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Dunkle AnsichtHelle Ansicht

Crossbow with steel bow and rack and pinion winch

Key data

dated 1565

Switzerland or South Germany

Steel, wood, ivory, hemp cord

length of bow 60 cm, length of shaft 63 cm

Inv. 1888.99.

Inv. 1888.99.a.


In the late C15 steel bows replaced those made of laminated horn. The innovation brought many advantages: the power of the crossbow was significantly increased, and the steel bow bar suffered no damage from wet or dry conditions, nor did it lose its elasticity if kept drawn for along time. Its disadvantage was that it could only be drawn using a rack and pinion winch, which slowed the firing rate. Despite technical improvements the crossbow had reached the end of its useful life as a weapon by about 1500. By then soldiers with firearms could shoot at archers from beyond the effective range of the crossbow. But as a hunting and sporting weapon for the upper classes the crossbow held its place for a long time afterwards. The wooden shaft of this crossbow has rich ivory inlays. The underside shows at the front St Mary Magdalene with a skull and the date 1565, and at the back the Roman heroine Lucretia. Hunting scenes are shown on the sides of the shaft. The juxtaposition of the virtuous Roman and the repentant Christian sinner is typical of the age of humanism and suggests that the crossbow was ordered by a cultured buyer.

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Basel Historical Museum
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Steinenberg 4
PO box
CH – 4001 Basel

Reception: +41 61 205 86 00

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