Military Review

Crossbow in Russian. Self-arrows of warriors


The battle of Novgorod-Seversky troops with the Polovtsy. Novgorod on the left uses a crossbow. Illustration from the Rodziwill Chronicle /

Old Russian warriors actively used throwing weapon all kinds - bows, streets, etc. .. Not later than the XII century. Armed with rati, the first crossbows or self-arrows appeared. Such weapons, showing high combat qualities, gained a certain distribution and remained relevant for the next several centuries.

Issue of origin

The origin of the Old Russian crossbow used to be a subject of controversy. For some time, the version about borrowing such weapons from the Volga Bulgars was very popular. This happened during the armed clashes of the second half of the fourteenth century.

However, the annals contain earlier evidence of the use of self-arrows. Many archaeological finds confirming the data of the annals are also known. Due to this, the period of the appearance and development of the first self-arrows was able to move to the XII century. In addition, chronicles and finds made it possible to clarify history Old Russian throwing weapons.

Crossbow in Russian. Self-arrows of warriors
European crossbow of the beginning of the XV century. Similar designs were used in Russia. Photo courtesy of V. Shpakovsky

The first mentions of self-arrows are found in the Nikon and Radziwill annals in descriptions of the events of the second half of the 12th century. Fights with the use of such weapons took place in Novgorod and Chernigov, which allows us to estimate the approximate area of ​​its distribution at that time. In the annals there are drawings that accurately show the design of weapons.

Available data suggest that Ancient Russia borrowed crossbows from its western neighbors. By that time, crossbows were widespread in Europe, and Russian warriors could not miss them. Thus, the "Bulgarian" version seems untenable.

Short story

In various archaeological complexes on the territory of the Russian principalities, many tips of crossbow arrows, parts of self-arrows, etc. were found. However, some findings are of great interest. So, when exploring the city of Izyaslavl, they found the remains of a shooter, in the equipment of which there was a belt hook for tensioning the bowstring. The city was destroyed no later than 1241, and by this time its defenders had self-arrows. It is curious that the hook of the Izyaslav crossbow is one of the oldest things of this kind in all of Europe.

The scheme of the belt hook from Izyaslavl. The head part of the product (left) was fastened with rivets to the belt, at the opposite end - two hooks for a bowstring. Figure

In the same period, the rifles of the Rus continue to be mentioned in domestic chronicles; the first references in foreign chronicles also appear. Soon, the crossbow becomes a constant "hero" of the chronicles and illustrations to them. Such weapons were actively used in all major battles over the next two centuries.

Interesting mentions of gunshots are found in descriptions of the battles for Moscow with the troops of Tokhtamysh. In the future, according to the annals, crossbows were actively used as a defensive weapon of fortresses. This period includes references and descriptions of both hand-guns and larger stationary or portable products. With their help, increased forged bolts or hewn stones were thrown.

European goat leg tensioner. Photo courtesy of V. Shpakovsky

The last mentions of crossbows in the army are in documents of the late 15th century. In 1478, Ivan III sent an army to Novgorod, equipped with cannons and beeper guns. In 1486, the Russian ambassador Georgy Perkamot told the Milan authorities about Russia. He mentioned that earlier the Germans brought Russian guns and muskets to the Russians, and such weapons were widespread.

In the future, self-arrows are referred only as storage units. In particular, they are present in the inventories of the property of Boris Godunov and the Armory, compiled in the XVII century. Apparently, these were products of respectable age, made long before the compilation of inventories.

Self-shooter of the late period. Illustration from the "Historical Description of the Clothing and Arms of the Russian Forces" A.V. Viskovatova

It is believed that the Russian crossbow went out of use in the troops a little earlier than the European crossbow. However, the lack of mention is not always associated with the lack of exploitation of weapons. However, the lack of direct evidence does not allow us to adjust the existing picture.

There are no exact data on this subject, but it is known that the crossbow was never truly a massive weapon of the Old Russian army. In terms of numbers, it was seriously inferior to bows that were easier to manufacture. During excavations, a significant number of arrows and crossbow bolts were found, but the proportion of the latter does not exceed 2-5 percent. of their total number.

design Features

Unfortunately, the chroniclers did not leave exact technical descriptions of the gunshots, although a number of chronicles contain drawings showing such weapons. They are not very accurate, but still allow some conclusions to be drawn. In addition, there are archaeological finds showing the construction of the crossbow, its ammunition and auxiliary devices included in the shooter's equipment.

