The medieval crossbow as surgical instrument: an illustrated case history
BURNS, S.J., ROBERT IGNATIUS (University of San Francisco)
BULLETIN OF THE NEW YORK ACADEMY OF MEDICINE, Vol. 48., No.8, September (1972)
From prehistoric into modern times,physicians have had to arrow wounds. The wars which ceaselessly punctuated man’s progress ensured a stream of victims,to which hunting accidents added their share. Not long ago arrow wounds bedeviled American army surgeons during Indian wars,’and fighting in Vietnam has turned up a few cases. Treatment has varied according to the surprising variety of projectiles involved,the medieval crossbow offering a particular problem. Ranked as a kind of lesser artillery and manned often by elite corps,the ancient crossbow became a dominant weapon on 13th century battlefields, as technical advances improved its range and loading.
The crossbow could be carried loaded, required little training or strength, and propelled its quarrel or bolt with frightening accuracy and force for eighty yards on direct aim and double or triple that on extreme range. Its metal bullet, feathered with wood or leather and bearing one of several types of head, could penetrate deeply. Richard the Lion Heart popularized it in England as his favourite weapon, and died by it The ecumenical council of Lateran II in 1139 and several popes, including the great Innocent III, expressed the general horror at the crossbow’s bloody efficiency by forbidding it in Christian warfare under pain of excommunication; they allowed it only for the defense of Christendom against external enemies. The prohibition, ineffective like so many attempts at arms control, underlines the special problems the crossbow introduced to military medicine. Later in the century, at the French siege of Gerona, a crossbow sharpshooter called his shot and then fired from the town walls into the narrow window of a suburban church being used as a hospital, his bolt piercing both a wounded knight
and his esquire.