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The Medieval Archer Hub, Comparing Medieval Bows and Crossbows

Whether you’ve been in the hobby for years or are just getting started, you might not know much about the actual difference between medieval bows and crossbows. Sure, everyone knows that bows are manual and crossbows mechanical, and that bows shoot arrows and crossbows shoot bolts—but have you ever thought much about their history, function, rate of fire, and more?

Then read on ye lovers of projectile weaponry and hear the tale of how medieval bows and crossbows compare.

A Brief History of Medieval Bows and Crossbows

While in the public’s mind bows and crossbows originated in medieval times, history has shown us that, they existed long before that.

Indirect evidence has placed the bow to as early as 64,000 years ago in Africa, but direct evidence of the bow only exists back to the Mesolithic era nearly 10,000 years ago. The first crossbow has been dated back to ancient China, although a different version of the weapon was also discovered in ancient Greece.

Medieval Bow

During the middle ages, archers were highly valued in Europe, and it was seen as an essential skill for Vikings and the English, due to its use as a tool for both hunting and warfare.

In the Assize of Arms of 1252, the importance of bowmen in that era was shown to be so high, that all Englishmen were required by law to practice archery. The Plantagenet King Edward III grabbed this idea and decreed the Archery Law in 1363, that made it obligatory to practice archery during holiday and on Sundays. A skilled Bowman was considered to be as important as ten normal soldiers.

The medieval crossbow reappeared in the middle ages as a French weapon in the siege of Senlis in 947. They became common battlefield weapons in the 12th century and would eventually supersede bows in most European armies at the time (the exception is in England, where the longbow was more popular).

Through the use of steel prods, crossbows achieved power similar to longbows but were still more expensive to make and took longer to reload. Medieval bows and crossbows were incredibly important during the era, and most wars of the time were marked by their use.


Medieval Bows Explained

Medieval bows were originally made in two parts (and historical replicas are as well). Bows were made of a flexible material (usually wood), which would be linked at both ends with a string or a cord to form the tension and be used to propel the arrows.

Most medieval bows for sale in days of yore were made from yew, yet others from elm, hazel, and ash have been found. The strings were usually made from hemp, given that it was the least elastic and the strongest fiber available, and it was then soaked in glue to protect it against moisture.

Pros of Medieval Bows

Medieval bows and crossbows were both major weapons of war during the same era, but bows were much easier to make. An amateur could make one in less than twenty hours, while a professional could do them in just a couple of hours. They could also be fired a lot quicker than crossbows, reaching rates of 12 arrows per minute (That’s one arrow every five seconds!).

Cons of Medieval Bows

In contrast to the ease of making them, using them effectively was incredibly difficult. Good bowmen were few and far between, and most of them had spent their entire lives training. Proper use was very difficult, requiring more upper body strength and aiming with medieval bows was much more difficult. Additionally, most bows were useless against armor and required special arrows to get around this deficiency.



Medieval Crossbows Explained

Medieval crossbows were the brainchild of clever engineering applied to the traditional bow. There are a lot of similarities with the bow: both are made of wood, both have a hemp string, and both obviously rely on tension to hurl a deadly projectile through the air.

Crossbows had two parts, the body that holds everything together (including the mechanism that made the crossbow fire) and the actual bow. The most important difference between medieval bows and crossbows was the crossbow windlass, a mechanism that allowed the string to pull back much more than possible with just muscle power alone.

The windlass is the innovation that would allow the crossbow to become a medieval powerhouse of war, as it made for a much faster projectile velocity.

Pros of Medieval Crossbows

Compared to bows, crossbows were incredibly easy to use. They were so easy to use that it was common for crossbowmen to be untrained soldiers.

Medieval bows and crossbows were also starkly different in the physical requirements. Crossbows required less body strength to pull, and were very easy to aim at a target in comparison because the wielder didn’t need to focus on both pulling and aiming at the same time.

Lastly, because of the power added by the crossbow windlass, they could penetrate armor, making them very important during sieges.

Cons of Medieval Crossbows

Two issues plagued the crossbow, one for its users and one for its creators.

Manufacturing a crossbow was a lot more complicated than a bow. Because of the mechanical intricacies involved, it took more time and expertise to get the job done well. The added metal mechanism also added to the cost. So, there we no medieval crossbows for sale in past centuries among common folk.

For crossbowmen, the weapon was far too slow to reload and left them very vulnerable during this time. This was such an issue that tall shields, known as a pavise, were made to protect crossbowmen while they reloaded.



Check Out My In-Depth Medieval Bows and Crossbows Reviews

I hope this guide gave you a better idea of just how bows and crossbows differ, and why you might choose one over the other.

Keep in mind that there are many kinds of medieval bows and crossbows for sale, so even if you know which you prefer, you might not know which model is best for you. For example, the longbow was commonly used in England because it could penetrate armor by itself, although it required a lot more training too.

Don’t miss my in-depth medieval bow and crossbow reviews to help you find exactly what you’re looking for right below here!


There are all kinds of bows that you can get, check out the ones you are most interested in below:

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Don’t forget to check out a few videos on some helpful tips about archery before getting a bow!