Ethnographic Arms & Armour

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Matchlock 22nd March 2014 04:29 PM

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Hi Micke,

Here is my translation of Bielz's 1934 essay. As it turned out it was important work to do because the author at one instance obviously confused crossbows with arquebuses.
He also mentions the eight Sibiu crossbows in the museum in Budapest.


From the Weapons Collection of the Baron Brukenthal Museum
by Dr. Julius Bielz (1934)
2. The Hermannstadt Crossbows

Among the assault weapons in this collection, 25 crossbows from the end of the 15th century deserve closer attention. They, too, are based on the old weapons stock of Hermannstadt (now generally called Sibiu in Romania; translator’s annotation) and can be identified as products of this city. Their predecessors, the bow and arrow, had already been manufactured in numerous workshops of the bowyers’ guild, which, even as late as 1492, had been assigned a city defense tower of their own (turris Arcusicum).
In 1474, the prince of Walachia, Basarada II cel Bátráu, sent his people to Hermannstadt in order to purchase bows, shields etc. Thanks to its easy handling, the bow stayed in use for a long time. It was still in 1536 that the Transylvanian war order decreed that those Saxon citizens who were less well-off with a capital of 6 fl. had to march out equipped only with a mace, lance or javelin, a war axe, shield and a bow and arrows. Nonetheless, not one single bow has been preserved up to today. Besides the bow, the crossbow as the earliest mechanic distance hand weapon was increasingly often applied and played an important role, even after the invention of hand firearms, until the beginning of the 17th century. The municipal access control registers around 1500 passed down the names of the masters “Hans, Jorg, Mathias, Michael and Wolfgang Armbruster” (Armbruster in German means crossbow maker).

In the supply of the sartorial guild of 1478, we find 11 “baliste” (crossbows) and a few years later “8 new arembrwst und ein aldet” (8 new crossbows and 1 old). According to the additions of supplies of 1492 and 1493, in the 19 towers controlled there were 117 “arumprost”, 15 “arumprost vynden” (cranequins), many thousands of “arumprost fyl und bogefyl” (crossbow bolts and arrows for bows). Beneath today’s academic high school, in the direction of the Fleischergasse (butchers’ alley), there was the shooting range where painted pavises, or a wooden bird on a pole, were aimed at with both crossbow and bow. On such occasions, and over years, municipal bills of 1 flor. occur for the “sagittario arcuum” (Latin, for bowman), the “sagittario ballistarum ad avem” (crossbow man practicing at the bird on the pole), for the “sagitariis pixidum et ballistarum” (arquebusiers and crossbow men), the “sagittario ballistarum ad tharschen” (crossbow man practicing at pavises) and for the “sagittario ballistarum pro clenodio dato” (crossbow man practicing for a small gift).

Municipal bills in the archives of Kronstadt have recorded the prices of the crossbows: in 1541, 1 fl. 17 asp. were paid “pro 4 arcubus”, and “pro 4 arcubus
4 fl.”

Bielz obviously made a mistake here: he translated arcubus as crossbow, but it definitely means (h)arquebus, a light, portable firearm. There is no reason why the formerly used Latin word balista should have been replaced now by arcubus. Also, the term sagitariis pixidum (cf. previous paragraph) was clearly employed to label the Büchsenschützen (arquebusiers), in contrast to the crossbow men. An additional fact being that by 1541, even in Transylvania, firearms must have played a decisive part in defending a city, and Bielz’s former assumption that crossbows were important until the early 17th century seems to be due to his confusing the terms arumprost and arcubus. Finally, Bielz does not cite any later references to crossbows from period sources, just because these weapons were outdated for warfare by ca. 1520 at the latest.

Another bill of 1501 documents the manufacturing of crossbow bolts in Hermannstadt: “Clemens bolzmacher percepit pro faciendis telis flor. 1” (Clemens, maker of quarrels/crossbow bolts, received 1 flor.)