Another version of the crossbow Russian production. Illustration from the "Historical Description of the Clothing and Arms of the Russian Forces" A.V. Viskovatova

By their design, Russian self-arrows were as close as possible to foreign crossbows. The same architecture was used; various new developments were regularly borrowed and introduced. At the same time, some solutions were probably not used or not widely used here.

The basis of the design were wooden plow (bed) and iron, steel or horn bow. The trigger mechanism was based on the simplest lever. Such a design could be performed on different scales - both in the form of hand weapons, and as an easel system for fortress walls. Archaeological finds show that in Russia there were crossbows pulled with a belt hook. There is also reason to assume the presence of weapons with a gear-rotary mechanism. Apparently, the goat leg linkage was borrowed from foreign weapons.

Self-arrows and a bolt. Illustration F.G. Solntseva to the "Antiquities of the Russian state"

The main ammunition for the gunshot was a bolt based on a wooden pole and a metal tip. By their design, Russian-made crossbow arrows were similar to foreign ones. Over time, the design of the bolt underwent some changes, which allowed to increase combat qualities.

The bolts of the early periods had tips of the cuttings type, driven into the shaft. The mass of the tip did not exceed 20-40 g. In the XIV century. began widespread tips with a sleeve. They were stronger and heavier until 40-50.

From the findings, a gradual change in the shape of the tip can be observed. The oldest samples had an acute triangular shape and a square section. Then the elongation of the tips decreased, and the section was transformed into a rhombus. Then rhombic tips appeared. There were products of laurel-shaped form - they could have a rhombic or flat section.

Types of crossbow arrowheads of the XII-XV centuries. Table from the "Hand throwing weapons" A.F. Medvedev

It is easy to see that the change in the shape of the crossbow tips was directly related to the development of armor. The pointed triangular tip with a square section was effective against chain mail, but with the advent and spread of plate armor, it gave way to rhombic. This allowed the self-arrows to show maximum effectiveness against the actual armor of the enemy.

Thus, the hand-gun was considered as the main means of combating the protected infantry or cavalry of the enemy. Heavy easel crossbows, in turn, used mainly stones - a convenient tool against accumulations of manpower attacking the fortress. Despite the relatively small number, self-arrows of all kinds made a certain contribution to the fight against the enemy in different conditions.

From the war to the hunt

Abroad and in Ancient Russia, self-arrows were initially used as a military weapon. They maintained this status for several centuries, and the situation changed only with the advent of early firearms. The muskets squeaked and first replaced the crossbows, and then completely decommissioned them as obsolete weapons.

Foreign hunting crossbow of the XVI century. The design uses all the major developments in combat systems, including mastered by Old Russian gunsmiths. Photo courtesy of V. Shpakovsky

Over time, the crossbow ceased to be exclusively a military weapon and mastered hunting work. After leaving the army, he remained in the arsenal of hunters and continued to serve in a new capacity. However, as in the case of military weapons, hunting systems were of limited distribution. The crossbow was distinguished by relative complexity, which limited its potential in all areas.

At the forefront of progress

It is easy to see that the old Russian crossbow crossbow as a whole repeated the fate of a number of other weapons. This product was borrowed from foreign armies and introduced in accordance with their own needs. To the extent possible, independent refinement was carried out or foreign solutions were borrowed. Due to this, the weapon always corresponded to current requirements and allowed the warriors to successfully solve combat missions. However, the emergence and spread of a fundamentally new firearm hit the potential and prospects of propelling systems.

The crossbow left a certain mark in the military history of Ancient Russia. Later, he found application in hunting, and by now has become a sports equipment. With all this, the crossbow confirmed that its design has great potential. And borrowing is necessary and useful - if you take and implement them wisely.
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  1. The leader of the Redskins
    The leader of the Redskins 28 November 2019 18: 02
    Thank. I learned a lot. I always believed that a crossbow is a purely European type of weapon, but no, and it turned out to be with us ...
    1. horus88
      horus88 28 November 2019 18: 13
      historically we are not separable from europe.
      And the crossbows and the Chinese had
      1. Fat
        Fat 29 November 2019 01: 16
        Quote: horus88
        historically we are not separable from europe.
        And the crossbows and the Chinese had

