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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Belt spanned crossbows in the 15th century Reply to topic
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Alexander Hinman




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PostPosted: Sat 28 Oct, 2017 5:57 pm    Post subject: Belt spanned crossbows in the 15th century         Reply with quote

A few years ago while reading Gutierre Diaz de Gamez's biography of Don Pero Niño, El Vitorial, I came across two passages which gave me pause.

The first is from when he describes Pero as an exemplar of strength:
Quote:
Moreover, he used to bend the strongest crossbows from the girdle


The second comes when the King of Castile entrusts Pero with a privateering expedition against North African pirates in 1404
Quote:
the best crossbowmen should be sought for, men well knowing the handling of their arms, good marksmen and trained to bend the arbalest from the girdle


The translator, Joan Evans, helpfully provides an endnote to the first passage, which includes the original Castilian "Armaba muy fuertes ballestas à cinto". Evans considers this a reference to goat's foot levers, but to me it seems more likely to be a reference to a spanning belt. Drawing very strong arbalests, especially at the turn of the 15th century, with a belt hook would be quite a feat. I thought that belt spanning had been devalued to the point of obsolescence by the invention of the goat's foot lever, the wider proliferation of armour and the use of heavier armour, so that was a ding against my interpretation.

However, after examining some 15th century artworks, I found some corroborating evidence for my view. The belt spanning method, far from going by the wayside, seemed to be common even to the end of the century.

First the crossbowmen in Uccello's Battle of San Romano. Of those that you see spanning their weapons, they all seem to be using belts.









And second, Signorelli's Martyrdom of St. Sebastian. In addition to the pulley system that seems to be in use here, the middle crossbowman is also wearing a spanning belt.



Another detail I've observed in this painting is that the prod on the belt-and-pulley spanned arbalest is distinctly made of organic material (horn, wood, I don't know what), rather than the steel prods of the other two of which at one is spanned by goat's foot lever. Similar prods also feature on all the bows in the Uccello painting.



I'm not sure of the significance of this, but it seemed worthwhile to mention!

I've found a number of other artworks of which I don't know the exact provenance, but can post them later if desired.


If these prods had weaker draw weights than other types of crossbow, why do they see such frequent employment, even against heavily armoured foes? My best guess is that aiming for the face was a key tactic for fully-armoured opponents, and wounds to the limbs could be made against ones armored with only a breastplate or brigandine, and the psychological effect of arrow fire would still be valuable. However, these same tactics could be adopted by someone using a 200 lb crossbow, rather than the very strong examples preferred by Pero Niño. So it seems to me they must have some kind of effectiveness beyond what I can guess at.

If anyone can tell me why the "best crossbowmen" should be proficient in this method, or why it was preferred by Pero Niño, I would very much like to know.
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Bram Verbeek





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PostPosted: Sun 29 Oct, 2017 2:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If I see it correctly, spanning from the belt is done with the foot, which means the arms doe not tire from spanning. Those same arms you need later to aim, and vigorous motion before precise motion can make the precise motion less precise.

This is but a guess from someone who has never spanned a crossbow by goat's foot or girdle, so take it at its value.
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Iagoba Ferreira





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PostPosted: Sun 29 Oct, 2017 12:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Crosbows loaded using belts survived into the XVIth century Iberia. Better rate of fire, easy to use, and against the very common unarmoured foe, works well.

BTW, the Victorial is a very interesting piece, and has been printed since centuries ago, so it's easy to find for free in Spanish.
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M. Nordlund




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PostPosted: Tue 31 Oct, 2017 4:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A goatsfoot pulls the lever away from the tiller and over a locked nut while the wippe, belt-hook, windlass and cranequin all pull the string while holding it more or less against the tiller into a un cocked nut rolling it into locked position in the process. Could this have anything to to with goatsfoot levers being used less on organic prods. I would guess you would want less "uppwards" or "sideways" force on laminated prods especially but I am no expert.

In that case it might just be that the best crossbowmen used laminate bows an therefore belt hooks are the go to method, though I am wildly speculating here.
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Alexander Hinman




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PostPosted: Tue 31 Oct, 2017 6:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bram Verbeek wrote:
If I see it correctly, spanning from the belt is done with the foot, which means the arms doe not tire from spanning. Those same arms you need later to aim, and vigorous motion before precise motion can make the precise motion less precise.