All crossbows in this collection were made in the German/Nuremberg style, as is shown by a comparison with the crossbows on the paintings The Resurrection and The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, by the Nuremberg painter Hans Pleydenwurff (+1472) in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg. They mainly consist of the bow, the long tiller (German: Säule) and the device to cock and release the lock mechanism. The crossbow 10321 (fig. 1) is especially well preserved. The bow measures 80 cm, its width in the center is 6 cm, tapering towards the ends; to obtain both high buoyancy and resilience, the bow is composed of several layers of baleen placed on top of each other and glue-laminated. Over the whole length of the underside a wooden layer, 5 mm thick, is toothed with the baleen. To keep it from bad weather, the bow is covered with birch bark. On the latter there is a thin layer of white dye which was printed black using a hand block and conveys a great contrast to the shiny white underneath. This contrast is repeated all over the bow’s surface and on the underside as well, displaying hunting scenes in intertwining embellishment, including the Hunyadi coat-of-arms, a raven holding a ring in his beak. At both ends, the hunting scenes are interrupted by an elongated triangle displaying a recumbent stag at its base. Above the stag’s head there is a banderole with the name “merten schyuer” (Merten is Old South German for Martin) in Gothic minuscules. The complete representation is nestled by a delicate bordure of embellishment, showing the stylistic features of the late 15th century.

The bow string consists of homespun laid hemp rope centrally entwined with a hemp thread. The tiller is of yew wood and fixed to the bow by a binding of hemp cord reaching through a transfixion of the tiller and enveloping the bow tightly. A mesh of leather straps fixates the sturdy iron stirrup (German: Stegreif) to the bow. When bending the bow, the crossbow man put his foot in that stirrup.

The tiller is decorated with bone inlay. A smooth layer of bone on the upper surface of the tiller serves as a support for the quarrel/crossbow bolt, showing a slightly elevated guiding groove for the latter at its extreme end. This support for the quarrel is fixed to the tiller with a strong rivet. At about the middle of the tiller there is the device for cocking and release. A cylindrical bone disc is halfway embedded in the tiller, 24 cm back of its upper end and secured by a thread, to hold the rope when the bow is drawn:
the Faden-Nuß (threaded tumbler). The drawn rope engages in a recess of the tumbler while simultaneously a notch of the tumbler takes the rear end of the quarrel. In the cocked position, the tumbler is held by a two-armed knee lever which rotates on a transversal iron bolt. To prevent it from wearing, the rest cut into the tumbler has an iron fitting to it. A spring consisting of horn presses the forward, shorter arm of the long tiller trigger into that tumbler rest while at the same time the rear, longer trigger arm is pushed downward. To disengage, the crossbow man’s hand presses the trigger upward, in the direction of the tiller, and the forward lever is raised from the tumbler rest allowing the latter to rotate forward and let the string go.
The strength of his arms alone did not suffice for the crossbow man to bend the bow; another transversal iron bolt (German: Windenknebel) 31 cm back of the tumbler marks the point where a simple spanning tool (German: Geißfuß) or a cranequin (German: Winde) had to be engaged. The weight of this crossbow is 4,35 kg.

The other crossbows in that collection are quite similar, preserved somwhat better or worse, and of similar measurements; two of them show a black and white decoration of the bow representing a dragon with his jaws wide open, and both his tongue and tail ending in rich foliage. Their decoration is edged by a narrow lozenge bordure (inv.nos. 9938 and 9939, fig. 4). The bow of another crossbow, 9940, is printed at both ends, in the same technique as described, with a unicorn in an elongated triangle, while the rest is decorated with a black zigzag pattern.
All other crossbows are adorned with some sort of pressed snakeskin pattern in black and red alike. 8 crossbows of that kind in the Hungarian National Museum Budapest originate from Hermannstadt.


I ignored translating the footnotes as they all refer to original sources in the museum and/or municipal archives of Sibiu and cannot be checked by distant students like us anyway.

Referring to the decoration of the finest crossbow, I attached the coat-of-arms of the Hunyadi family.


Matchlock 22nd March 2014 05:59 PM

Hi Micke,

I guess we could need your contacts to the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest some day!
Thanks for the offer! ;)


Micke D 22nd March 2014 07:42 PM

Thank you very much for the translation Michael!

I didn't know that you should do it right away, your the man!
I will comment on Bielz text tomorrow.

Matchlock 23rd March 2014 01:32 PM

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Just a short aside from the Romanian crossbows.
I've got images of one of the greatest rarities ever: a whistling crossbow bolt! (German: Heulbolzen). The air in those holes made it whistle and howl as it went, producing a psychologically dramatic effect on the side of the opponents.
This is the only one I have ever seen in 40 years, museums, auctions - all.


