Switzerland or South Germany, ca. 1460
Wood, bone, animal tendon, birch bark, hemp cord, leather, iron and horn
length of shaft 78.5 cm, length of bow 70 cm
The crossbow was the most important long range weapon in the late Middle Ages. The inventory of the Basle armoury in 1361 names as many as 143 crossbows owned by the city. But despite technical improvements the crossbow had been superseded by firearms as a military weapon by 1500, and from then on it was used only for hunting and sport. This Late Gothic crossbow still has a horn bow, unlike later examples with a steel bow. The core of the bow is made up of several layers of horn glued together. On the back of the bow (target side) a number of layers of animal tendon are applied; birch bark is used to protect the costly bow bar from drying out. The shaft, of fruitwood, is partly faced in bone. On both sides of the shaft, at the front, a small Basle crosier (facing left) is burnt in. This type of crossbow with a large stirrup had to be drawn with a hook. The bowman knelt on one knee, put his other foot in the stirrup, engaged the hook attached to the strap on the string and bent the bow by standing up. When Wilhelm Tell performed his famous shot with a crossbow the weapon took on symbolic value in Switzerland; today a crossbow is often stamped as a sign of quality on Swiss products.