Was there a clear trend throughout early history (say, before 1300 for Europe) to have (or ot have) separate technologies/materials for bows and arrows for hunting purposes, and same-period same-culture bows and arrows for military purposes?
I'm explicitly excluding bow types that were specifically designed for armor penetration (14th century English longbow, crossbow etc… ).
I'm OK with the answers being culture specific - e.g. I would naively expect Mongolian bows to be dual purposed. But a great answer would have more generalized analysis and overview. I am especially interested in cultures whose military opponents weren't heavily armoured.
The only occasions on which a bow is defined solely as a weapon of war are the English longbow, some heavy bamboo or metal bows from India and the asymmetric bows of Japan.
The English yew bow was practised by townsfolk, merchant and commoners alike… not out of choice but by royal edict. It is a powerful bow, long ranged and throwing a heavy arrow, and even though it can be very accurate in the hands of an expert, it is, in reality, medieval artillery, used to "carpet bomb" an area of the battlefield. I challenge you to take such an overpowered, extremely large bow into a wild woodland to hunt roe dear. A smaller flat, self or composite bow is better in such situations. As well as being powerful the medieval longbow is extremely simple in design when compared to say the Holmegaard design that predates it by a couple of millennia.
The war bows of India are a rarity, perhaps due to their lack of durability (bamboo, though more durable than wooden variants in the west is still damaged by excess moisture) in a country that has a LOT of rain in season, or the steel versions which must have cost a fortune to make in their day. I imagine Indian history would be very different if such bows had been mass produced to counter the assault of mounted warriors that plagued the Indian sub-continent.
The Japanese bows of an asymmetric design are purely weapons of war, of a composite design, mostly of bamboo. To be used on foot or mounted.
On the subject of arrowheads, well this topic can, and has filled whole books. And whilst Rincewind42 has the right idea about differing function in arrowheads his observations are incorrect.
As for the mention of Mongolian archers, the concept of the bow to these people, descended from countless tribes who all venerated horses and bows above all else, is completely different to any of the other examples here. The Mongolians and their ancestors practically worshipped the bow (alongside the horse) as a weapon, a tool, for sport, as a symbolic representation of ones manhood and competence.
So @DVK the OP, no, a bow is a bow until the armies of the middle ages, feudal Japan or Gupta empire of India.(and some middle eastern similar)
Likewise an arrow is an arrow, balanced to the the weapon that casts it (search the archers paradox), with differing a head depending on the task at hand, materials/finances available or current trend. A bullet point bodkin for targets, a long tetrahedral or similar to pierce chain or even plate, or a broadhead to slash the arteries and vitals of prey. Of course there are many many more.
Written by a historical reenactor, field and target archer and hunter.
PS. I don't consider crossbows to be the same class of weapons as bows. Crossbows DO show more polarisation depending on their intended use. Lever loaded hunting crossbows vs crank loaded and heavy stirrup loaded for war.
The arrow is the key difference rather than the bow. English longbows were used both for hunting and fighting. When visiting musiums, I usually see just bows described as bows but the arrows described for various purposes.
Both hunting and fighting arrows want to cause damage when hitting the target, and so use blades on the side of the arrow head to maximise the cut on the target. However, a hunting arrow is designed so that it can be easily removed form the animal after it has died. The blades make a diamond or kite shape so that they can be pulled out of the corpse.
In contrast, fighting arrows are designed to be difficult to remove. The blades will have barbed edges making a V shaped head. This is intended to be difficult to remove from the body and pulling the arrow out will cause additional injury to the victim.
There are a range of other head shapes used. These may be intended for cheaper mass production or for use in practice shooting or sport.
The change in bow designs was more about functionality than purpose. Archers were always looking for ways to strike a target at a longer distance, and that had a greater impact on changing styles than trying to determine whether the bow was going to be used for hunting or in battle.