Matchlock 23rd March 2014 04:59 PM

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As it seemingly is nearly impossible to find a genuinely Gothic bow and arrows of Northwestern European provenance - even the museum in Sibiu cannot produce one single item - , I decided to post this Mongolian set of 13th/14th century date, the period of Genghis Khan.


Matchlock 23rd March 2014 09:12 PM

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A good and nicely patinated cranequin, Nuremberg, ca. 1550/60; the belt hook missing.
The brass-inlaid maker's mark on the gear case, a mill wheel, is known from similar cranequins. There are records in Dudley S. Hawtrey Gyngell's book Armourers Marks that the mark can be attributed to a Nuremberg smith with the initials D.M.; the m doubtlessly stands for Müller (miller).


Matchlock 10th April 2014 05:44 PM

Originally Posted by Micke D
Thank you very much for the translation Michael!

I didn't know that you should do it right away, your the man!
I will comment on Bielz text tomorrow.

Hi Micke,

Are you there?
We're still anxious to read your comment announced on March 22!


Micke D 11th April 2014 03:59 AM

I have had my hands full with other stuff, but I will try to write something down during this weekend Michael!

Matchlock 11th April 2014 11:07 AM

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These crossbow bolts, the hafts grown musty, I photographed in the Museum Nordico (City Museum) of Linz/Austria in 1989, when they were on display in an old chest, together with rare quoits and a bundle of matchcord.

For more on these rarities, please see my thread on incendiary items:,


Matchlock 11th April 2014 06:38 PM

Originally Posted by Micke D
I have had my hands full with other stuff, but I will try to write something down during this weekend Michael!

I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts! ;)


Matchlock 12th April 2014 01:31 PM

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This is an unusually fine German - Nuremberg or Augsburg made - cranequin of ca. 1565-70, the gear case and ratched bar both profusely etched.
Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum London, M.73-1925.


Matchlock 12th April 2014 02:00 PM

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A very fine German Late Gothic crossbow, ca. 1450-70, together with an important contemporary cranequin that ranges among the finest of its kind preserved worldwide; the gear case is decorated and pierced with Gothic tracery in brass. The three other known specimen the quality of craftsmanship of of which compares to this sample are in the Churburg collection, Schluderns, South Tyrol, and the Odescalchi collection, Rome.
Also some crossbow bolts.
Cleveland Museum of Arts, Ohio.


Matchlock 12th April 2014 02:16 PM

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Here are the fine Late Gothic cranequins preserved in the collection of Churburg Castle, Schluderns, South Tyrol (top attachments), and in the collection of the Princes Odescalchi, Rome.


Micke D 13th April 2014 11:54 AM

Hi Michael, and everybody else!

At first I would like to write a few words about the cranequin in post #276.
I think this could also be a cranequin that is bit older than 1550-1560. My guess is as early as 1500-1520 maybe. This piece has a combination of an older looking tooth bar and a younger looking housing.

The hooks on the tooth bar that grips the string is of a late 15th c style, not usually seen in the late 16th c. They are most often of a more robust type and a simpler in shape. The tooth bar looks like it is a bit wider than it is high; in the 15th c they usually were more or less as wide as they were high. I can’t see if it has a lighting grove in the tooth bar, which would also be a 16th c feature.

The housing on the other hand looks like a quite simple cranequin, not something fancy for showing off at the latest hunting trips, but a good working type of cranequin. The housing looks a bit wider than the 15th c cranequins. The holder for the rope ring has a flat bottom, and not a curved one as in the 15th c; they were made flat because the 16th c crossbow tillers were built wider where the cranequin stood on the tiller. Many late 15th c crossbows have pressure marks in this area because the tiller is to thin/weak.

My own taste is for the late 15th c crossbows. I don’t like the more robust tiller that came in the 16th and later centuries as much, but with the late 15th c crossbows the makers had a crossbow where the form had won over function. There are many examples of pressure marks from the cranequin on the tiller, broken side horn plates at the nut and banana shaped tillers, where the tiller is higher at the ends than at the nut.

Micke D 13th April 2014 12:16 PM

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I forgot the pictures I was going to show.

