which can be introduced by muscle power and stored by a locking device". Toy crossbows that do not exceed a kinetic energy of 0.16 J / cm² are excluded.

In principle, all regulations applicable to firearms also apply to the crossbow, including the safety regulations for shooting.

Shooting with a crossbow is considered as handling a weapon in accordance with Section 1 (3) and Section 2 (1) WaffG. Such handling of weapons is generally only permitted to people who have reached the age of 18. An exception arises according to Section 27 Paragraph 3 No. 2 WaffG for shooting at shooting ranges under supervision from the age of 14. Under 14-year-olds, shooting with crossbows, even at shooting ranges under supervision, is generally not permitted. Only to promote competitive sport can the authority acc. Issue a special permit in accordance with Section 27 (4) of the Weapons Act.


The crossbow is not subject to the Weapons Act in Switzerland and is therefore not considered a weapon. WG (SR 514.54) Art. 4 a – g lists the weapons subject to the law. Paragraph d “slinging” does not apply to the crossbow either, since slingshots are specifically defined in the associated ordinance: WV (SR 514.541) Art. 8. There is therefore no minimum age for acquisition and shooting.

The Ordinance on Hunting (SR 922.01), Art. 2 f., Prohibits the use of the crossbow for hunting.

In many police regulations, which are issued at the level of the individual municipalities, shooting with the crossbow is only permitted on "systems specially set up for this purpose".



Web links

Commons : Crossbow  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Crossbow  - Explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Ulrich Wendt: Culture and Hunting - A Birsch walk through history: Volume I: The Middle Ages . Unikum, Barsinghausen 2012, ISBN 978-3-8457-2139-2 , p. 185 ( online first edition: 1907).
  2. Dirk H. Breiding: A Deadly Art: European Crossbows, 1250-1850 . Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2013, ISBN 978-0-300-19704-4 , pp. 3 ( [accessed on February 21, 2019]).
  3. a b Armbrust ( German Dictionary )
  4. Baatz, Dietwulf (1994), “The Roman Hunting Crossbow”, in: Buildings and Catapults of the Roman Army , Stuttgart: Franz Steiner-Verlag, pp. 284–293, ISBN 3-515-06566-0
  5. Dictionnaire des antiquités grecques et romaines: Arcuballista, Manuballista
  6. Alberigo, Giuseppe: Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta , Canon IXXX, Bologna, 1973³, pp. 195-203
  7. WaffG Annex 1 Section 1 Subsection 1 Point 1.2.2 No. 1.2.2.
  8. WaffG Annex 2
  9. ^ [1] , VG Aachen, judgment of March 21, 2007 - Az. 6 K 240/05.
  10. [2] , OVG Nordrhein-Westfalen, decision of February 20, 2008, Az. 20 A 1368/07.
  11. SR 514.54 : Federal Act on Weapons, Weapon Accessories and Ammunition, Art. 4
  12. SR 514.541 : Federal Act on Weapons, Weapon Accessories and Ammunition, Art. 8
  13. SR 922.01 : Ordinance on Hunting and the Protection of Wild Mammals and Birds Art. 2