the fact that their bows have no curve like those of solid wood or of
steel, but are nearly straight before they are bent, fig. 26, previous
They were formed of horn or whalebone, yew, tendon and glue. The heart,
or core of the bow was composed of about twenty thin flat strips of horn
or whalebone, placed side to side and glued one to the other into a solid
block, the thin edges of the pieces being respectively towards the back
of the bow and its string. That is to say, the twenty thin pieces bent
collectively edgewise, and not flatwise when the bow was used. At the back
and front of the longitudinal block of horn or whalebone, which formed
the mainspring or heart of the bow, a strip of yew was attached. A thick
coating of the tendon of an animal1 was then moulded all round
the horn and yew, in order to hold these parts together, and to add to
the power of the bow by its great elasticity. The bow was finally thickly
coated with glue, or skin covered with varnish. This was done as a means
of resisting damp from the outside and to keep the inside parts of the
bow soft and pliable, by hermetically sealing them from contact with the
I need scarcely point out that a bow of solid horn would be useless
in a crossbow. Such a bow, being comparatively very short in relation to
its length and substance, would be sure to fracture. The word ' horn '
merely referred to the heart or backbone of the composite bow, to distinguish
it from a solid wooden bow, or from a steel one.
Victor Gay, for instance, in the ' Glossaire Archeologique,' gives an
extract from Gilles le Bouvier dated 14552 Le Bouvier writes
as follows : - 'These people (Bavarians) are good crossbowmen on
horseback and on foot, and shoot with crossbows of horn and sinew, which
are good and strong and do not break. Those of horn do not break when they
are frozen, for the colder it is the stronger they are.'
The smaller and more ancient crossbow with a composite bow was probably
strung by the hands alone, as described by Anna Comnena, p. 57. The larger,
such as those of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, by means of a
leathern thong and a pulley, or by the aid of a claw attached to the crossbowman's
belt, and in the case of mounted men by a goat's-foot lever.
1 This ligament or tendon, was the ' ligamentum
colli,' or pack-wax, of the ox or horse, and differs from the other ligaments,
in that it possesses great elasticity. The ' ligamentum colli,' or ligament
of the neck; supports the heavy head of the horse in an erect position,
without the least muscular effort on the part of the animal. If, however,
the horse lowers its head to the ground to feed or drink, this ligament
is so elastic that it then lengthens fully two inches. When the horse commences
to elevate its head again, after it has ceased to feed, the ligamentum
colli at the same time contracts, and thus enables the animal to lift its
head without any exertion. The mediaeval crossbowman cleverly utilised
this very powerful and elastic ligament as a means of adding strength to
his bow. It was also sometimes used for the skein of the Roman catapult.
2 Gilles le Bouvier—French chronicler, born
1386, died about 1457.