A crossbow is a modified bow and arrow system. Invented by the Chinese as early as 6 B.C. for military use, it did not become popular in Europe until over a thousand years later. The crossbow has a bow attached to a stock, allowing it to remain loaded when not in use. A lever attached to the stock aides in the loading of the crossbow. When the lever is released, the arrow, or bolt, will fire.
Crossbows are deadly accurate and have a firing range longer than a traditional longbow. They are easier to operate and are the perfect weapon for those who do not have the strength to effectively pull the classic bow. The disadvantage of the crossbow is that it takes longer to load and six to seven arrows can be shot by a longbow in the minute it takes to load the crossbow.
The extended range of the crossbow explains its appeal. Compared to the longbow, which can shoot about 280 feet (255 meters), the crossbow can cover approximately 380 yards (360 meters). At tactical range, both weapons can pierce plate armor provided the arrow was correctly tempered.
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The Roman Army knew about the existence of crossbows, but chose to stay with the traditional longbow as the weapon of choice. It is believed that crossbows were introduced to Europe by William the Conqueror, at the Battle of Hastings, in 1066. The army of Richard I carried crossbows into the Middle East during the crusades and the crossbow was the preferred weapon for assassins of the time period. The use of crossbows spread across Britain and Europe and were used in battle until the 15th century.
After that time, they were mainly used for hunting. The use of a crossbow is still popular for hunting game and target practice. Crossbows today are made of many materials, including wood, metals and polymer plastics. Crossbows can be found in many styles and sizes from pistol grip crossbows to full size military models.