Having said that, archers also recognized that getting an arrow to travel farther did not mean that it would be more accurate. In fact, it was quite the contrary. However, when it came to military situations, the ultimate goal was all about distance and quantity. A thousand arrows shooting a thousand feet were a lot more dangerous and a lot more efficient than a thousand arrows shot from ten or a hundred feet. By firing mass quantities at great distances, you were assured of hitting something. In the meantime, your archers were far enough away that they were not in jeopardy themselves.
This became much more prevalent during siege warfare, and it was effective regardless of which side of the walls you were, but certainly more so for the besieged. While the attackers could fire thousands of arrows into the center of the castle, the defenders had the advantage of being able to seek shelter. The attackers, on the other hand, were more exposed, so they had to stay at a greater distance to keep themselves from becoming victims themselves.
When you contrast this style of warfare to that of the American indian, you find that they basically used only one style of bow for either hunting or doing battle. Since both were done from horseback, they needed bows that were accurate and light weight. They were able to get closer to their prey because the speed of their horses allowed them to move faster. Also, as moving targets, they were harder to hit, so they weren't as concerned about being able to shoot great distances.
History of archery
Archery, or the use of bow and arrows, was developed by the end of the Upper Paleolithic or earlier. Archery has been an important military and hunting skill for over 10,000 years and figures prominently in the mythologies of many cultures.  Archers, whether on foot, in chariots or mounted on horses were a major part of most military forces until they began being gradually supplemented, then replaced, by firearms in the Late Middle Ages and in the early modern period. Gunpowder, which was first developed in China in the 9th century AD, was initially used to enhance projectile weapons including arrows. Firearms diffused throughout Eurasia by the gunpowder empires, gradually reducing the importance of archery in warfare.
Nonetheless, archery is still practiced today, including in the training regime of certain special forces. It also continues to be a popular sport, most commonly in the form of target archery, but in some places also for hunting.
Initially used for hunting, Vikings quickly discovered the effectiveness of bow and arrows in raids. Archers would release arrows to kill as many enemies as possible prior to close contact fighting. Skilled archers were able to shoot an average of twelve arrows per minute, and the arrows were so strong that they were often able to penetrate enemies shields.
While just about every Viking carried a knife (even slaves), the seax was a larger more lethal version that was typically only owned by the wealthy. A curved knife, it was used both for practical, everyday purposes as well as for self defense.
Ancient Egyptian Hunting Weapons
Hunting weaponry was similar to military weaponry, with the exception of the chariots and the foot archers. Long-range weaponry was used to bring down the animal and lesser implements were used to finish the animal once it was brought down.
Land animals, such as deer or boar, could be killed from a distance with a spear or an arrow and the weapon could be retrieved with the animal. Flying food sources were brought down with an arrow, while fish were speared as they swam through the water.
© The Yorck Project - Depiction of bird hunting with throw sticks
Since all weapons of this time were made by hand, they were usually retrieved with the prey that was killed or the fish that was speared. Ready-made weapons were unknown at this time so available weapons were used until they were no longer serviceable.
2. The Long Sword
Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images
The double-edged long sword was the main weapon of the Gauls, a collection of Celtic tribal peoples that inhabited what is now France, Belgium and Western Germany. Unlike the shorter Roman “gladius,” which was primarily a stabbing weapon, the iron swords employed by the Gauls were designed to hack and slash at the enemy in a downward stroke resembling an axe-blow. The swords tended to be less effective on packed battlefields where there was not as much room to maneuver, but they were particularly deadly in individual and guerilla combat—the barbarians’ preferred tactics. The long sword figured prominently in the many wars fought between the Gauls and the Roman Republic. When the Gallic chieftain Brennus invaded Italy in the fourth century B.C., his troops famously used their sabers to cut through enemy shields and rout a Roman army along the River Allia. They went on to carry out a grisly sack of the city of Rome.