The black and white picture shows the rounded under side of the rope holder, used in the 15th c.

The two pictures with the beige colored rope sling shows both the typical 15th c string hooks and also a rounded rope holder, but this one flat in the middle to sit better on the quite narrow late 15th c style tillers. Earlier 15th c tillers were rounder where the cranequin sat.

The last picture supplied by Michael shows a cranequin from 1504 with the 16th c style of string hooks.

Micke D 13th April 2014 04:34 PM

Hello again Michael!

I have been intrigued since I first read in Harmuths book about the crossbows in Hermannstadt, now Sibiu. 25 war crossbows that have been hanging in storage in an armoury between the late 15th/early 16th century and the 1930’s. Totally awesome! If they still are kept together and if it’s true that they have been hanging like that all this time, they are the only group of crossbows that I know of that we can for example use to check if a city/region has a specific measurement for the bolt to fit between the nut fingers. I saw that your friend didn’t think that, but I don’t think he have checked a group like these. Even if he has examined hundreds of crossbows, I guess they have moved between different collections during the years.

One thing that I find interesting with these crossbows is that most of them seem to have an iron hook behind the nut for a “riemenrollenspanner”, cord and pulley, and not the cranequin pegs as most other crossbows at the time, (even though the examined crossbow in the article seems to have both pulley hook and cranequin pegs). Many other crossbows from this part of the world seem to have pulley hook only.

Many of the crossbows seems also to be both long and quite sturdy, they also weigh a bit more because of that. It’s apparent from the article that a few of the horn bows were quite nicely decorated, even though they were weapons of war. I have seen discussions about that before, and I believe that in an age without advertising it would be smart to advertise your work as a crossbow maker like this. Many can see the fine crossbows of the city watch.

The composite bows could have been made by baleen “whale bone” but I guess it’s more likely that they were made by ordinary horn, even though it could very well be Ibex, stone goat horns, that is rated better than most other horns. Fritz Rohde also mentions whale bone in his article from 1934. I don’t think anyone could say for sure at that time what they were made of.

That's all for now,

Matchlock 15th April 2014 07:56 PM

Hello Micke,

Thank you for sharing all your reflections.
In order to reply substantially, I'd like to talk to my friend, the collector of earliest crossbows and accouterments.
Of course you are absolute correct emphasizing that the great number of 25 war crossbows preserved at their original place in Sibiu since the 15th century is unique.

The fact should considered, though, that there are some other old collections in Germany and Austria that hold Gothic crossbows, cranequins, quivers and bolts that have been exactly there since they were made more than 500 years ago:

- the famous Castle of Churburg, Schluderns, South Tyrol
- Schloss Ambras, Tirol, although many of their important items have been transferred to the Hofrüstkammer Vienna and to the Bavarian National Museum Munich in the 1860's when those central museums were founded
- the former arsenal of Straubing, now officially called the Gäubodenmuseum, a small city in Lower Bavaria, just some 50 km from where I live. I will post the two very fine and early (ca. 1430-40!) Late Gothic crossbows still preserved there, and a third crossbow from the Straubing arsenal is now in the collection of the Deutsche Jagd- und Fischereimuseum Munich; the right front side of the tiller of all three of them is branded with the capital letter S, the 15th c. arsenal mark of Straubing

Best wishes,

Micke D 16th April 2014 06:07 AM

Aha, I have seen an extremely nice S-marked crossbow with a hook for the riemenrollenspanner at Deutsche Jagd- und Fischereimuseum Munich, but i didn't know that the S on it stood for Straubing.
Nice to learn more things, and I would very much like to see more photos of these crossbows!


Matchlock 16th April 2014 12:23 PM

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Well, Micke (and all!),

After an hour spent scanning my 25 year-old analog photos and photoshoping, here finally are the two Gothic war crossbows from the former arsenal of the City of Straubing, Lower Bavaria, and a third Straubing crossbow in the Deutsche Jagd- und Fischereimuseum Munich now.
As not a single one of all the Straubing weapons has been on display since the 1960's nobody knows them - nobody but me. I photographed them in the reserve collection.
With their long, slender and almost delicate tillers they still reflect the High Gothic stylistic taste of ca. 1400, and were pobably made in about 1430-40. Together with the fine sample from the Harold L. Peterson collection, which now is in the collection of a friend of mine, they range among the earliest surviving crossbows, not much younger than the oldest known specimen of ca. 1400, preserved in the Stadtmuseum Köln (Cologne).

