Repeating crossbow

Last updated
Repeating crossbow, Chu (state) Warring States Repeating Crossbow (9873085485).jpg
Repeating crossbow, Chu (state)
A non-recurve repeating crossbow. Ones used for war would be recurved Zhugenu-payne.jpg
A non-recurve repeating crossbow. Ones used for war would be recurved
Naval battle scroll depicting Korean soldiers utilizing repeating recurve crossbows during the Imjin War Navalzhugenu.jpg
Naval battle scroll depicting Korean soldiers utilizing repeating recurve crossbows during the Imjin War

The Zhuge Nu is a handy little weapon that even the Confucian scholar or palace women can use in self-defence... It fires weakly so you have to tip the darts with poison. Once the darts are tipped with "tiger-killing poison", you can shoot it at a horse or a man and as long as you draw blood, your adversary will die immediately. The draw-back to the weapon is its very limited range. [1]

According to the Wu-Yue Chunqiu (history of the Wu-Yue War), written in the Eastern Han dynasty, the repeating crossbow was invented during the Warring States Period by a Mr. Qin from the State of Chu. This is corroborated by the earliest archaeological evidence of repeating crossbows, which was excavated from a Chu burial site at Tomb 47 at Qinjiazui, Hubei Province, and has been dated to the 4th century BC, during the Warring States Period (475 - 220 BC). [2] Unlike repeating crossbows of later eras, the ancient double-shot repeating crossbow uses a pistol grip and a rear-pulling mechanism for arming. The Ming repeating crossbow uses an arming mechanism that requires its user to push a rear lever upwards and downwards back and forth. [3] Although handheld repeating crossbows were generally weak and required additional poison, probably aconite, for lethality, much larger mounted versions appeared during the Ming dynasty. [1]

In 180 AD, Yang Xuan used a type of repeating crossbow powered by the movement of wheels:

...around A.D. 180 when Yang Xuan, Grand Protector of Lingling, attempted to suppress heavy rebel activity with badly inadequate forces. Yang's solution was to load several tens of wagons with sacks of lime and mount automatic crossbows on others. Then, deploying them into a fighting formation, he exploited the wind to engulf the enemy with clouds of lime dust, blinding them, before setting rags on the tails of the horses pulling these driverless artillery wagons alight. Directed into the enemy's heavily obscured formation, their repeating crossbows (powered by linkage with the wheels) fired repeatedly in random directions, inflicting heavy casualties. Amidst the obviously great confusion the rebels fired back furiously in self-defense, decimating each other before Yang's forces came up and largely exterminated them. [4]

Ralph Sawyer

The invention of the repeating crossbow has often been attributed to Zhuge Liang, but he in fact had nothing to do with it. This misconception is based on a record attributing improvements to the multiple bolt crossbows to him. [5]

During the Ming dynasty, repeating crossbows were used on ships. [4]

Although the repeating crossbow has been used throughout Chinese history and is attested as late as 19th century Qing dynasty in battle against the Japanese, it was generally not regarded as an important military weapon. The Wubei Zhi , written during the 17th century, says that it was favored by people in the southeast but lacked in strength and its bolts tended not to harm anyone. The functions of the repeating crossbow listed in the text are primarily non-military: tiger hunting, defending fortified houses, and usage by timid men and women. According to the Tiangong Kaiwu , also written during the 17th century, the repeating crossbow is only useful against robbers. [6] [4]


Repeating crossbow
The earliest extant repeating crossbow, a double-shot repeating crossbow excavated from a tomb of the State of Chu, 4th century BC
Ming dynasty repeating crossbow Imperial Encyclopaedia - Military Administration - pic267 - Zhu Ge Quan Nu Tu .png
Ming dynasty repeating crossbow

The repeating crossbow combined the actions of spanning the bow, placing the bolt, and shooting into a one-handed movement, thus allowing for a much higher rate of fire than a normal crossbow. The most common repeating crossbow design originated from the Ming Dynasty and consisted of a top-mounted magazine containing a reservoir of bolts which fed the crossbow using gravity, a rectangular lever attached to both the tiller and the magazine, and a tiller mounting the prods with a stock. By holding the tiller firmly against the hip while pushing and pulling the lever forwards and backwards, the user was able to catch the drawstring on to side notches at the back of the magazine while loading the bolt. A sliding lug nut at the back of the magazine pushed the drawstring out of the notches once the lever is fully pulled backwards; with the tiller pushing the nut up and enabling the drawstring to propel the loaded bolt. The Korean version mounted the magazine at the end of a longer stalk as well as a pivoting recurve bow as a prod; increasing the drawspan, range, and performance of the crossbow. Additionally, both the Ming Dynasty in China and the Joseon Dynasty in Korea developed variations that either shot two to three bolts per draw or fired pellets in place of bolts.

