Crossbows were already known in ancient China but, apparently, were invented again in Europe around the 5th century BC. They had good range and were more powerful that most of the bows, although it took much longer for them to load. A crossbowman could shoot an average of two arrows per minute.
Crossbow bow is held horizontally and fired by a trigger that released the taut rope. To load it, a soldier would hold the front of the weapon to the ground, holding it with your foot. He then could pull the rope up and back with both hands or with the help of a crank. Crossbows fired bolts or linear arrows, which were much shorter than the typical arrows. The arrows had feathers to provide stability in flight and a sharp metal tip.
The archers used to carry a few large shields to protect themselves while they crouched to reload their weapons. Thus they formed a wall that protected them. When they were shooting, were only visible their crossbows and their heads with helmets. If they had to fight a similar force of long-range archers, usually they were forced to retreat.
The crossbow was a deadly and very popular weapon for the simple reason that almost no training needed to handle it. Soldiers with little experience could learn its management very quickly, and a well-aimed shot could kill a gentleman who had spent entire life training in the arts of war. Crossbows were considered unfair in some circles (in the Knights, mainly) because a little skill required. Richard I of England, Lionheart, was wounded twice by crossbow, the second with fatal consequences. The idea that a man of his greatness was mortally wounded as easily by a common soldier, was unbearable for the nobility. In the 12th century, a Pope tried to prohibit the use of crossbows as inhumane.
The bows used in the Middle Ages were of several types: short-range bows, compound bows and long-range bows. Short-range bows measuring between 1 and 1.20 meters in size, and were fairly simple to manufacture and handle. They were the type of bow used most frequently. They had a medium-range, accuracy and strength, and required a good experience and a perfect training so that their use would be effective.
Composite bows were originating in Asia. They were formed by sheets of wood tied together. The sheets turned them into powerful bows, but required greater strength and training. This relatively short bow was the favorite weapon of archers riders, mainly from the Mongols and other Asian people who were specialists in horse riding. A variant of the composite had outwardly curved ends (which was achieved by heating it to steam and curving the blades during the manufacturing process). This curved bow was more powerful and required a high degree of strength and dexterity.
Long-range bows originated in Wales, and from there went to England. Almost two meters long, manufactured from a single piece of wood. Long-range bow arrows were up to a meter long. The wide-tipped arrows could penetrate the leather armor, causing lacerations, and were used to combat infantry. Also, there were arrows of narrow tip that penetrated the Mesh or Dickies and fired against the armored warriors.
To shoot long bow successfully, it was necessary to have enough training and practice. Men skilled in this type of weapon could shoot six well-directed arrows per minute. This kind of bow could reach targets at long-range and was quite powerful. Numerous contingent of experienced archers were a devastating force in many of the battlefields of the Middle Ages. They could fire both individual arrows and a rain of arrows towards a particular area.
In the battles of the Middle Ages, ranged weapons and projectiles of all types played an important role. They were used as weapons of attack against individual targets on the battlefield and during sieges. In some cases they were used as weapons against a certain given area on the field.
The firing of arrows and projectiles allowed to cause casualties from a distance. The archers were used as light troops to deplete the forces and to decrease the morale of the army enemy, causing losses before the start of the battle. If they could weaken or affect the enemy forces, your chances of winning the battle increased.