This is but a guess from someone who has never spanned a crossbow by goat's foot or girdle, so take it at its value.


Interesting idea! I think there's certainly value in keeping the arms from tiring.

Iagoba Ferreira wrote:

BTW, the Victorial is a very interesting piece, and has been printed since centuries ago, so it's easy to find for free in Spanish.


I'm hoping to get the latest printing this year.

M. Nordlund wrote:

In that case it might just be that the best crossbowmen used laminate bows an therefore belt hooks are the go to method, though I am wildly speculating here.


That possibility has crossed my mind, but as you say it's just wild speculation.

One thing I did come across, which seems to help on at least one front, is the attached image from the Löffelholtz Codex of 1505. It looks like a pulley system for belt spanning not unlike the one in the Signorelli painting, and appears next to a crannequin. It is hard to say without knowing 16th century script, whether this particular pulley system is for a springald or a handheld crossbow, since the section it appears in shows both. Still, it is something!

For those interested the codex is available here:
http://jbc.bj.uj.edu.pl/dlibra/docmetadata?id...ublication



 Attachment: 338.6 KB
Löffelholtz Codex Belt and Pulleys [ Download ]
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Leo Todeschini
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PostPosted: Wed 01 Nov, 2017 12:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is curious and I am more inclined to think it is some misinterpretation of the words or the actual meaning or indeed the guy who wrote it wrote badly or indeed misinterpreted what thought he knew.

There are many issues to address here.

"Very strong arbalest" - very strong period or very strong amongst belt spanned bows?

Belt spanning can in no way be used to load bows that are easily loaded with windlass or indeed a goats foot lever.

A belt with a doubler pulley can be used to span a bow much heavier than a straight belt, but the action required is of course 2:1 and this in fact is rather tricky and height of user really starts to be relevant. Composite bows often have slightly longer draws and this of course compounds the issue. In reality this does limit the power that can be spanned. I am no athlete, but can span around 220lbs with a belt, maybe a bit more. with a doubler belt around 380lbs. I am sure a better men than me can improve on this.

The action of loading and shoot a belt spanned bow is pretty much your whole body being used and so all of you gets tired; it is very physical.

The rate of discharge with a goats foot bow is about the same as a belt spanned, is easier to load physically and you can load more powerful bows, maybe up to 600lbs.

There is no inherent accuracy differences between the spanning types.

M.Nordlund brings up an interesting point here
Quote:
A goatsfoot pulls the lever away from the tiller and over a locked nut while the wippe, belt-hook, windlass and cranequin all pull the string while holding it more or less against the tiller into a un cocked nut rolling it into locked position in the process. Could this have anything to to with goatsfoot levers being used less on organic prods. I would guess you would want less "uppwards" or "sideways" force on laminated prods especially but I am no expert.

In that case it might just be that the best crossbowmen used laminate bows an therefore belt hooks are the go to method, though I am wildly speculating here.


I too do not know the answer here, but M.Nordlund may perhaps have nailed it..........it is plausible.

Simply put, I can see no reason other than lower cost, to favour a belt over a lever.

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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Wed 01 Nov, 2017 3:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Leo Todeschini wrote:



Simply put, I can see no reason other than lower cost, to favour a belt over a lever.

Tod


I can imagine, that, save for other stuff, belt stays on you, and you don't have to think about it that much?

While goats foot is pretty clunky piece of equiipment you have to drag around somewhere, even if you have to run, leap, etc.
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Alexander Hinman




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PostPosted: Wed 01 Nov, 2017 11:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Leo Todeschini wrote:
This is curious and I am more inclined to think it is some misinterpretation of the words or the actual meaning or indeed the guy who wrote it wrote badly or indeed misinterpreted what thought he knew.


Gutierre Diaz de Gamez was Pero Niño's standard bearer, and fought in the relevant campaigns. Mistakes are more likely my own than his. It is possible he fabricated or exaggerated some things, but in general he seems to have been sincere. At one point, at Don Pero's insistence, the sailors take him to see "London", though only its port which is called Southampton. Big Grin

Quote:

There are many issues to address here.

