Middle Ages Technologies


by: AJ Maroney

The various crossbows of the Middle Ages were fairly powerful; however their failure during the Hundred Years War discredited the powerful inventions in Europe forever.

Even interesting crossbows in Asia such as the Chu-Ko-Nu and its predecessor, the Ts’an Lien were powerful, yet their inaccuracy and short range caused these incredible weapons to stay in China forever. The Chu-Ko-Nu was a truly amazing, having the ability to fire ten bolts in under twenty seconds. It was the machine gun of crossbows, having a ten bolt magazine. A crank, pulling back the string before the next bolt fell into place, operated the weapon. There were a couple of problems with the Chu-Ko-Nu, such as the fact that it had a short range, only 50-75 yards, and also the way it was fired made it inaccurate. Rather than being shot from the shoulder, like crossbows of Europe , the Chu-Ko-Nu was fired from the waist. The idea of this crossbow was first conceived by Chu-Ko-Lien during the Han Dynasty, and he also invented the Ts’an Lien, a smaller version of the Chu-Ko-Nu that had only a four bolt magazine. The Chu-Ko-Nu was used up until the Boxer Rebellion in China (Nov. 2 nd, 1899- Sept. 7 th 1901).

Even though the Chinese crossbows never made their way to Europe , the French were inventing and using single-shot crossbows of their own. French soldiers during the Hundred Years War between England and France (1337-1453) used the wooden crossbow almost exclusively. This was a very convenient weapon, mostly because of its ease of use and good amount of power. However, the English had a very powerful weapon as well. The longbow was the favored ranged weapon in England for multiple reasons. Its range was up to a half mile, and it was devastatingly powerful against the French. This weapon was defeating the crossbow on every front, and the longbowmen’s volleys had a much better range than that of the crossbow, not to mention it was decently accurate for something of its range.

The French were being defeated everywhere they turned, most famously at the Battles of Poitiers and Crecy. The crossbow was pretty much unwanted by people due to its defeat. This led to the steel crossbow, a truly amazing weapon, being generally overlooked.

The steel crossbow was invented 33 years into the war. This amazing invention, also known as the arbalest, was more powerful, had a longer range, and was easier to use than the English longbow. However, the losses of its predecessor had caused people to think twice when they considered using a crossbow of any kind for war against the English. This crossbow, however, had a range of up to 25 yards over your average longbow. An average peasant could also use it fairly easily after just a week of training. However, the longbow was admittedly more accurate than the steel crossbow, so it could still potentially defeat the crossbows, as shown in the battle of Agincourt. The average 15 th century crossbow, despite its potential range, had a range of only 370-380 yards. While that seems like a really, really long distance, it was pathetic at the time. The crossbows were used very efficiently, however, and coupled with the sudden uprising of Saint Joan d’Arc likely led to the end of the Hundred Years War.

The tactics used by the French Crossbowmen were ingenious. The crossbowmen would have carried tower shields with them and used them as cover for when they were reloading the devastating weapons. When firing, only the crossbowmen’s helmeted heads would poke out, and as soon as they fired they would drop back down to reload. This tactic was used to minimize the number of French casualties and could have even been used by other missile armed troops.

In conclusion, I think that the crossbows invented and used in the Middle Ages were incredibly important to the ranged warfare in those times. However, people today seem to just overlook the amazing inventions.