TLDR: A crossbow is a bow-like weapon that shoots arrow-like projectiles called bolts. It has a locking mechanism that makes it easier to aim and shoot compared to a regular bow. Crossbows were first made in ancient China and Greece, and they played a significant role in wars throughout history. While firearms have largely replaced crossbows in warfare, they are still used for hunting and shooting sports.
A crossbow is a ranged weapon that uses an elastic launching device called a prod to shoot bolts or quarrels. It consists of a bow-like assembly called a prod mounted horizontally on a main frame called a tiller. The tiller is held by the shooter in a similar way to the stock of a long gun. The locking mechanism of a crossbow allows the shooter to maintain the draw, making it easier to aim and shoot with precision.
Crossbows and regular bows use the same principle of launching projectiles, but a crossbow has a locking mechanism that holds the draw, reducing the physical strength required to shoot. This means that a crossbowman can handle more draw weight and achieve better precision. In ancient times, crossbows were made in China and Greece, and they brought about a major shift in projectile weaponry during wars.
In modern times, firearms have largely replaced crossbows as weapons of warfare. However, crossbows are still widely used for competitive shooting sports and hunting. They offer a quieter alternative to firearms and can be used for relatively silent shooting. Crossbows come in different variants, including pistol crossbows, long stocks, and heavy crossbows used for siege defense.
The construction of a crossbow involves various components. The prod, also known as the lath, is the bow of the crossbow. It can be made of different materials, such as wood, horn, and sinew. The stock, also called the tiller, is the wooden body on which the bow is mounted. The lock refers to the release mechanism, including the string, sears, trigger lever, and housing.
Crossbows have different spanning mechanisms for drawing the string. In ancient China, winches were used for large crossbows mounted on fortifications or wagons. Handheld crossbows were drawn by treading or using a belt claw attached to the waist. In medieval Europe, winches, cord pulleys, gaffles, and screws were used for spanning crossbows. Stirrups and belt hooks were also used to aid in drawing the crossbow.
Crossbow projectiles, called bolts or quarrels, are shorter and heavier than arrows. They can be fitted with different heads, such as sickle-shaped heads for cutting rope or rigging. The most common type of bolt today is the quarrel, which has a four-sided point. Crossbows can also shoot bullets or stones as projectiles.
Crossbows can be equipped with various accessories, such as sights for aiming at different ranges. Ancient Chinese crossbows often had metal grids serving as iron sights, while modern crossbows use technologies similar to firearm sights, such as red dot sights and telescopic sights. Crossbow silencers are used to dampen vibration and suppress the sound of loosing the bolt.
In terms of history, crossbows were first made in ancient China and Greece. They played a significant role in wars, such as during the Qin dynasty's unification wars and the Han dynasty's campaigns against nomads and western states. Crossbows were also used in ancient Greece and were described in texts by Heron of Alexandria. In modern times, crossbows are still used for hunting and shooting sports, particularly in Southeast Asia and the Central Highlands of Vietnam.