"Very strong arbalest" - very strong period or very strong amongst belt spanned bows?


There's another relevant section that I originally left out because transcription is a chore, but it turns out you can copy/paste from the PDF version!

El Victorial wrote:

While matters were thus, Pero Niño fell ill. The Pope’s knights came to see him, and there likewise came to him the most famous crossbowmen that were in that country, Antonio Bonhora, Francisco del Puerto, and other good men with the arbalest, drawn thither by the fame of Pero Niño, to see and try his arbalests. He had many good ones with him, and one amongst them, famous and strong, which was called La Niña. They tried this one, but could not bend it. Then Pero Niño rose from his bed, although it was the hour of his fever, and putting on a shirt, bent the arbalest from the belt.


It seems that attempting to belt-span each others' crossbows might have been a kind of common competition, so I think it more likely strong for a belt-spanned bow, since Diaz de Gamez makes no comparisons with other spanning methods. On the other hand, I'm not sure why a bow of middling strength would be the object of admiration in such a context, let alone fame.

Leo Todeschini wrote:

Belt spanning can in no way be used to load bows that are easily loaded with windlass or indeed a goats foot lever.

A belt with a doubler pulley can be used to span a bow much heavier than a straight belt, but the action required is of course 2:1 and this in fact is rather tricky and height of user really starts to be relevant. Composite bows often have slightly longer draws and this of course compounds the issue. In reality this does limit the power that can be spanned. I am no athlete, but can span around 220lbs with a belt, maybe a bit more. with a doubler belt around 380lbs. I am sure a better men than me can improve on this.


Compounds the issue, I see what you did there Wink

I think the bar with holes in it shown on the Löfferholtz pulley might be meant to aid with the issue of distance of pull, perhaps to hold the bowstring in place while you reset the hook. The shape of the holes is unusual, so that might also be relevant. The crannequin on the previous page also has this bar and, interestingly, does not have the normal cord method of affixing

You can just barely make out a similar bar on the end of the tiller in the Signorelli painting. In The Battle of San Romano, it's also interesting to note that the one foreground image of an arbalest being loaded shows the crossbowman bringing something to the hook from a straight-legged position, stirrup on the ground. This may also indicate some sort of pulley system or other spanning method that uses the belt hook.

Do you think the four pulley spanning device shown by Löfferholtz offers any mechanical advantage over the two pulley system you use in your video? If not, I don't understand why one would include the extra pulleys at all. Maybe something to do with the peg holes?


Quote:

The action of loading and shoot a belt spanned bow is pretty much your whole body being used and so all of you gets tired; it is very physical.

The rate of discharge with a goats foot bow is about the same as a belt spanned, is easier to load physically and you can load more powerful bows, maybe up to 600lbs.

There is no inherent accuracy differences between the spanning types.


That is good to know. Is the limitation on the goat's foot a matter of physical strength or of materials?

Quote:

M.Nordlund brings up an interesting point here
Quote:
A goatsfoot pulls the lever away from the tiller and over a locked nut while the wippe, belt-hook, windlass and cranequin all pull the string while holding it more or less against the tiller into a un cocked nut rolling it into locked position in the process. Could this have anything to to with goatsfoot levers being used less on organic prods. I would guess you would want less "uppwards" or "sideways" force on laminated prods especially but I am no expert.

In that case it might just be that the best crossbowmen used laminate bows an therefore belt hooks are the go to method, though I am wildly speculating here.


I too do not know the answer here, but M.Nordlund may perhaps have nailed it..........it is plausible.

Simply put, I can see no reason other than lower cost, to favour a belt over a lever.

Tod


Thank you very much for your comments and expertise, Tod.

Regarding M. Nordlund's comment: a friend of mine, who is much better with early modern German paleography than I, helped work me through what the note next to the pulleys in the Löfferholtz codex might say:

diß ist ein wüder lendistler [birg? beig?] davonn mann stechlein bogenn sonst spandt

which, at her best guess, translates to:

this is another [leindistel] that you use in another way to wind the [probably hook bow]

The previous page shows a crannequin and another spanning device. There he calls a crossbow an "armbrust", so by using the term "stechlein bogenn" it seems the author does distinguish a separate bow type, and that spanning method corresponds to it. Depending on if she or I can improve the translation, there might be something more interesting coming up.

