It has been known that the Chinese used crossbows as weapons of war as early as the 3rd century BC. There are carvings of crossbows of Roman origin as early as the 3rd century AD which suggested their use in Roman military campaigns. In 1066 the Normans introduced the crossbow to England where it was quickly included in English armaments of war. In 1192 the Crusaders won a victory at Jaffa aided significantly by their use of crossbows. The Chinese continued to use crossbows as military weapons well into the 19th century. In fact, they developed the repeating crossbow and used it quite effectively for a time buy crossbow.
During the 20th century crossbows continued to play a role in modern warfare. The “Arrowspeed” crossbow was used by Australian commandos during World War 2 in the Pacific Theatre. From the mid twentieth century through the Vietnam conflict, the Montagnard people of southern Asia used crossbows in their many conflicts. They also used them while supporting American forces during the Vietnam War years. American military personnel also used crossbows as a silent weapon in the jungle and for secret reconnaissance missions. Crossbows have also been used as support equipment by the military and law enforcement for such things as propelling climbing ropes, draw lines and for numerous other more secretive purposes.
Crossbows have a long history that dates back as far as three or more thousand years. It’s astonishing how little the basic crossbow design has changed over the last millennia. However, there have been some significant modifications that have made crossbows lighter, more powerful, quieter, and more accurate. But the basic design has remained largely unchanged through the centuries. There is much more history to tell regarding the use of the crossbow as a military weapon, both during ancient times and in recent years. Future articles will expand upon some of the unique ways in which both military and civilian agencies around the world have employed crossbow technology. It’s interesting to note in closing, that except for the stone, stick and spear, the bow and crossbow have perhaps the longest history of use as a weapon of war and in the hunting and harvesting of game for food.