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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Fri 08 May, 2015 3:56 pm    Post subject: Han crossbow practical test?         Reply with quote

I've been hearing that the trigger mechanism of the Han crossbow enabled a longer power stroke for this weapon and vastly increased its delivery energy. I was wondering whether anyone had actually done a proper experiment with this weapon to see what the impact energy of one of their projectiles would actually be? The theoretical calculations seem way too high to me.

The main one I see reckons that a 6 stone strength Han crossbow (387 lbs) with a 19 inch powerstroke can deliver 312 Joules to the target.

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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Fri 08 May, 2015 4:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It depends on the efficiency of the bow, but if the power-stroke and draw-weight figures are correct then it should be high with any reasonable efficiency. 19 inches of power stroke is perhaps a bit much, but it's something along those lines based on the extant examples. 387lbs at 16 inches would still be 175 J at 50% efficiency, assuming a linear force curve. 70+% efficiency seems more likely, depending on arrow weight and whatnot.

As far as I know there aren't any published tests of Han-style or similar crossbows. I'd love to see some!

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

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T. Kew




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PostPosted: Fri 08 May, 2015 4:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A back of the envelope calculation says that such a crossbow would have on the order of 400-420J stored in the bow, at full draw. Perhaps more if the bow is significantly pre-loaded or the draw-force curve is significantly non-linear.

Having said that, as long as the bow is wide enough*, I don't see why the trigger mechanism has much of a bearing on the available power stroke? The peak draw weight, certainly - a weak trigger will fail, and other designs might be impractical to fire at high load. But the power stroke isn't in and of itself a difference: two bows that draw to 300lbs will put the same pressures on the trigger, whether that's 300lbs at 5" or at 20".

I'm not directly familiar with Han crossbows, but I seem to recall they have quite large bows, in terms of width etc, which would seem to make a long power stroke quite a plausible feature.

*If too short, then the string angle at the trigger would be exceptionally acute, which might be problematic for some designs.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Fri 08 May, 2015 5:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm more concerned with impact energy. The theoretical initial energy of the device doesn't really mean much. We'd need the weight of the projectile and velocity at various ranges.

Quote:
As far as I know there aren't any published tests of Han-style or similar crossbows. I'd love to see some!

Hey Tod! How do you feel about messing around with a Han crossbow?

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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Fri 08 May, 2015 7:20 pm    Post subject: Re: Han crossbow practical test?         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
The theoretical calculations seem way too high to me.


Why? It assumes an efficiency of 75%, which is a fair guess. The efficiency should be over 50%. For Payne-Gallwey's test of a European 1200lb, 7" power stroke crossbow, from the range he achieved, ignoring air resistance, the energy would have been 230J, from a bow that stored 475J. Given air resistance, the energy would have been higher, probably over 300J.

Selby's "Chinese Archery" notes 1 gram per 1.92 kg draw weight, so the 6 stone crossbow would (theoretically) have 90g/3oz bolts (the same weight as used for Payne-Gallwey's 460 yard shot).

312J looks like a good estimate for point-blank energy. For a 90g bolt, that would be 83m/s or 272fps. Modern crossbow bolts will lose about 10% of their speed, or 20% of their energy, in about 50 metres. So the energy would probably have dropped to below 200J after 100m.

Following recent discovery of a Qin crossbow that's intact enough to make good reconstructions from, there are plans to do reconstruction and testing.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sat 09 May, 2015 8:49 pm    Post subject: Re: Han crossbow practical test?         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
Dan Howard wrote:
The theoretical calculations seem way too high to me.


Why?


Maybe because they're higher than for other non-gunpowder one-person weapons. We don't have clear evidence that 15th- and 16th-century European battlefield crossbows delivered managed 200 J. Even if the Payne-Gallwey shot exceeded 200 J, it was heavy weapon probably better suited for siege warfare than the field. (Near the end of the crossbow's Western European military career, Monluc instructed his crossbowers to use their crossbows as makeshift shields in the left hand once they ran out of bolts. That would be awkward with an 18lb crossbow; Sir John Smythe wrote that the technique didn't work well with heavier calivers.) The idea that an ancient Chinese weapon performed better than a 15th/16th-century European weapon goes against common narratives about historical warfare.

