Chronology of the Crossbow
Added 6 January 1997, Revised 8 May 1997
A fair amount of the information on this page is from the chronology presented by W.F. Paterson in his book entitled A Guide to the Crossbow. I will add pieces of crossbow history as I find them. I will preface all of W.F. Paterson's historical notes with an asterisk (*). Other sources will be annotated were possible.
Note: I have changed Mr. Paterson's use of the classic 'BC' and 'AD' to 'BCE' (Before Common Era) and 'CE' (Common Era) respectively, in an attempt to secularize the terminology.
Chronology of Crossbows
- *341 BCE --- Earliest reliable record of the use of the crossbow at the battle of Ma-ling in China.
- *228 BCE --- Earliest factual evidence in the form of a bronze lock mechanism from the tomb of Yu Wang.
- *1 st. cent. CE --- Heron records a form of hand balllista.
- *4 th.-7 th. cents. CE --- Roman evidence from carvings and remains
- *385 CE --- F. Vegetius Renatus in De Re Militari refers to crossbows
- *947 CE --- Attack on Senlis driven off by crossbowmen.
- *985 CE --- Crossbowmen in Lothair's expedition against Verdun.
- *986 CE --- 'Lock bows' used in the battle of Hjorungsvag.
- ca. 1000 CE --- The crossbow comes into wide use.
- 11 th. century CE --- Tiller is grooved to hold bolt (Wilkinson-Latham, p. 170)
- *1066 CE --- Crossbows reintroduced into England by the Normans.
- *1096 CE --- Anna Comnena records the use of crossbows in that year by the Normans.
- *1139 CE --- Interdiction of the second Lataran Council.
- 1139 CE --- Pope Innocent II condemns and forbids the use of the crossbow by Christians against Christians by saying they are "deathly and hateful to God and unfit to be used among Christians."
- *c. 1180 CE --- Mardi at-Tarsusi records the different types of crossbow and the use of the belt and claw for spanning
- 1199 CE --- Richard I, a major advocate of the crossbow who found a loophole in Pope Innocent's decree against the crossbow, is killed by a crossbow. (Hardy, p. 39)
- *1216 CE --- The Berkhamsted bow, now in the British Museum.
- *1 st. half of 13 th. cent. --- The MS. of Matthew Paris (d. 1259) illustrates crossbows. Widely used during the reign of Henry III (1216-72).
- 13 th. century --- Stirrup introduced for spanning crossbows. (Wilkinson-Latham, p. 169)
- 1277 CE --- 200,000 bolts ordered by English for use in campaigns in Wales. (Hardy, p. 44)
- *1297 CE --- Sale of a windlass recorded by Simone Vatacio in Genoa.
- *1314 CE --- Earliest reliable record of a steel lath.
- 1346 --- The Battle of Crecy, in which English longbowmen defeated a force of 6000 Genoese crossbowmen
- *mid 14 th. cent. --- The goat's-foot lever in general use.
- mid 14 th. century --- crossbows could cast bolts approximately 200 yards. . (Hardy, p. 75)
- *1373 CE --- Earliest illustration of the cranequin or rack.
- *1381 CE --- Foundation of le Grant Serment Royal des Archers de Saint-Sebastien in Belgium.
- *1387 CE --- Treatise on hunting by Gaston Phoebus includes crossbows.
- 15 th. century --- Cranequin first documented. (Wilkinson-Latham, p. 172)
- *1435 CE --- Record of the cranequin in English army stores in Rouen.
- *1472 CE --- Valturius, De Re Militari
- circa 1480 --- crossbow prices limited by law to 3s 4d (s=shillings, d=denarius which is an old term for pence). . (Hardy, p. 44)
- 16 th. century --- Gaffle introduced as a device for spanning crossbows. The gaffle became the most common method for spanning crossbows. (Wilkinson-Latham, p. 170)
- 16 th. century --- Stonebows become more popular. (Wilkinson-Latham, p. 177)
- 16 th. century --- First target shooting specific crossbows made. (Wilkinson-Latham, p. 178)
- *1503 CE --- First of a succession of English laws restricting the use of crossbows.
- 1520 --- Crossbow discontinued as a military weapon in Sweden. (Wilkinson-Latham, p. 168)
- *1560-73 CE --- Swedish imports of steel laths for military crossbows.
- *mid-16 th. cent. Onward --- Improved sporting crossbows in wide use.
- 18 th. century --- Chinese develop a self-loading, repeating crossbow.
- 1901 --- Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey looses a bolt from a 16 th. century crossbow 450 yards. Crossbow was spanned by use of a cranequin. (Hardy, p. 75)
Hardy, Robert, Longbow: A Social and Military History, copyright 1992, Robert Hardy. ISBN: 1 85260 412 3
Paterson, W. F., A Guide to the Crossbow, published by the Society of Archer-Antiquities, 1990. No ISBN.
Wilkinson-Latham, Robert, Phaidon Guide to Antique Weapons and Armour, Prentice-Hall, Inc., copyright 1981. ISBN: 0-13-661935-5