Weapons in Ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptian military is often imagined in modern films and other media as a heavily armed and disciplined fighting force equipped with powerful weapons. This depiction, however, is only true of the Egyptian army of the New Kingdom (c. 1570-1069 BCE) and, to a lesser extent, the army of the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE), when the first professional armed force was created by Amenemhat I (c. 1991-1962 BCE). Prior to this time, the army was made up of conscripts from different districts (nomes) who were enlisted by their respective governors (nomarchs). Although this early army was certainly effective enough for its purpose, it was not a group of professional soldiers equipped with the most effective weaponry. Egyptologist Helen Strudwick notes:
Soldiers of the Old and Middle Kingdoms were fairly inadequately equipped. The only development in weapons since Predynastic times had been the replacement of flint blades with those of copper. (464)
Weaponry in ancient Egypt developed in response to its necessity. The early bows, knives, and axes of the Predynastic Period in Egypt (c. 6000-c.3150 BCE) through the Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BCE) were sufficient in putting down local rebellions or conquering neighbors on the border, who were similarly armed but were not the most efficient. As Egypt expanded its influence throughout neighboring regions and came into conflict with other nations, they needed to make a number of adjustments one of these was in weaponry.
Early Egyptian Weapons
In the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt (c. 3150-c.2613 BCE), military weaponry was comprised of maces, daggers, and spears. The spear had been developed by hunters during the Predynastic Period and changed very little except, like daggers, the tip changed from flint to copper. Even so, the majority of spear- and arrowheads from the Old Kingdom of Egypt seem to have been largely flint. An Egyptian soldier would have carried a spear and dagger, and a shield probably made of animal hide or woven papyrus.
These weapons were supplemented during the Old Kingdom by archers who used a simple single-arched bow with reed arrows and flint or copper tips. These bows were difficult to draw, were only effective at close range and, even then, were not very accurate. The archers, like the rest of the army, were drawn from the lower-class peasantry and would have had little experience with a bow in hunting. Egyptologist Margaret Bunson describes the Old Kingdom army:
The soldiers of the Old Kingdom were depicted as wearing skull caps and carrying clan or nome-totems. They used maces with wooden heads or pear-shaped stone heads. Bows and arrows were standard gear, with square-tipped flint arrowheads and leather quivers. Some shields, made of hides, were in use but not generally. Most of the troops were barefoot, dressed in simple kilts, or naked. (168)
Weapons, and the military in general, did not begin to develop significantly until the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. When the central government of the Old Kingdom collapsed, it initiated the era known as the First Intermediate Period of Egypt (c. 2181- 2040 BCE) in which the individual nomarchs had more power than the king. These nomarchs would still send conscripts to the government when called upon but were free to exercise their own power and extend it beyond their districts if they wished.
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This is precisely what did happen when Mentuhotep II of Thebes (c. 2061-2010 BCE) elevated his city from just another nome in Egypt to the capital of the country. Mentuhotep II defeated the ruling party at Herakleopolis c. 2040 BCE and united the country under Theban rule.
The Middle Kingdom Army
Mentuhotep II initiated the Middle Kingdom through military might, but it was Amenemhat I who organized the first professional fighting force. As in earlier eras, these soldiers were equipped with weapons sufficient for their purpose but were still far from what they would eventually become. Strudwick describes the Middle Kingdom forces:
The heavy infantry carried wood and leather shields, copper-headed spears and swords. The light infantry were armed with bows and primitive arrows made from a bronze alloy and reed shafts. Troops had neither protective helmets nor armour. (464)
Archers in this period still used the same single-arched bow and the same type of arrows, carried in a long quiver slung over the back by a strap. Daggers were copper blades riveted to handles and the sword was simply a long dagger. Since the blades were riveted to the handles, instead of the weapon being cast as a single piece, they were not as strong. One powerful blow from an opponent could snap a sword's blade from its handle.
Other weapons used at this time were the slicing axe and the spear. The slicing axe was a long wooden shaft with a crescent copper blade fitted into a notch at one end. The weapon would be wielded with two hands in a swinging motion, almost like a scythe, moving from side to side. A Middle Kingdom sword would have proved fairly ineffective against this weapon.
