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
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 inv.no. 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:
(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, inv.no. 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.