I'll add that I don't think the phrase "with the belt" necessarily excludes the use of a pulley device, especially if we accept that both the Uccello and Signorelli drawings suggest the hook might be applied to a pulley rather than the bowstring itself.



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Text of Löfferholtz pulley page
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Jens Nordlunde





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PostPosted: Thu 02 Nov, 2017 9:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Does anyone know how old the crossbow really is?
Was it used in Asia earlier than in Europe?
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Tue 22 Sep, 2020 7:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Didn't we have an old forum member and crossbow maker who said he could pull 400 to 500 lbs with a doubling hook with moderate effort and that he maxed out 700 lbs once.

I suppose that would qualify as 'bending the strongest bows from the girlde'.

http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.6838.html
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Wed 23 Sep, 2020 12:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The 15th century ordinance of the armourers and crossbow-makers of Angers, France takes "hook crossbows" and "windlass crossbows" as the two basic types for proofing purposes.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Thu 24 Sep, 2020 4:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:
The 15th century ordinance of the armourers and crossbow-makers of Angers, France takes "hook crossbows" and "windlass crossbows" as the two basic types for proofing purposes.


The text says
Quote:
et les coursels à tout le moins demie espreuve, qui est à entendre d’arbaleste à crocq et traict d’archiers


Is that equating a goatsfoot lever to a bow in terms of power and 'proofing' capability? If it does that is more good support for the notion that simple lever or belt and pulley bows could match contemporary bows while windlass crossbows stood a notch higher.
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Thu 24 Sep, 2020 7:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:
Is that equating a goatsfoot lever to a bow in terms of power and 'proofing' capability? If it does that is more good support for the notion that simple lever or belt and pulley bows could match contemporary bows while windlass crossbows stood a notch higher.

My working hypothesis is that the "hook crossbow" (arbaleste à crocq) in this text is the type spanned by a single hook hanging from a belt. I don't know what the contemporary term for the "goat's foot" was or how common they ever were. Ditto for the arrangement with a hooked pulley and a pin on the stock of the bow (Tod's "doubler belt"). There does not seem to be a lot of philological research on crossbow terminology from 1350 to 1550.

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Anthony Clipsom




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PostPosted: Fri 25 Sep, 2020 1:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I don't know what the contemporary term for the "goat's foot" was or how common they ever were.


OED quotes the original as Middle French pié de chièvre c.1410 , with English version first recorded c. 1515. The alternative gaffle is recorded in English first in 1497.

In this case, simple belt hook may well be meant or it is just a shorthand for a less powerful weapon that didn't need gearing or pulleys to span.

Anthony Clipsom
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Fri 25 Sep, 2020 4:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

To be fair I'd say windlass and cranequin loading mechanisms do stand on their own since they will need anywhere from 20 to 40 seconds to span a crossbow. All others should manage in less than 10 seconds and may be grouped together as 'hand spanned' crossbows.

As for the French one; I still think it is possible that it was one that used a doubler/belt pulley. It is capable of spanning a heavier bow which makes sense if one accepts that it is supposed to be roughly on par with contemporary war bows.

There's also the fact that the French à crocq was used in those days to denote coulverines or arquebuses that had hooks on the bottom to stop the guns from recoiling, while recoil won't be a problem with a crossbow the hook for the doubler pulling does sit on the bottom on many examples.
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Fri 25 Sep, 2020 4:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think John Smythe said that his proposed mounted crossbowers should have their gaffles hanging from thier girdles "after the german manner" or something along those lines. So it seems that a goats foot could also be hung from the belt for convienience.

As for why simple belt hooks might continue to be used alongside the goats foot lever if the latter could span higher draw weights. One thought that comes to mind is that for infantry the belt hook may have been more convienient for spanning crossbows with a longer power stroke if any such bows happened to exist..
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Michael P. Smith




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Oct, 2020 6:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've been kind of obsessed with late-medieval crossbows over the last year. (Thanks Tod!!)