Although it does not seem the soldiers wore armor at this time, they did have protective gear in the form of leather shirts and kilts. These would not have afforded much protection against a volley of arrows or the slicing axe but were probably better than nothing. A typical soldier in the field would have been equipped with a sword, shield, and spear, and probably a dagger for close fighting. Archers would have naturally carried their bow and arrows and probably a dagger.
This was the army of Senusret III (c. 1878-1860 BCE), considered the greatest king of the era and the most powerful warrior. Senusret III became the basis for the later legends of the great king Sesostris who, according to the Greek writer Diodorus Siculus, conquered the known world of his time. Senusret III, of course, did no such thing, but he did expand Egyptian territory through numerous military campaigns and ruled so effectively that his reign is largely responsible for the Middle Kingdom's enduring reputation as a 'golden age.' Even so, all of these weapons and the army itself would soon change dramatically through an event the Egyptians of the Middle Kingdom could not ever have conceived of.
The Hyksos & Egyptian Weaponry
The Middle Kingdom is considered the 'classical age' of Egyptian culture and history, but toward the end, the central government became weak and distracted by its own difficulties. A people known as the Hyksos, who had probably been trading with Egypt for some time, were allowed to gain a permanent foothold in Lower Egypt at the city of Avaris and soon were powerful enough to enforce their will through political and military measures.
Egypt had never experienced anything like the Hyksos before, and later writers would routinely refer to this time (known as the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt, c. 1782-1570 BCE) as the 'Hyksos Invasion,' a term which is still used today. There never was an invasion of the Hyksos, however, and claims to the contrary consistently focus on propaganda from the New Kingdom of Egypt or Manetho's wildly exaggerated version of events as cited in Josephus. While there was certainly armed conflict between the Hyksos and the Egyptians, there is no archaeological evidence and no solid textual evidence for the level of destruction and slaughter the New Kingdom scribes regularly ascribe to the Hyksos.
There is ample evidence, however, that the Hyksos improved Egyptian culture in a number of significant ways and, notably, through weaponry. Prior to the arrival of the Hyksos, the Egyptians had no knowledge of the horse or horse-drawn chariot, they were still using the single-arched bow and were equipped with swords which were not always reliable in pitched battle. Egyptologist Barbara Watterson describes the contributions of the Hyksos to Egyptian weaponry:
The Hyksos, being from western Asia, brought the Egyptians into contact with the peoples and the culture of that region as never before and introduced them to the horse-drawn war chariot to a composite bow made from wood reinforced with strips of sinew and horn, a more elastic weapon with a greater range than their own simple bow to a scimitar-shaped sword, called the Khopesh, and to a bronze dagger with a narrow blade cast in one piece with the tang. The Egyptians developed this weapon into a short sword. (60)
The Khopesh (also given as Khepesh) sword was cast entirely of bronze and the handle then wound with hide and cloth and, with more expensive blades, ornamented. This curved sword was much more effective than any the Egyptians had used in the past. The war chariot, manned by archers with the new composite bow and a large quiver attached to the side, would prove one of Egypt's most significant military assets, and the battle axe, made of bronze attached to a haft, was far more effective than the flint or copper axes bound to wooden shafts in the past. The slicing axe is probably the only weapon which Hyksos technology could not improve upon.
The New Kingdom Army
The Hyksos did far more than simply provide the Egyptians with better weapons they gave them a reason to use them. Egypt had never been governed by a foreign power before, but during the Second Intermediate Period, the Hyksos held the ports of Lower Egypt and a significant amount of territory in the region while the Nubians had been able to expand into Upper Egypt and establish fortifications there. Only Thebes in Upper Egypt, between these two foreign powers, was ruled by Egyptians until Ahmose I of Thebes (c. 1570-1544 BCE) drove the Hyksos from the country, defeated the Nubians, and unified Egypt under his rule, initiating the New Kingdom.