An earlier version originated from the State of Chu during the Warring States period and used a different design. It consisted of a tiller mounting a fixed double magazine on top as well as a pistol style grip at the bottom beneath the prods mount. Instead of an overhand lever for arming and shooting, it used a sliding lever that had a handle tied to the end with chord. The lever was pumped forwards and backwards with one hand while the user held the pistol grip firm with the other hand; in a manner similar to drawing a regular bow. Within the crossbow, the lever was embedded with a special metal trigger composed of a latch and sear; the entire trigger being shaped like a crab's claw arm. Upon pushing the lever forward, the trigger was moved forward to catch the drawstring and becomes locked firm by friction and tensional forces from grooves inside the mounting lever and sear. Upon being drawn back, the draw string is spanned while the double magazine fed two bolts onto the firing slots on either side of the trigger once the drawstring is almost fully drawn. At the very end of the pulling action, the sear comes in contact with a round bar that holds the sliding lever in place. The bar pushed the sear forward to release the trigger and enable the drawstring to propel the two loaded bolts. Ultimately, it was superseded by the aforementioned design from the Ming Dynasty due to being overtly complex with weaker performance.


Fired from the hip, the bolts were fired in sequence from pumping the cocking lever forward and backward, arming and releasing in a continuous cyclic process until the magazine was emptied. This rocking action did not allow for precise firing, nor the ability to sight along the barrel as in a crossbow or a modern gun. [4]

Liang Jieming

The basic construction of the repeating crossbow has remained very much unchanged since its invention, making it one of the longest-lived mechanical weapons. The bolts of one magazine are fired and reloaded by simply pushing and pulling the lever back and forth. [7]

The repeating crossbow had an effective range of 70 meters and a maximum range of 180 meters. [8] Its comparatively short range limited its usage to primarily defensive positions, where its ability to rapidly discharge 7–10 bolts in 15–20 seconds was used to prevent assaults on gates and doorways. [4] In comparison, an arbalest could only deliver about two bolts a minute. The repeating crossbow, with its smaller and lighter ammunition, had neither the power nor the accuracy of an arbalest. Thus, it was not very useful against more heavily armoured troops unless poison was smeared on bolts, in which case even a small wound might prove fatal. [7]

See also


  1. 1 2 Loades 2018.
  2. Lin, Yun. "History of the Crossbow," in Chinese Classics & Culture, 1993, No.4: p. 33–37.
  3. Unique weapon of the Ming Dynasty — Zhu Ge Nu (諸葛弩) , retrieved 16 April 2018
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Liang 2006.
  5. Needham 1994, p. 8.
  6. Needham 1994, p. 161-162.
  7. 1 2 Gallwey, Sir Ralph (1990). "The Crossbow" (Ninth Impression ed.). The Holland Press. p. 337.
  8. Needham 1994, p. 176.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Crossbow</span> Type of pre-gunpowder ranged weapon

A crossbow is a ranged weapon using an elastic launching device consisting of a bow-like assembly called a prod, mounted horizontally on a main frame called a tiller, which is hand-held in a similar fashion to the stock of a long firearm. Crossbows shoot arrow-like projectiles called bolts or quarrels. A person who shoots crossbow is called a crossbowman or an arbalist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arquebus</span> Type of long gun appearing in 15th century Europe

An arquebus is a form of long gun that appeared in Europe and the Ottoman Empire during the 15th century. An infantryman armed with an arquebus is called an arquebusier.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Musket</span> Muzzle-loaded long gun (firearm)

A musket is a muzzle-loaded long gun that appeared as a smoothbore weapon in the early 16th century, at first as a heavier variant of the arquebus, capable of penetrating plate armour. By the mid-16th century, this type of musket gradually disappeared as the use of heavy armour declined, but musket continued as the generic term for smoothbore long guns until the mid-19th century. In turn, this style of musket was retired in the 19th century when rifled muskets using the Minié ball became common. The development of breech-loading firearms using self-contained cartridges and the first reliable repeating rifles produced by Winchester Repeating Arms Company in 1860 also led to their demise. By the time that repeating rifles became common, they were known as simply "rifles", ending the era of the musket.