Quote:
For Payne-Gallwey's test of a European 1200lb, 7" power stroke crossbow, from the range he achieved, ignoring air resistance, the energy would have been 230J, from a bow that stored 475J. Given air resistance, the energy would have been higher, probably over 300J.


Payne-Gallwey claimed 440-450 yards. 450 yards is about 411.5 meters. In a vacuum, a 45-degree launch at 63.5 m/s should travel almost exactly 411.5m according to the HyperPhysics trajectory-range calculator. Payne-Gallwey's bolt was 3 ounces (85g), so it at 63.5 m/s it would only have 171 J of kinetic energy. Again, that's in a vacuum. Air resistance would increase this substantially.

Arrow 1 (53.6g) shot by the 170lb flatbow in The Great Warbow test had a velocity of 73.85 m/s but only managed a range of 387.7m. Based on the different between how much energy this actually took (145 J) and how much it would take in a vacuum (102 J), Payne-Gallwey's bow may have delivered 245 J up close at about 75 m/s. But it all depends on the aerodynamics of the bolt in question and the wind at the time of shooting, etc.

Quote:
Following recent discovery of a Qin crossbow that's intact enough to make good reconstructions from, there are plans to do reconstruction and testing.


I look forward to seeing these!

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sat 09 May, 2015 9:17 pm    Post subject: Re: Han crossbow practical test?         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
The idea that an ancient Chinese weapon performed better than a 15th/16th-century European weapon goes against common narratives about historical warfare.

Exactly. I find it very difficult to believe that the Han invented a weapon that couldn't be replicated by anyone in the following thousand years or more. Not even more advanced Chinese cultures. Does anyone know of any crossbows that have a draw weight of less than 400 lbs that can deliver over 300 joules?

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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sat 09 May, 2015 11:47 pm    Post subject: Re: Han crossbow practical test?         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
The idea that an ancient Chinese weapon performed better than a 15th/16th-century European weapon goes against common narratives about historical warfare.


So, the common narratives are oversimplified. Change in military technology is not a constant increase in effectiveness. Is a 15th/16th century European pike really better than a Chinese Warring States pike? Better than a Macedonian pike? Is 15th/16th century European brigandine really better than Qin/Han iron armour? Han cavalry swords were high carbon steel, spring tempered. Were they that much worse than 17th century European cavalry swords? Is a 2nd century BC composite bow worse than a 16th century composite bow? Not like the mechanical properties of horn, sinew, and fish glue improved over that time, so why would the later weapon be better?

"More energy" is not always better. "More energy, all else being the same" is better. But when extra energy comes at the cost of a bulkier, heavier, more expensive, harder-to-draw, deteriorates in storage weapon, the lower-energy weapon can be better. Given the existence of heavy European siege crossbows (which appear to deliver in excess of 200J at short range, possible much in excess of 200J), while the usual heavy battlefield crossbow only manage about 150J, why didn't they replace the lower-energy battlefield crossbows? Clearly, there's more to "better" than just energy.

I still don't see why 300J should be so incredible. The power stroke length is about right, and the draw weight comes from literature (120 jin to the dan (stone), the Han jin was about 250g, so about 60lbs to the dan, and 375lbs looks good for 6 dan). About 75% is a plausible efficiency. Probably a bit high, on second thought. A 200g bolt should give about that efficiency, neglecting loss of energy through friction against the stock. If the 90g figure from Selby's bolt weight per kg of draw weight is correct, then about 60% not counting friction (maybe 50% with friction?), which would drop the point blank range energy to about 200J.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2015 1:13 am    Post subject: Re: Han crossbow practical test?         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
I still don't see why 300J should be so incredible. The power stroke length is about right, and the draw weight comes from literature (120 jin to the dan (stone), the Han jin was about 250g, so about 60lbs to the dan, and 375lbs looks good for 6 dan). About 75% is a plausible efficiency. Probably a bit high, on second thought. A 200g bolt should give about that efficiency, neglecting loss of energy through friction against the stock. If the 90g figure from Selby's bolt weight per kg of draw weight is correct, then about 60% not counting friction (maybe 50% with friction?), which would drop the point blank range energy to about 200J.