Interestingly, excavations at the site of Avaris have uncovered weapons of both the Hyksos and the Egyptian forces from the assault of Ahmose I. These finds show that the Hyksos' blades had become inferior not only to the Egyptians' but to their own earlier work. It seems that, by this time, the Hyksos were making weapons largely for ceremonial, rather than practical, use. Egyptologist Janine Borriau notes:
Battle axes and daggers from stratum D/3 were of unalloyed copper, whereas weapons from earlier strata were made of tin bronze, which produced a weapon with a far superior cutting edge. In contrast, weapons of the same period from Upper Egypt were made of tin bronze and this would have given the Thebans a clear advantage in hand-to-hand fighting. (Shaw, 202)
Ahmose I used these weapons effectively against both the Hyksos and the Nubians to secure Egypt and then embarked on a campaign of conquest which his successors would continue. The monarchs of the New Kingdom were determined that never again would a foreign nation gain such power in Egypt and so expanded the country's borders to provide a buffer zone which then grew into the Egyptian Empire. The campaigns of Ahmose I through those of Thutmose III (1458-1425 BCE) steadily expanded Egypt's territory, which then grew further under later pharaohs. As the army encountered new adversaries, they learned from them as Strudwick explains:
By the New Kingdom, the Egyptian army had begun to adopt the superior weapons and equipment of their enemies - the Syrians and Hittites. The triangular bow, the helmet, chain-mail tunics, and the Khepesh sword became standard issue. Equally, the quality of the bronze improved as the Egyptians experimented with different proportions of tin and copper. (466)
The weapons of the Egyptian army were now quite different from those of the Old Kingdom and so was the military itself. Bunson writes:
The army was no longer a confederation of nome levies but a first-class military force. organized into divisions, both chariot forces and infantry. Each division numbered approximately 5,000 men. These divisions carried the names of the principal deities of the nation. (170)
Unlike the early army which went to battle under the banners of their nomes and clans, the New Kingdom army fought for the welfare of the entire country, bearing the standards of the universal gods of Egypt. The king was the commander-in-chief of the armed forces with his vizier and subordinates handling the logistics and supply lines. The chariot divisions, in which the pharaoh rode, were directly under his command and divided into squadrons with their own captain. There were also mercenary forces, like the Medjay, who served as shock troops.
Iron Weapons & Decline
Shields in the early New Kingdom were made of wood covered with animal hide, and the swords continued to be of tin bronze until after the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE between the Egyptians under Ramesses II (1279-1213 BCE) and Muwatalli II (1295-1272 BCE) of the Hittites. This engagement was the campaign Ramesses II was most proud of and the victory he had announced through inscriptions, monuments, and the famous Poem of Pentaur and The Bulletin which narrate the triumph. Modern scholars have concluded that the battle was more of a draw than a victory for either side, but both the Egyptians and their Hittite adversaries claim to have won the day.
The Battle of Kadesh resulted in the world's first peace treaty in 1258 BCE between Ramesses II and Hattusili III, the successor of Muwatalli II. Egyptologist Jacobus Van Dijk explains the new relationship which was then formed between the two powers:
As a result of the peace treaty with the Hittites, specialist craftsmen sent by Egypt's former enemy were employed in the armoury workshops of Pieramesse to teach the Egyptians their latest weapons technology, including the manufacture of the much sought-after Hittite shields. (Shaw, 292)
These shields, like the Hittite swords and armor, were made of iron, and the city of Per-Ramesses became an important industrial center for the manufacture of arms as Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson describes:
State-of-the-art high-temperature furnaces were heated by blast pipes worked by bellows. As the molten metal came out, sweating laborers poured it into molds for shields and swords. In dirty, hot, and dangerous conditions, the pharaoh's people made the weapons for pharaoh's army. (313-314)
These iron weapons could not be made in great quantity, however. Forging iron required charcoal from burnt lumber, and Egypt had few trees. Egypt entered the so-called Iron Age II in c. 1000 BCE but still could not generate the number of iron weapons they needed to equip the whole army. Ramesses II's successor, Merenptah (1213-1203 BCE) would defeat the combined forces of the Libyans and Sea Peoples using the tin bronze sword as would Ramesses III (1186-1155 BCE) in the final battle between the Sea Peoples and Egypt.