The recorded military history of China extends from about 2200 BC to the present day. Chinese pioneered the use of crossbows, advanced metallurgical standardization for arms and armor, early gunpowder weapons, and other advanced weapons, but also adopted nomadic cavalry and Western military technology. China's armies also benefited from an advanced logistics system as well as a rich strategic tradition, beginning with Sun Tzu's The Art of War, that deeply influenced military thought.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hand cannon</span> Early firearm, 13th-15th century

The hand cannon, also known as the gonne or handgonne, is the first true firearm and the successor of the fire lance. It is the oldest type of small arms as well as the most mechanically simple form of metal barrel firearms. Unlike matchlock firearms it requires direct manual external ignition through a touch hole without any form of firing mechanism. It may also be considered a forerunner of the handgun. The hand cannon was widely used in China from the 13th century onward and later throughout Eurasia in the 14th century. In 15th century Europe, the hand cannon evolved to become the matchlock arquebus, which became the first firearm to have a trigger.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Polybolos</span> Ancient Greek siege engine

The polybolos was an ancient Greek repeating ballista, reputedly invented by Dionysius of Alexandria and used in antiquity. The polybolos was not a crossbow since it used a torsion mechanism, drawing its power from twisted sinew-bundles.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fire lance</span> Early gunpowder weapon

The fire lance was a gunpowder weapon and the ancestor of modern firearms. It first appeared in 10th–12th century China and was used to great effect during the Jin-Song Wars. It began as a small pyrotechnic device attached to a polearm weapon, used to gain a shock advantage at the start of a melee. As gunpowder improved, the explosive discharge was increased, and debris or pellets added, giving it some of the effects of a combination modern flamethrower and shotgun, but with a very short range, and only one shot. By the late 13th century, fire lance barrels had transitioned to metal material to better withstand the explosive blast, and the lance-point was discarded in favor of relying solely on the gunpowder blast. These became the first hand cannons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Tangdao</span> Battle during the Jin-Song wars

The Battle of Tangdao (唐岛之战) was a naval engagement that took place in 1161 between the Jurchen Jin and the Southern Song Dynasty of China on the East China Sea. The conflict was part of the Jin-Song wars, and was fought near Tangdao Island. It was an attempt by the Jin to invade and conquer the Southern Song Dynasty, yet resulted in failure and defeat for the Jurchens. The Jin Dynasty navy was set on fire by firearms and Fire Arrows, suffering heavy losses. For this battle, the commander of the Song Dynasty squadron, Li Bao, faced the opposing commander Zheng Jia, the admiral of the Jin Dynasty. On the fate of Zheng Jia, the historical text of the Jin Shi states:

Zheng Jia did not know the sea routes well, nor much about the management of ships, and he did not believe. But all of a sudden they appeared, and finding us quite unready they hurled incendiary gunpowder projectiles on to our ships. So seeing all his ships going up in flames, and having no means of escape, Zheng Jia jumped into the sea and drowned.

<i>Huolongjing</i> 14th-century military treatise from the early Ming dynasty (1368–1683)

The Huolongjing, also known as Huoqitu, is a Chinese military treatise compiled and edited by Jiao Yu and Liu Bowen of the early Ming dynasty (1368–1683) during the 14th-century. The Huolongjing is primarily based on the text known as Huolong Shenqi Tufa, which no longer exists.

<i>Wujing Zongyao</i> 11th century Chinese military manuscript

The Wujing Zongyao, sometimes rendered in English as the Complete Essentials for the Military Classics, is a Chinese military compendium written from around 1040 to 1044.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of gunpowder</span> Aspect of history

Gunpowder is the first explosive to have been developed. Popularly listed as one of the "Four Great Inventions" of China, it was invented during the late Tang dynasty while the earliest recorded chemical formula for gunpowder dates to the Song dynasty. Knowledge of gunpowder spread rapidly throughout Asia and Europe, possibly as a result of the Mongol conquests during the 13th century, with written formulas for it appearing in the Middle East between 1240 and 1280 in a treatise by Hasan al-Rammah, and in Europe by 1267 in the Opus Majus by Roger Bacon. It was employed in warfare to some effect from at least the 10th century in weapons such as fire arrows, bombs, and the fire lance before the appearance of the gun in the 13th century. While the fire lance was eventually supplanted by the gun, other gunpowder weapons such as rockets and fire arrows continued to see use in China, Korea, India, and eventually Europe. Bombs too never ceased to develop and continued to progress into the modern day as grenades, mines, and other explosive implements. Gunpowder has also been used for non-military purposes such as fireworks for entertainment, or in explosives for mining and tunneling.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thunder crash bomb</span>