So now you see why I think 300+ joules is incredible. It looks nice on paper but real world crossbows can't transmit all that potential energy into the projectile. 180-200J is what I would expect a Han bolt to have based on what I've seen from other crossbows.

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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2015 11:58 am    Post subject: Re: Han crossbow practical test?         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
I find it very difficult to believe that the Han invented a weapon that couldn't be replicated by anyone in the following thousand years or more. Not even more advanced Chinese cultures. Does anyone know of any crossbows that have a draw weight of less than 400 lbs that can deliver over 300 joules?


The Song military employed similar but possibly better crossbows to great effect. The one supposedly period image of Song crossbows I've seen suggests long power strokes just like the Han design, but with stirrups. Zeng Gongliang wrote the following a 1044 military manual: "The crossbow is the most efficient weapon of any, even at distances as small as five feet. The crossbowmen are mustered in separate companies, and when they shoot, nothing can stand in front of them, no [enemy] formation can keep its order. If attacked by cavalry, the crossbowmen will be as solid as a mountain, shooting off such volleys that nothing can remain alive before them. Although the charge my be impetuous it will not reach them." The same text described a rotating volley system for crossbowers.

On the whole there's a fair amount of support for the notion that Chinese crossbows from the Han to the Song were technically superior to European designs. Han bows don't only have compact and intricate trigger mechanisms, they also had grid sights! Countless powers in region employed crossbows in vast numbers and in the Song at least some authorities considered them the best weapon period.

However, later Chinese militaries made less use of crossbows and used seemingly more primitive designs, perhaps because of the Mongol conquests and ensuing social and political changes. Ming military writer Mao Yuanyi wrote that Han bronze trigger mechanisms were far superior to the antler ones used in his time.

Quote:
Does anyone know of any crossbows that have a draw weight of less than 400 lbs that can deliver over 300 joules?


Well, the TAC 15i has a peak draw weight of only 154lbs and a power stroke of 17.5in but manages about 207 J with a 27.54g bolt. That's a 21st-century design, obviously.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2015 12:58 pm    Post subject: Re: Han crossbow practical test?         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Timo Nieminen wrote:
I still don't see why 300J should be so incredible. The power stroke length is about right, and the draw weight comes from literature (120 jin to the dan (stone), the Han jin was about 250g, so about 60lbs to the dan, and 375lbs looks good for 6 dan). About 75% is a plausible efficiency. Probably a bit high, on second thought. A 200g bolt should give about that efficiency, neglecting loss of energy through friction against the stock. If the 90g figure from Selby's bolt weight per kg of draw weight is correct, then about 60% not counting friction (maybe 50% with friction?), which would drop the point blank range energy to about 200J.

So now you see why I think 300+ joules is incredible. It looks nice on paper but real world crossbows can't transmit all that potential energy into the projectile. 180-200J is what I would expect a Han bolt to have based on what I've seen from other crossbows.


300J is only 75% of the potential energy, not all of it. It's a plausible efficiency, given a 200g bolt. (Considering that European bolts of 1/2 the length could be 3oz, it isn't a ridiculous weight for a bolt.)

If they use a bolt of half that weight, then they'll get less energy. If that's what they did, then they're after speed (and range), not energy. If they want more energy, then going to about 300-350g bolts might get them about 330-350J.

A Han crossbow like this isn't like the usual Medieval European crossbow. The power stroke matters a lot. It's approximately equivalent to a 1000lb siege crossbow.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2015 1:02 pm    Post subject: Re: Han crossbow practical test?         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Quote:
Does anyone know of any crossbows that have a draw weight of less than 400 lbs that can deliver over 300 joules?


Well, the TAC 15i has a peak draw weight of only 154lbs and a power stroke of 17.5in but manages about 207 J with a 27.54g bolt. That's a 21st-century design, obviously.


