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Medieval Artillery
Article by: Erik Roth - Mediaeval Arts

Article Features At A Glance
Artillery Defined
Types of Arrows

The combination of bows and arrows was called artillery. This was the original meaning of the word, later expanded to include ordnance. Bows were of two major categories, handbows and crossbows. Handbows were made of wood, either straight or curved by heat bending. There is a possibility that some European handbows were of composite construction but there is no real evidence of this. Some hand bows were longbows. Nowadays the meaning of the word longbow has become confused. In the middle ages it meant a wooden handbow long enough to shoot the longer arrows, taking at least a draw to the ear, and would be of about the archer's own height or longer, up to six and one half feet in the case of the great longbow to shoot yard long arrows.

Longbows are still used, albeit by few in recent decades, and it is these that we know most about, but the shorter handbows were more usual in mediaeval times, especially for hunting. They were drawn to the breast, sometimes to the face. Short Saracen or "Turkish" handbows of composite construction; (a wood core strip, a sinew back and horn belly) were in limited use in Europe from the Crusades onward, and the type had been in general use in Asia from time immemorial.

Handbows have been used in Europe for at least eight thousand years, but crossbows are a newer innovation. They seem to have originated in China, and Roman armies who had derived them from the Middle East first brought them to Europe, but they did not become popular until the crusades began, and with them, the influence of the Middle East. The crossbow consisted of a wooden stock called a tiller and a bow of wood, composite construction, or steel. The Saracens were crossbow specialists but they used at least one type of European origin. Crossbows were also called arbalests, from the French.

Not all bows were meant to shoot arrows, nor were all arrows meant to be shot from bows. Both handbows and crossbows had from ancient times been made for shooting stones or pellets only, and were then called stonebows. A type of crossbow for this purpose was called a Rodd.


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