        You should probably recall the Chinese cho-ko-well, multi-charged crossbows. It is believed that this weapon was invented in the 2nd century by the commander Juge Liang.
    2. The comment was deleted.
      1. Earthshaker
        Earthshaker 28 November 2019 19: 38
        You deserved plus. I’ll add that in ancient Greece, horror was used - hand crossbows that rested in the stomach before a shot. From them it was possible to shoot both bolts and shells made of stones.
        1. Gleb-Kiev
          Gleb-Kiev 29 November 2019 19: 06
          The settings were not "resting on the stomach before the shot," but erected using the weight of the body with the bed resting on the stomach.
          Crossbow-like stone-throwers are found in chronicles, hunters used crossbow-like traps. The Chinese had numerous variations - from manual to easel.
          And the cited Russian self-arrows with classic rifle butts are 18c products, hunting ones.
    3. Aviator_
      Aviator_ 1 December 2019 13: 56
      Crossbow is a European name. Samostrel - Russian. Used until the beginning of the twentieth century in hunting. Even in the story of Vitali Bianchi, which he wrote at the very beginning of the twentieth century, mention is made of a crossbow mounted by a hunter on a banner near an animal trail.
  2. marshes
    marshes 28 November 2019 18: 28
    In Russia, crossbows did not take root, it was just a short time. There were no heavy armor, and there were no wars with use. And pretty quickly the firearms came, relatively.
    Yes, the Mongol-Turkic short bow quickly came into use, not as a military weapon but as a hunting one.
  3. The comment was deleted.
  4. Saxahorse
    Saxahorse 28 November 2019 23: 17
    Good article, thanks!

    A folding goat leg is a very curious invention. It’s not immediately clear how to use it. But it turns out to cling to the protrusions.

    The gain is non-linear, increasing from about 3.5 to 7 times.
    1. voyaka uh
      voyaka uh 1 December 2019 00: 04
      Thank you, it became clear how the "goat leg" was used. good
  5. Nikolaevich I
    Nikolaevich I 29 November 2019 01: 43
    Archaeological finds show that in Russia there were crossbows pulled with a belt hook. There is also reason to assume the presence of weapons with a gear-rotary mechanism. The author turns out to be summing up !? And in my school years I was leafing through a book describing the exhibits of the State Historical Museum, where crossbows were shown with a "swing mechanism" ... Yes, I will not argue that there are many "imported samples" ... Western European, like, however, the "eastern" weapons were constantly bought and received as a gift ... But they, nevertheless, were ... so the constructions and devices were known! And whether or not "copies" were made - this is the "master's" business! Maybe they didn't really want to! Other devices were more familiar! Yes, and there are different books, which say, for example: "The remains of a crossbowman with a belt hook for pulling the bowstring, found during excavations in the ruins of the fortress tower of the Volyn city of Izyaslavl (it is believed that the fortress in Izyaslavl was founded in the middle of the XII century and fell during the Horde invasion of 1240), and also found in the cultural layer of the XIII century in the city of Vshizh, an iron toothed gear, which is a part of a rack-and-pinion gate. In Russia, such gates for pulling the bowstring of crossbows were called braces. The well-known Ipatiev Chronicle for 1291 mentions the "great and small" roving crossbows among Russian soldiers."
    1. Fat
      Fat 29 November 2019 16: 37
      Most sources are not available. Either hidden or lost. It is doubtful that the crossbow came to Russia from the west, rather to Europe through Russia from Asia. The ability to hit enemy forces from hidden positions without unmasking was "unconventional." Therefore, it did not receive distribution everywhere
      1. AllBiBek
        AllBiBek 30 November 2019 18: 11
        Meanwhile, but to whom and why is a crossbow needed to the East of Russia, when there is a Mongolian composite bow, which is both quick-firing and long-range?
        1. Fat
          Fat 30 November 2019 22: 08
          It is impossible to shoot from a bow while lying down or from cover. The archery archery’s training time is several times longer.
          1. AllBiBek
            AllBiBek 1 December 2019 11: 54
            Uh ... Do not tell me where you can read about the practice of using crossbows from a lying position, except on the pages of cheap fantasy?
            1. Fat
              Fat 1 December 2019 21: 43
              Quote: AllBiBek
              Uh ... Do not tell me where you can read about the practice of using crossbows from a lying position, except on the pages of cheap fantasy?