One thing I've come across quite frequently in at least online museum galleries are crossbows fitted with a lug for a belt doubler AND lugs for a cranequin.

It's not clear if the two were used contemporaneously. I guess it is possible that the bows were made first for use with the doubler belt. Possibly later in life, they were refitted with a stronger prod (the prods seem to be composite, mostly) and the cranequin lugs to support the cranequin necessary to span such a prod. My understanding being that composite prods had a finite life and had to be replaced when they wore out. Many of these crossbows are dated from the late 15th century and also show signs of having been fitted with bolt clips at some point during their lives.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Sun 18 Oct, 2020 7:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:
Pieter B. wrote:
Is that equating a goatsfoot lever to a bow in terms of power and 'proofing' capability? If it does that is more good support for the notion that simple lever or belt and pulley bows could match contemporary bows while windlass crossbows stood a notch higher.

My working hypothesis is that the "hook crossbow" (arbaleste à crocq) in this text is the type spanned by a single hook hanging from a belt. I don't know what the contemporary term for the "goat's foot" was or how common they ever were. Ditto for the arrangement with a hooked pulley and a pin on the stock of the bow (Tod's "doubler belt"). There does not seem to be a lot of philological research on crossbow terminology from 1350 to 1550.


There is some differentiation in terminology in the records of the Teutonic Knights, of which some scholars have done some significant work. The number of papers is somewhat limited, I suspect because not that many people have learned to read Low German dialects compared to say, Early New High German. There is however also a considerable quantity of data mostly in High German from the Schützenfest contests which were routinely held in scores of towns and cities in the German-speaking, Flemish speaking and West-Slavic towns from the High Medieval through the Early Modern periods. These get into detail for the different types of shooting sports with their various different types of weapons - for example shooting at near and far fixed targets (with weaker and stronger crossbows respectively), shooting the popinjay, and shooting targets from horseback. Again, there aren't that many modern papers and most of this hasn't even been translated or reviewed recently but you can find transcriptions into modern German which were done in the 19th Century.

From these records, you can see clearly that there were sharp differentiations between various grades of crossbows, and a somewhat overlapping differentiation between different spanning systems or devices. The Teutonic Knights distinguished between at least four different types of crossbows, the knottelarmbruste, with a solid yew prod usually spanned by hand, and used only by peasant levies for the most part, the steigbügelarmbruste which seems to have usually been a steel prod weapon typically spanned with a belt hook or with a goats foot (geißfuß), gaffle, or 'wippe' spanner (particularly when used from horseback). For more elite troops they mention the statchel ('stinger') which is spanned with a cranequin, which they sometimes call the 'German winder', (sometimes also referring to these crossbows as 'half-tonners') and the windlass crossbow as an "English winder'. Finally there are the wall crossbows (Wandarmbrust and other euphemisms) which were very large weapons typically only used for siege warfare but also sometimes taken on wagons or boats.

The pay rate for mercenaries armed with crossbows varied from half a mark per month to 12 marks per month, depending on which type they were equipped with. You see similar numbers in the letters of Matthias Corvinus when discussing pay for the Fekete Sereg.

The Schützenfest don't always distinguish between types but there are indications as to different levels of power, for example crossbows used for the 'far' targets have a restriction that the prods had to be wrapped in wire as a safety measure to protect the crowd in case they broke.


I think a large part of the confusion about medieval crossbows, which has been damnably persistent, is because all crossbows kind of look the same. So what you could say about one type (regarding range, power, rate of shots, method of spanning and so on) doesn't actually translate over to another type, but they all tend to be jumbled together in (usually very superficial) modern analysis.

But I agree there is an interesting overlap in spanning methods with crossbows - you see period art depicting weapons being spanned with a goats foot or a cranequin and yet, it also has a stirrup.

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Sun 18 Oct, 2020 7:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sven Ekdahl, who has published books on the Teutonic Knights, did a famous paper 20 years ago which is floating around various places on the interwebs which gets into many of these same details. You have probably already seen it but for those who haven't:

https://deremilitari.org/2014/03/horses-and-crossbows-two-important-warfare-advantages-of-the-teutonic-order-in-prussia/

J

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