Also a compound, so the stored energy is much greater than that for a non-compound of the same draw weight.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2015 2:01 pm    Post subject: Re: Han crossbow practical test?         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Well, the TAC 15i has a peak draw weight of only 154lbs and a power stroke of 17.5in but manages about 207 J with a 27.54g bolt. That's a 21st-century design, obviously.

Did I really have to specifically state that I wasn't interested in compund bows? How is a compound construction going to give us any useble data?

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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2015 2:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A Deadly Art has a 177g central European crossbow bolt dated to the 15th century, which is the heaviest extant crossbow projectile intended for war I've seen. In theory Payne-Gallwey's bow might manage around or slightly over 300 J with such a bolt. Of course, no replica crossbow tests manage anything like that.

As always, we need more tests!

Also note that heavy Han crossbows were tricky to span. By many accounts crossbowers commonly spanned their weapons on their backs using arms and legs together. That's awkward. Spanning methods apparently improved later on but were still time-consuming in the Song era whatever they were - hence the rotating volleys. Having a long power stroke requires different and perhaps less desirable spanning techniques compared with shorter power strokes like 15th/16th-century European crossbows have. So thinking about the heavier Han crossbows as in some ways akin to the so-called European siege crossbows like Payne-Gallwey's has merit.

What we need are detailed replicas of a variety of different crossbow styles and then tests of these weapons and different spanning methods. It's likely the some or many of the designs that produce less kinetic energy were more convenient and faster to span. A goat's-foot lever appears to have considerable advantages over having to lie on your back to span, for example.

Finally, it's not completely clear why big honking 18lb crossbows don't seem to have been used in great numbers on the battlefield in 15th/16th-century Europe. (They appear more common for defending walls, castles, and so on.) Long muskets were as heavy or heavier and they saw mass employment in the field in the 16th century. A 18lb musket is presumably harder to hold steady than an 18lb crossbow because of the musket length; 18+lb target crossbows were apparently used without rests in the 17th and 18th centuries. The draw weight of one of these 18th-century windlass-drawn target crossbows is estimated at 1,848lbs (840kg), which would make it even more powerful than Payne-Gallwey's bow assuming a similar power stroke.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2015 3:34 pm    Post subject: Re: Han crossbow practical test?         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Well, the TAC 15i has a peak draw weight of only 154lbs and a power stroke of 17.5in but manages about 207 J with a 27.54g bolt. That's a 21st-century design, obviously.

Did I really have to specifically state that I wasn't interested in compund bows? How is a compound construction going to give us any useble data?


Yes, the modern compound crossbows are not relevant to historical usage but there where other crossbow types that seemed to use fairly long bolts and long draw lengths that would be more efficient than the European crossbows.

Basically i'm referring to the Chinese Triple bow Crossbows using 3 crossbow prods linked together making it possible to have long draw lengths almost comparable to the draw length of a hand held regular bow.

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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2015 3:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Finally, it's not completely clear why big honking 18lb crossbows don't seem to have been used in great numbers on the battlefield in 15th/16th-century Europe. (They appear more common for defending walls, castles, and so on.)


Might be a matter of cost. I expect a heavy crossbow to cost a lot more than a musket. If that "lot more" is big enough, you won' see many on the battlefield.

Defending in a siege, you have excellent cover, you're not going to be over-run (one hopes). You'll have lots of time to get many shots off with it. Being able to keep enemy crossbowmen with shorter range crossbows out of range is valuable.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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PostPosted: Sun 10 May, 2015 4:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yeah, I suspect cost was a major factor. Additionally, the social and economic factors that produced the 16th-century armies that contained many musketeers weren't necessarily in place in the 15th century.