Ramesses III is the last effective monarch of the New Kingdom. Although the Egyptian military had iron weapons by c. 1000 BCE, grand war chariots, and a professionally trained force, the army was only as effective as those who commanded. As the New Kingdom declined, the army followed suit, and even though there were brilliant monarchs who ruled in both the Third Intermediate Period and the Late Period of Ancient Egypt, they no longer, for the most part, had the resources or skill to effectively deploy the army in the field.
Ancient Egyptian Archery
The development and design of bows and arrows used for warfare by the armies of Ancient Egypt
The bow is an almost universal weapon, and Ancient Egypt was no exception in developing archery technology for use both in hunting and in warfare. It has survived not just from pre-Dynastic Egypt into the New Kingdom and Ptolemaic periods, but into the Christian and Islamic eras also.
The Earliest Bows
The first Egyptian bows, as elsewhere in the world, were horn bows, made from two curved animal horns, in this case antelope horns, with a wooden section in the middle. By the beginning of Dynastic times, recurve bows made entirely of wood had replaced horn, though animal remains were still used for glue, and for the bowstring, which was made from sinew.
Plant material began to be used for bowstrings during the Old Kingdom, but sinew was still preferred, and the plant material was found to be more useful for the manufacture of arrows.
Simplifying the Bow
During the Old Kingdom, the recurve bow was largely abandoned in favour of the simple bow, now known as the Self Bow. This was a two-metre long wooden bow, made of acacia wood and slightly curved at both ends. It was also sometimes strengthened by rope or cord to prevent the wood from splitting.
The self bow was much easier to maintain, but was unwieldy due to its length, and required much more effort to draw when compared to the double curved bow, who’s second curve doubles the power of the string when drawn.
Despite this inferior power, the Self bow remained in use with the Egyptian military throughout the Middle and New Kingdoms, even though composite bows had been introduced by then, and recurve bows had returned. Indeed the Self bow remained the bow of choice for Tuthmoses III
The Composite bow of the Hyksos
The Hyksos peoples, who ruled Egypt in the Second Intermediate Period, between the Middle and New Kingdoms, had introduced the composite bow during their rule, and this became popular in the Egyptian military in the New Kingdom.
The Hyksos bow brought horn and sinew back to Egyptian archery. It was a recurved bow, shortened and with a pre-existing tension in the wood. Horn, which could take compression, supported the side of the bow facing the archer, while sinew, which could stretch, was bonded to the wood on the side facing the enemy, the whole thing then secured with bark.
All of this meant that it had a lot more power and a higher draw weight, in a bow only three to four feet long. The complexity also made the compound bow more difficult to produce and to maintain. It needed protection from moisture as well as frequent re-stringing, and so Egypt preferred to import them from other areas than to actually manufacture them at home, though some were produced in Egypt.
Egyptian Archery at war
Because re-stringing the compound bow was often a two-man job, it was more common to issue these weapons to chariot archers. The extra power of this bow was a useful frontline weapon against enemies in scale armour, and Egyptian chariots were used for fast archery attacks on targeted areas, so they needed the stronger weapon. The driver could then also assist the archer in re-stringing.
Archers on foot retained the simple, Self, bow throughout the New Kingdom. These were simpler to mass produce, required less maintenance by the infantry, and were used against unarmoured infantry and fleeing enemies.
Praise the Gods and Pass the Ammo
Different types of arrows were used by Egyptian archers, for different purposes. The arrow shaft was made of reed, with three feathers and an arrowhead. The basic arrowhead was flint, with two trailing barbs, however other types of stone and even wooden arrowheads were used alongside these.