The tillers of all three of the Straubing crossbows are branded at the right-hand forward section with a capital letter S, the 15th c. arsenal mark of Straubing. They are still equiped with the iron hook for engaging the cord of the pulley (Riemenrollenspanner), the predecessor of the cranequin, which - telling by the oldest known records of period artwork, especially altar paintings - seems to have entered the scene around ca. 1440.

The measurements of the two crossbows still preserved in Straubing are:

1. tiller length 89 cm, length of composite bow (stated to be of yew wood in the 1882 inventory) 76 cm, diameter of bowstring 1.25 cm, position of nut 24 cm rearward of the staghorn foresight, length of iron tiller trigger 45 cm, iron stirrup 12 x 10 x 9.5 cm, maximum thickness 2 cm. The original leather binding of both the bow and stirrup missing.

2. tiller length 85 cm, and consisting of either limewood or maple, length of composite bow 73 cm, retaining traces of red paint at both ends, position of nut 25 cm rearward of the staghorn foresight, length of tiller trigger 43 cm, iron stirrup 14 x 9.5 x 12 cm. The original leather binding of both the bow and stirrup missing.

The 1882 inventory is remarkable for listing two more crossbows of exactly this type, one of them in all probability being the specimen in the Munich museum of hunting and fishing referred to above, plus a third one of late 15th c. type, and equiped with tiller lugs for engaging the cord of a cranequin. All three of them must have been deaccessioned between the two World Wars of shortly after WW II.

Author's photographs.


Matchlock 16th April 2014 12:30 PM

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The remaining photos of the second Straubing crossbow, plus some of the former Straubing crossbow that is in the Deutsche Jagd- und Fischereimuseum Munich now, the tiller also branded with a capital letter S, the 15th c. arsenal mark of Straubing.

Author's photographs.


Matchlock 16th April 2014 05:10 PM

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Another Late Gothic war crossbow, 2nd half 15th century, in the Deutsches Jagd- und Fischereimuseum Munich, and a contemporary quiver, the wooden core covered with boar skin (heavily rubbed), the hinged leather lid missing from the top.

Author's photographs.


Matchlock 16th April 2014 05:17 PM

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Not quite within the timeframe of this thread but also on display in the Deutsches Jagd- und Fischereimuseum Munich are these cossbow bolts for target practice; contrary to the finely made Krönlein-Bolzen (crown's head bolts) of ca. 1520-40, these are of 17th/18th c. date and show significantly less swamping and craftsmanship of their heads.

They sometimes turn up at an auction and usually are dated '15th/16th c.' which is way too early.
For comparison, I attached photos from such bolts in international auctions; only one single war bolt in the second lot is of 15th/16th c. date. The crown heads of crossbow bolts for target practice that actually were made in the 1st half of the 16th c. were much more elaborate. Once seen contrasted side by side, the difference is striking.

Autor's photographs.


Matchlock 16th April 2014 05:35 PM

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Three more photos belonging to the previous post.


Matchlock 16th April 2014 05:53 PM

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For comparison, some finely wrought crown's head crossbow bolts (Krönlein-Bolzen) of ca. 1520-40 (the three in the center), the others 17th/18th c.


Matchlock 16th April 2014 06:00 PM

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Two Late Gothic cranequins in the Deutsches Jagd- und Fischereimuseum Munich.
The first Nuremberg, ca. 1480-90, the crank making a bad fit and most probably not belonging. The maker's mark inlaid in brass, two crossed arrows, is a well known Nuremberg workshop mark that obviously was struck over more than 50 years and, of course, from various stamps. It is found on cranequins ranging from the late 15th (this cranequin in discussion) to the mid-16th century (a cranequin dated 1540 in the collection of a friend is the latest dated sample I know of), many of which are dated. It is also known in some variations from a heavy wrought-iron haquebut barrel of ca. 1460/70 and from finely wrought Nuremberg arquebus barrels dated 1537 and 1539 respectively. Thus it must have belonged to a prolific Nuremberg ironworks workshop.

