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Jun 4, 2012

Medieval Mondays: Chinese repeating crossbow

While we tend to think of automatic weapons as a product of the nineteenth century, the Chinese had developed a multi-shot crossbow as early as the fourth century BC. This crossbow had a magazine that could hold up to ten bolts.

The mechanism was brilliant in its simplicity. A single lever pulled back the string while a bolt from the magazine dropped into place. Once fired, the lever simply had to be pulled back again to drop another bolt into place. A more detailed description of its construction can be read here.

The repeating crossbow was held at the hip or on a stand and was generally used to defend fortified areas. A second person could stand to the side feeding bolts into the magazine, allowing the crossbowman to fire continuously at a rate of about a shot every second to a range of perhaps 80 yards. Accuracy would have been poor since it wasn't fired from the shoulder like other crossbows, and it was somewhat weaker than regular crossbows. Still, a few dozen of these on a rampart firing at a mass of charging enemy soldiers must have had an incredible effect.

Such a useful weapon had a long life. They saw service as late as the 1894-1895 war with Japan. By then, however, their worth was somewhat limited. The Japanese had modern repeating rifles that were far deadlier at a longer range. The Japanese won that war.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.


  1. They were invented in China where they are called Chu-Ko-Nu. They are discussed in detail in Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey's book on crossbows. He even shows simple schematics of how the Chinese repeating crossbow is constructed and operated. The Chinese repeating crossbow would have to be able to be fired several times a round for even a novice. It was designed literally so anyone could pick it up, crank out several shots and be modestly accurate at very close range.

    Hunting crossbow


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