On the technical-theoretical level, another complication when thinking about European crossbows is that many or most of these weapons before 1500 had composite rather than steel prods. Composite prods should perform better than steel if properly made and maintained - and they're much lighter to aim or carry. In theory a 1,000lb composite-prod bow spanned by cranequin or windlass might perform as well as Payne-Gallwey's steel 1,200lb bow but only weigh 10lbs or even less. This 616lb crossbow stores approximately 67% of the energy the 1,200lb steel bow stores but only weighs 6.6lbs. So it's possible some European battlefield crossbows delivered well over 200 J - perhaps 300 J with a heavy bolt. Of course, the linked reconstruction performed miserably for it's draw weight, so we're a long way from confirming such speculation.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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PostPosted: Mon 11 May, 2015 6:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:

On the technical-theoretical level, another complication when thinking about European crossbows is that many or most of these weapons before 1500 had composite rather than steel prods. Composite prods should perform better than steel if properly made and maintained - and they're much lighter to aim or carry. In theory a 1,000lb composite-prod bow spanned by cranequin or windlass might perform as well as Payne-Gallwey's steel 1,200lb bow but only weigh 10lbs or even less. This 616lb crossbow stores approximately 67% of the energy the 1,200lb steel bow stores but only weighs 6.6lbs. So it's possible some European battlefield crossbows delivered well over 200 J - perhaps 300 J with a heavy bolt. Of course, the linked reconstruction performed miserably for it's draw weight, so we're a long way from confirming such speculation.


Steel prods are heavy, but composite ones, on the other hand, got to be really thick to mantain draws like 1000 pounds up.

Don't have any data sadly, but I suspect that at really heavy draws, they started to have real problem with bending, due to length/thickness ratio.




Just like it's hard to bend a stick that's 1/5 as thick as it is long.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Mon 11 May, 2015 9:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The larger horn crossbows in the photo above look like they might draw around 1,000lbs or even more based on a quick visual comparison with this 616lb reconstruction. As mentioned before, though, this reconstruction performed poorly, so it might not even be worth anything as a guide. Unfortunately, I don't know of any other detailed tests of reconstructed European horn crossbows. I imagine horn crossbows did reach a practical limit at some point because of a limb thickness. I'm not sure that's why steel crossbow eventually became more common. There's evidence that manufacturing horn crossbow prods was a specialized and at times carefully guarded skill. Steel crossbow additionally should require less maintenance than horn ones. It's possible these economic and reliability factors made steel more desirable overall despite worse performance.

Finally, I'm not even sure how many steel crossbows actually saw use in historical European warfare. Steel prods appear to have gained popularity around the same guns replaced crossbows in most units. Based on artwork from Paul Dolnstein and the like, horn crossbows continued to see military service into at least the very early 16th century, especially for mounted crossbowers.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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PostPosted: Mon 11 May, 2015 1:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

By the late medieval era whether composite / horn or steel prods were used was largely a matter of regional preference. Composite prod crossbows performed better in extreme cold so they remained popular in certain areas (like the Baltic and the Alps) long after the steel prod weapons became available. The Teutonic Knights used both types.

By the second quarter of the 15th Century some quite small crossbows suitable for use on horseback (which you still see being used into the 18th century for hunting) were nearly as powerful as the larger siege crossbows, I think that is why the big siege weapons didn't necessarily have as much of a niche on the battlefield. That said, I don't think we have actual evidence that they weren't very widely used - most of the records of armies and battles don't distinguish them or get to that level of detail. What we do know is that crossbows were ubiquitous and were heavily used by the infantry of the late medieval period and we do see the windlass spanners which are most closely associated with the bigger siege crossbows in the artwork quite a bit. We also see plenty of the steel prod weapons. Like in the Wolfegg housebook images, Rhenish 1480's-1490's, here:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons...uselang=de

You can also see handgunners mixed in with the crossbowmen in that image, incidentally.

The crossbows in (1467) Talhoffer look like they might be composite but are small, comfortable for the horseman to use:

http://tnypic.net/5vgu3.jpg

http://tnypic.net/ake7z.jpg

Composite prod weapons weren't necessarily always lighter either. Obviously it depended on the size of the weapon. The composite prod crossbow which was the Higgins armoury (now at another art museum) in Ma was huge. Also cranequin spanned rather than windlass, in spite of the size.

I just don't think we know enough detail about how armies were equipped and wars fought in the medieval period to make some of these sweeping statements. There is clearly an enormous amount we don't know about how these weapons were used in this period, or in other eras like in China or ancient Greece.

Jean

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