              Shooting lying from a gunshot is practiced while hunting with the use of this weapon. In the version of archerie biathlon with a crossbow. The shooting technique is so obvious that no one delays in the description of the process.
        2. voyaka uh
          voyaka uh 1 December 2019 00: 07
          A bow is a weapon of professionals. Crossbowmen are poorly trained soldiers.
          1. AllBiBek
            AllBiBek 1 December 2019 11: 57
            Uneducated soldiers were given peaks and clubs with spikes, and a crossbow was a very expensive weapon for its time. And a shot from it also flew a pretty penny. You can google the cost of the full equipment of a medieval arbalester, you will immediately understand why they received twice as many pikemen for their service.
            1. voyaka uh
              voyaka uh 1 December 2019 12: 16
              You are right, I put it unsuccessfully.
              I wanted to say that archery is a great art. It takes a lot of training. But then you can shoot accurately at long distances. An archer can be compared to a modern sharp shooter field sniper.
              The Mongol-Tatar warriors trained a lot from childhood, and the results were "lethal".
              A crossbowman can be compared with a submachine gun.
              1. AllBiBek
                AllBiBek 1 December 2019 12: 25
                Equestrian archer - yes, but on foot - shooting infantry. In the same antiquity, slingers were valued more. Most peasants for the time being quite so tolerably handled hunting bow, this is if we take European realities. The local successes of the same English archers against the French knighthood have been analyzed more than once, but there the approach to unifying the parameters of weapons worked just right, yew is yew, he kept a limited number of shots, but they were all about the same, in the sense that the tree gave the same parameters and on the first shot, and on the twentieth, that is, the equal power of a single volley was achieved. Before that, only Assyrians could boast of such a thing, only 2,5K years before. And also due to the strict unification of growth onions. Something like this.
                1. Saxahorse
                  Saxahorse 1 December 2019 19: 54
                  Quote: AllBiBek
                  Most peasants for the time being quite so tolerably handled hunting bow, this is if we take European realities.

                  That is European, and strictly Western European. Neither in the Middle East, nor in Central Asia, nor in China, nor in Korea with Japan will you find peasant archers. There were no banal conditions for hunting with a bow. Archery without years of training is hopeless. But a crossbow or crossbow in this regard is much easier. At the same time, the design of simple hunting guns did not differ in complexity. All made of wood.
  6. Basarev
    Basarev 29 November 2019 16: 38
    Available data suggest that Ancient Russia borrowed crossbows from its western neighbors.

    Now it’s fashionable to declare everything in a row borrowed, attributed either to the Germans or the Bulgars, but not to the Russians themselves. Is there really not a single weapon of the original Russian invention? It's a shame when a country is put up with a garbage dump without a single thought.
    1. Lekov L
      Lekov L 29 November 2019 19: 12
      Yeah! What about a brush? fellow
      And on the topic - in childhood, soon it will be 45 years old, made a crossbow from a piece of steel spring. strings from a piano, a bicycle pedal instead of a "goat's foot". Surprised by its power (two 20mm boards by a bullet from Makarov from 10 meters through), after the tests, disassembled and hid, then left to study and forgot, but was impressed by the power forever!
      Thanks for the topic, with respect ... hi
      1. AllBiBek
        AllBiBek 1 December 2019 12: 01
        On the subject of bristle - known since the days of the Ancient Kingdom (this is Egypt). Granite, drilled, for walking, clear stump, battle. If you are talking about a wolfbreaker, they were known and actively used by the Pazyryk people, these are our all Princess of Ukok. If it broke on a chain link folded into eight, mounted on a long hilt, it came from the West after the Hussite Wars.
        1. Lekov L
          Lekov L 1 December 2019 18: 48
          AllBiBek (Anatoly)
          known since the Ancient Kingdom (this is Egypt). Granite, drilled, for walking, clear stump, battle. If you are talking about a wolfbreaker, they were known and actively used by the Pazyryk people, these are our all Princess of Ukok.

          You see: beat, battle flail, etc. No! stop Our brush is everything! good A short cord (rawhide strap - a loop up to 40 cm) is a small weight (a weight for market traders, a purse with copper for buyers from there) of moderate weight and no imported morgensterns with spikes - this is not ours.
          Everything is worn in a pocket (sleeve, behind a belt) and is called a gentle soft word brush (roll on the tongue - beauty!)
          Sincerely, and sorry for the banter. wink Any weapon (except maybe an intricate Afro-Indian one) almost always has a bunch of analogues.
          Thank you colleague for the joy of the conversation. hi
    2. AllBiBek
      AllBiBek 30 November 2019 18: 07
      There is. Berdysh. It is in the format of what you know as a reed; full-length stabbing and chopping ax. There is also a Polish reed, it is known earlier (the word "reed" was first mentioned in the chronicles of Dlugosh), but there it is just a hatchet with a semicircular blade, some of which have even been found.
    3. AllBiBek
      AllBiBek 30 November 2019 18: 10
      About the Bulgars - well, there are several finds of supposedly crossbow bolts on the pre-monoguy, but in general, if I remember correctly the Novgorod annalistic vaults, the Novgorodians still met Dobrynya with crossbows, the one who "baptized Dobrynya with a sword, and Putyata with fire."