Please see

The second ca. 1500, combining old stylistic elements like the claws and the brass inlaid lid of the gear case pierced with Gothic tracery, with new features characteristic of the Early Renaissance period, like the relatively broad and short rack.
The date assigned by the museum, 'ca. 1560', falls far short of reality.
The maker's mark, a serpent inlaid in brass, is known from other contemporary cranequins. The side of the gear case is pierced twice with the Gothic ornament of a quatrefoil.
There is a recess on both sides right before the claws, possibly a former dovetail for two small brass plates that would have perfectly matched the brass covered gear case. The combination of wrought iron and brass is characteristic of ironworks of the transitional Late Gothic/Early Renaissance style at the turn of the 15th to the 16th century.


Matchlock 16th April 2014 06:31 PM

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The damaged wooden crank handle of the cranequin discussed in the previous post.

Matchlock 16th April 2014 06:51 PM

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A fine, early 16th c. crossbow in the Deutsches Jagd- und Fischereimuseum Munich, the slender tiller completely veneered with plaques of white staghorn and decorated with incised parallel lines.
This object marks the first stage of the utilization of wrought iron bows instead of using bows composite of laminated and glued horn and wood. In many instances - and obviously in the case of this piece in discussion! - , the composite bow was replaced by an iron one, which is visible because of the wider recess at the front of the tiller required by the composite bow that had to be filled with wood; thus, the tiller was recycled and modernized.
This bow retains its original coating of parchment or paper dyed in the basic Late Gothic colors red, green and white.

Attached below is a photo of an interesting object: a cranequin etched, signed and dated HZ 1630. As the overall appearance suggests a date of 'ca. mid 16th century' I am prone to believe that the etched decoration may have been added in 1630. Any opinions on this thesis?


Micke D 17th April 2014 06:46 AM

Lovely Michael!

I would say that your Straubing #2 is the oldest and most interesting of the three, (made in like 1410-1420?), and a bit of a missing link between the older type like W1109 in Köln made maybe around 1400 and the other two Straubing crossbows made as you say about 1430-1440.


Matchlock 17th April 2014 04:29 PM

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You are doubtlessly right, Micke,

At least as far as formal and stylistic dating criteria are concerned.

With its overall proportions, especially the long and delicate tiller, plus the straight tiller trigger (trigger bar) which is rectangular still and does not yet show the rounded knee-like forward bow, the Straubing crossbow #2 indeed seems, in terms of period, very close to the general High Gothic style of around 1400, as depicted by Konrad Kyeser in Bellifortis, Eichstätt/Bavaria, 1405 (top attachment), the Köln crossbow W 1109, with his curved bow now finally mounted the correct way - although some museum people stilll are convinced it looked 'more authentic' before (in their inexpert eyes only), on a painting of ca. 1430 depicting a mounted crossbow man, and on a Bavarian painting from an altar piece, ca. 1420-25, whereas two miniatures in the Stundenbuch (book of hours) of Katharina von Kleve, ca. 1440, seem to represent a remarkably more evolved type.

On the other hand, this could lead to the conclusion that the Köln crossbow is even older - ca. 1370-80?!

Actually the facts probably were more or less the same as in all former armories, the Landeszeughaus Graz etc.: whenever a series of no matter what kind of weapons was ordered the pieces showed minor differences depending on whether an older fellow had kept and continued his obsolete style, or maybe a few younger working next to him had adopted the more recent style.

Would you rank the Straubing crowssbow now in the Jagdmuseum between the two others, or closer in style to no. 1?

Attachments appearing in the order referred to in the text.


Matchlock 18th April 2014 05:28 PM

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Some very early sources of period illustrations depicting crossbows - and proving that shapes of the trigger bar that we would date '2nd half 15th c.' seem to have existed more than 200 years ago!

Attachments, from top:

- Maciejowski Bible, ca. 1245-50 (5)

- Liber ad honorem Augusti, Southern Italy, ca. 1194-96, Burgerbibl. Berne/Switzerland

- ca. 1225-50

- Codex Manesse, ca. 1305 (2)

- Spain or Portugal, 12th c., National Archive Lisbon (thanks, Nando! ;)

- Siege of Cologne by the Huns, early 15th c.

- crossbow stored in its leather case (!), 1st half 15th c.

- Luttrell Psalterium, ca. 1330, British Library


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