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Stirrup crossbow, French, 14th century—Courtesy of the West Point Museum Collections, United States Military Academy
Leading missile weapon of the Middle Ages, consisting of a short bow fixed transversely on a stock, with a groove to guide the missile and a trigger to release it. The missile, known as a bolt, was usually an arrow or dart. First used in antiquity, it was an important advance in warfare. Its destructive power came from its metal bow, which could propel a bolt with enough velocity to pierce chain mail and gave it a range of up to 1,000 ft (300 m). Powerful and versatile, it remained in use even after the introduction of the longbow and firearms and was not discarded until the 15th century. It has been used in modern times to hunt big game.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on crossbow, visit Britannica.com.