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Home > Books > An Essay on Archery > Chapter XII: On the Arbalest.
Chapter XII
On the Arbalest.
Part 1 of 4

IN my refearch with regard to the Long-bow, many facts and obfervations relating to the Arbaleft, unavoidably occured to my notice; and as that weapon was formerly fo generally employed in Europe, for feveral centuries, I have been induced to admit a fhort account of it, among thofe things having a connection with Archery, which it was intended this Effay fhould illuftrate.

We are not informed at what period the Crofs-bow was firft introduced to the world, but it is by fome faid to have derived its origin from the Cretans; by others it is afcribed to the inhabitants of Sicily. Many varieties, on the large fcale, were ufed in the military operations of the Greeks and Romans ; and that fome of thofe engines, called Balliftæ, were contrived on this principle, appears from figures on the Trajan and Antonine pillars. Thefe, however, were exceedingly ftrong, and capable of emitting large javelins; but there were others of fmaller dimenfions, which anfwered the purpofe of the Arbaleft.

Authors difagree, in defcribing that engine called the Scorpion. Ammianus Marcellinus mentions, that it was the fame as the Onager, an inftrument ufed to project ftones.196 Vitruvius contradicts this affertion, and fays, that it was fmaller, and could be managed by a fingle perfon alone; and Ifodorus defcribes it as a particular kind of Arrow.197 But, however true thefe affertions may be, we find that Vegetius exprefsly fays it was the fame as the common Crofs-bow.198

This inftrument is not omitted by Montfaucon. In PL 79. Vol. IV. there is a reprefentation of one which is called by Heron (a great engineer)GREEK TEXT the hand Ballifta, and is fimilar to the ancient Crofs-bow. It is drawn as if compofed of two pieces, the ftock and the Bow. In the middle of the flock, which is a piece of wood, about three times as broad as thick, there is a grove, whofe fides are elevated fomewhat above the furface of the ftock. In this grove, the Arrow is placed ; and the Bow is fixed at the end of it in fuch a pofition, that the ftring fweeps the whole length in difcharging, and catches the Arrow which is placed in it, as thofe modern ones do which fhoot bolts. This kind is properly the Scorpion, and differs in conftruction from the modern Crofs-bow, in the parts from whence the ftring is fet at liberty; which will be hereafter fhewed.

The Ballifta, or Arcuballifta, is faid have been introduced among the Roman weapons, about the time of Conftantine, or rather before;199 but it remained among the arms of the auxiliaries, and feems to have been little efteemed by the regular troops.

Among the Englifh, the firft mention of the Crofs-bow, that I have obferved, is in Speed; who quotes Johannes Pomarius.200 He fays of the Saxons, that their arms were long fpears, broad fwords, and the Crofs-bow.201 This weapon, however, does not appear to have been very much in ufe, till fome years after thofe people firft entered our ifland.

It is not entirely certain what kind of Bow was ufed by the Normans at the defeat of Harold. Mr. Barrington fup. pofes it to have been the Arbaleft, but our old hiftorians fay little on the fubject. Fabian and others mention, that Harold was wounded in the eye, but they do not fpeak of the kind of Arrow which gave the wound.

We may conclude, I think, almoft without a doubt, that William himfelf fhot an Arbaleft. A paffage in Sir J. Hayward's life of that King, fays, that the conqueror "was ftately and majeftical in his figure ; of good ftature, but in ftrength admirable, infomuch as no man was able to draw his Bow, which he could bend fitting upon his horfe, ftretching out the ftring with his foot"

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