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The Crossbow   >  Chapter 11  >  Crossbow with Composite Bow  >  p.64

Table of Contents List of Illustrations Index Appendix

The Crossbow

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 page.

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 atmosphere.

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.


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Inspired by the great war machines and siege catapults of Leonardo da Vinci , this all Red Oak hardwood trebuchet features an open counterweight cabinet for range and trajectory adjustment. 

Fire with an empty counterweight for indoor use, or add weight (nuts, bolts, scrap lead, iron or steel, sand, or small rocks – not included) for increased range.

Individually crafted from cabinet-grade red oak, the da Vinci Trebuchet stands 14 inches tall in the cocked position, 24 inches tall in the fired position and will hurl a projectile up to 60 feet. Includes six projectiles and fully illustrated instructions.

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