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William P




Location: Sydney, Australia
Joined: 11 Jul 2010

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PostPosted: Thu 11 Jul, 2019 12:54 am    Post subject: possible evolution of the crossbow (in absence of firearms)         Reply with quote

so, this was spurred by a discussion oon alternatehistoryhub's video on 'if we never discoveered gunpowder/ made guns'
and of course the immediate attention for substuituted turned to longbows and especially crossbows.

but if i remember correctly, by the end of the 15th century, the crossbow had really reached as far as it could with the technology at hand in terms of power, meaning it couldnt replace the arquebus, and then the musket as a weapon to help force people to use less armour (with breastplates and bulletproof armour getting progressively more expensive and heavier)

in a world in which gunpowder was never discovered as a substance for military use, are there ways in which the crossbow could overcome the barriers it was facing that prevented it from getting more powerful without big losses in efficienty etc,

could it be that with improved steelworking and the like, we could come up with other solutions, for example, longer bows, longer powerstrokes, or even duplex bows?

(of course we know that improvements would be made to other things, for exampole the implementation of basic sights, better stocks, and things to perhaps increase accuracy and range)
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Hamish C




Location: Sydney, Australia
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PostPosted: Thu 11 Jul, 2019 3:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The crossbow was still developed and refined even though it was no longer a useful military weapon. As you have mentioned stocks became more like rifle stocks, trigger mechanisms smoother, high powered scopes.

Synthetic prods, then compound mechanisms, make the bow more efficient than thick steel. Still the limiting factors the short draw length, means a very powerful bow is needed for armour penetration, and the need for a mechanism to draw the heavy bow, results in a slow rate of fire.



Then you have compressed air powered devices, and numerous other mechanical devices that propel arrows. A quick video search on youtube will provide numerous wild and whacky modern takes on crossbows.
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Eric W. Norenberg





Joined: 18 Jul 2008

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PostPosted: Thu 11 Jul, 2019 7:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Check out “reverse draw” crossbows for a recent innovation, something that counters some of the limitations of the 2000+ year old standard design. I’ve never handled one, but they make sense. Hard for me to get around the odd look, but we are talking performance, not traditional aesthetics.
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Leo Todeschini
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PostPosted: Thu 11 Jul, 2019 2:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The obvious move they never made that would work very well with heavy steel bows would be to make them compound.

However they will never compete with gunpowder for power whatever you do to them - caveat - as hand held devices

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Thu 11 Jul, 2019 9:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gunpowder didn't make armor go away.
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William P




Location: Sydney, Australia
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PostPosted: Fri 12 Jul, 2019 1:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:
Gunpowder didn't make armor go away.


te impression i have , however is that to compete with rising power of firearms the musket especially, breastplates got heavier and thicker, with duplex ad triplex wrought iron designs to compensate, making them, over time, less appealing to people except cavalry i.e the cuirassieres. combine that with larger army sizes, it getsharder to give people armour thats effective against shot, if the power however is capped, perhaps armour can stay lighter and easier, and remain in WIDESPREAD use for longer, and more complete armours might have remained is widespread use for longer, especially as steel tech got better allowing for better quality en masse
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Yesterday at 6:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hamish C wrote:
Then you have compressed air powered devices, and numerous other mechanical devices that propel arrows.


Some of these are quite powerful. The Airrow Stealth, for example, manages 263 foot-lbs (363 J) with 320-grain dart. That's already enough to pierce 2.5mm of hardened steel according to the numbers from The Knight and the Blast Furnace. With a heavier dart, such a weapon could deliver even more kinetic energy, albeit at the cost of using more air. No practical steel armor could protect against such a dartgun using heavy darts.

By contrast, 21st-century crossbows struggle reach even 175 foot-lbs with light bolts. However, with heavy bolts & allowing for less convenience, speed, accuracy, & safety, I'm confident you design a modern crossbow that could also defeat any practical steel armor. 173 foot-lbs (235 J) would already penetrate most historical armors.

Of course, those weapons both employ 20th/21st-century technology. It's unclear what would have happen to Europe & the world without gunpowder, though we can be almost certain bows & crossbows would have stayed in use for much, much longer. (They already saw military use in China & parts of the Americas through the 19th century.)

The curious thing about 15th-century European crossbow tech is that theoretically you could construct a crossbow powerful enough to use somewhat like a heavy musket, at least in the sense of piercing good armor at close or medium range. The 1,200lb-draw horn crossbow Andreas Bichler made that manages around 200 J with 81g bolts (at least in cold weather) only weighs 7.7lbs & may well perform worse than a high-quality historical example. Much heavier (20+lb) windlass-drawn steel target crossbows were apparently shot without rests for sport 17th/18th century.

A larger horn crossbow or even merely one of those giant steel crossbows might conceivably deliver enough punch to employ in approximately heavy-musket fashion. Heavy muskets were remarkably slow (1-2 shots per minute, if that) & awkward (requiring a rest to shoot), yet still key weapons in the 16th century. Big honking crossbows are less compact because of the limbs but otherwise arguably less trouble.

However, even a crossbow managing 300 J or whatever would lack the devastating close-range impact & projectile velocity of the heavy musket.

Our knowledge about the details of historical crossbows remains limited. Period sources generally indicate superior performance to anything replicas have produced. We do know that circa-1500 European crossbows were potent weapons that could at least potentially threaten a warrior in white harness.

I suspect European warfare would have looked a lot like circa-1500 warfare (minus artillery) for a few centuries or more longer in the absence of gunpowder.

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