The thunder crash bomb, also known as the heaven-shaking-thunder bomb, was one of the first bombs or hand grenades in the history of gunpowder warfare. It was developed in the 12th-13th century Song and Jin dynasties. Its shell was made of cast iron and filled with gunpowder. The length of the fuse could be adjusted according to the intended throwing distance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of crossbows</span>

It is not clear where and when the crossbow originated, but it is believed to have appeared in China and Europe around the 7th to 5th centuries BC. In China the crossbow was one of the primary military weapons from the Warring States period until the end of the Han dynasty, when armies composed of up to 30 to 50 percent crossbowmen were not unheard of. The crossbow lost much of its popularity after the fall of the Han dynasty, likely due to the rise of the more resilient heavy cavalry during the Six Dynasties. One Tang dynasty source recommends a bow to crossbow ratio of five to one as well as the utilization of the countermarch to make up for the crossbow's lack of speed. The crossbow countermarch technique was further refined in the Song dynasty, but crossbow usage in the military continued to decline after the Mongol conquest of China. Although the crossbow never regained the prominence it once had under the Han, it was never completely phased out either. Even as late as the 17th century, military theorists were still recommending it for wider military adoption, but production had already shifted in favor of firearms and traditional composite bows.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gun</span> Ranged weapon that shoots projectiles

A gun is a ranged weapon designed to use a shooting tube to launch projectiles. The projectiles are typically solid, but can also be pressurized liquid, gas or even charged particles. Solid projectiles may be free-flying or tethered. A large-caliber gun is also called a cannon.

Gunpowder weapons in the Song dynasty included fire arrows, gunpowder lit flamethrowers, soft shell bombs, hard shell iron bombs, fire lances, and possibly early cannons known as "eruptors". The eruptors, such as the "multiple bullets magazine eruptors", consisting of a tube of bronze or cast iron that was filled with about 100 lead balls, and the "flying-cloud thunderclap eruptor", were early cast-iron proto-cannons that did not include single shots that occluded the barrel. The use of proto-cannon, and other gunpowder weapons, enabled the Song dynasty to ward off its generally militarily superior enemies—the Khitan led Liao, Tangut led Western Xia, and Jurchen led Jin—until its final collapse under the onslaught of the Mongol forces of Kublai Khan and his Yuan dynasty in the late 13th century.

This is a timeline of the history of gunpowder and related topics such as weapons, warfare, and industrial applications. The timeline covers the history of gunpowder from the first hints of its origin as a Taoist alchemical product in China until its replacement by smokeless powder in the late 19th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gunpowder weapons in the Ming dynasty</span>

The Ming dynasty continued to improve on gunpowder weapons from the Yuan and Song dynasties. During the early Ming period larger and more cannons were used in warfare. In the early 16th century Turkish and Portuguese breech-loading swivel guns and matchlock firearms were incorporated into the Ming arsenal. In the 17th century Dutch culverin were incorporated as well and became known as hongyipao. At the very end of the Ming dynasty, around 1642, Chinese combined European cannon designs with indigenous casting methods to create composite metal cannons that exemplified the best attributes of both iron and bronze cannons. While firearms never completely displaced the bow and arrow, by the end of the 16th century more firearms than bows were being ordered for production by the government, and no crossbows were mentioned at all.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chinese siege weapons</span>

This is an overview of Chinese siege weapons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military history of the Song dynasty</span>

The military history of the Song dynasty encompasses military activity of the Han Chinese state of Song from 960 AD with the overthrow of Later Zhou until 1279 AD when China was conquered by the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military of the Yuan dynasty</span>

The military of the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) were the armed forces of the Yuan dynasty, a fragment of the Mongol Empire created by Kublai Khan in China. The forces of the Yuan were based on the troops that were loyal to Kublai after the Division of the Mongol Empire in 1260. At first this Tamma, a frontier army drawn from all Mongol tribes for conquest of China, had no central organisation but was rather a loose collection of local warlords and Mongol princely armies. However the army was gradually reformed by Kublai Khan into a more systematic force.