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A crossbow is a bow with a rifle-like stock that shoots shorter arrows (sometimes referred to by the medieval term "bolts" or "quarrels").

  • The crossbow is believed to have existed for more than 2000 years, long before gunpowder was invented in China. No one knows where the crossbow was created. It might have been developed in Asia and brought to Europe by early explorers, or possibly it was developed simultaneously on both continents. Early crossbows were used as military weapons and as sport hunting tools of the nobility. Early crossbows were cumbersome and heavy. They also were difficult to cock and usually required a lever called a goat’s foot or a geared cocking aid known as a cranequin.
  • Eventually, the crossbow was replaced as a military weapon by the English longbow because a longbowman could release up to six arrows in the time it took a crossbowman to launch one. With the advent of black powder, rifles and cannons replaced bows and catapults in military use. However, longbows and crossbows remained popular for sport hunting and target shooting. In Europe today, crossbow clubs still hold target competitions with participants wearing period dress and shooting reproductions of ancient crossbows.
  • Because most of the immigrants to the New World were commoners and the crossbow was the sporting tool of nobility, the crossbow did not travel with the early settlers to North America. Instead, European settlers brought black powder firearms to protect and provide for their families.