The crossbows were already known in ancient China but apparently invented again in Europe around 900. They had a good reach and were more powerful than most bows, although it took them much longer to load. A crossbowman could fire an average of two arrows per minute.
The bow of the crossbow was held horizontally and triggered by a trigger that released the tight rope. To load it, the fighter pointed with the front of the weapon to the ground, holding it with his foot. He could pull the rope up and back with both hands or with the help of a crank. The crossbows fired arrowheads, which were much shorter than the typical arrows. The arrows had feathers to provide stability in flight and a sharp metal tip.
The crossbowmen used to wear large shields with wooden clamps to protect themselves as they bent down to carry their weapons. In this way, they formed a wall that protected them. When they fired, only their crossbows and heads covered with hooves were visible. If they had to fight against a similar force of long-range archers, they were usually forced to retreat.
The crossbow was a very popular deadly weapon for the simple reason that it did not require almost any training to handle it. The soldiers with little experience could learn their handling very quickly, and a well-directed shot could kill a knight who had spent all his life training in the arts of war. The crossbows were considered unfair in some circles (in the knights, mainly) because they required a little skill. Richard I of England, Heart of Leon, was twice wounded by crossbow firing, the second with fatal consequences. The idea that a man of his greatness was so easily mortally wounded by an ordinary soldier was unbearable to the nobility. In the twelfth century, a Pope tried to ban the use of crossbows as inhumane.