By the second millennium BC, bronze arrowheads had been introduced, and these were effective when shot from a composite bow in piercing scale armour. Later, barbed iron arrowheads were not unknown, though iron remained a relatively rare and precious metal in Egypt. There were even blunt arrowheads for practice shooting, and bird-hunting.
Although military archers wore linen quivers across their backs, there are tomb paintings depicting hunters holding spare arrows by the last two fingers of the right hand, while drawing the bow with the first two fingers.
Did pioneers use bows and arrows?
I was recently talking to some people who insisted that settlers in the Americas used bows and arrows for hunting. I told them that there was no way this was possible, as they had GUNS. And why would you use bows and arrows if you’ve got guns? So I just want to know if there is actually any truth to the statement that settlers used bows and arrows.
You're getting some unintentionally funny answers here from people who want to believe, in spite of zero evidence, that English colonists and pioneers used bows and arrows to hunt or fight.
Let's set aside that lack of evidence for a moment and ask why they didn't. Primary reason is cultural. The English settlers who began arriving in North America in 1608 were from a firearms culture. They were familiar with the science of firearms. They hunted with firearms. They had no experience with bows. Had colonization started in the 13th century, maybe. 17th century? no way.
And while it's true that arrows are reusable and gunpowder/shot is not, that doesn't mean bows and arrows would have been cheaper. in a culture where nobody knows how to make arrows, where are all these free&reusable arrows coming from?
Hunting or fighting with Bows is neither more effective, nor is it more efficient than hunting/fighting with firearms.
I'm going to blame Ben Franklin for some of this nonsense. When he suggests arming the Continental Army with Bows/Arrows, he was being typical Franklin. mostly tongue-in-cheek.
A crossbowman or crossbow-maker is sometimes called an arbalist or arbalest. 
Arrow, bolt and quarrel are all suitable terms for crossbow projectiles. 
The lath, also called the prod, is the bow of the crossbow. According to W.F. Peterson, the prod came into usage in the 19th century as a result of mistranslating rodd in a 16th-century list of crossbow effects. 
The stock is the wooden body on which the bow is mounted, although the medieval tiller is also used. 
The lock refers to the release mechanism, including the string, sears, trigger lever, and housing. 
Warring States Edit
In terms of archaeological evidence, crossbow locks made of cast bronze have been found in China dating to around 650 BC.  They have also been found in Tombs 3 and 12 at Qufu, Shandong, previously the capital of Lu, and date to 6th century BC.   Bronze crossbow bolts dating from the mid-5th century BC have been found at a Chu burial site in Yutaishan, Jiangling County, Hubei Province.  Other early finds of crossbows were discovered in Tomb 138 at Saobatang, Hunan Province, and date to mid-4th century BC.   It's possible that these early crossbows used spherical pellets for ammunition. A Western-Han mathematician and music theorist, Jing Fang (78-37 BC), compared the moon to the shape of a round crossbow bullet.  Zhuangzi also mentions crossbow bullets. 
The earliest Chinese documents mentioning a crossbow were texts from the 4th to 3rd centuries BC attributed to the followers of Mozi. This source refers to the use of a giant crossbow between the 6th and 5th centuries BC, corresponding to the late Spring and Autumn Period. Sun Tzu's The Art of War (first appearance dated between 500 BC to 300 BC  ) refers to the characteristics and use of crossbows in chapters 5 and 12 respectively,  and compares a drawn crossbow to 'might.' 
The state of Chu favorited elite armoured crossbow units known for their endurance, and were capable of marching 160km 'without resting.'  Wei's elite forces were capable of marching over 40km in one day while wearing heavy armour, a large crossbow with 50 bolts, a helmet, a side sword, and three days worth of rations. Those who met these standards earned an exemption from corvée labor and taxes for their entire family. 
Han dynasty Edit
The Huainanzi advises its readers not to use crossbows in marshland where the surface is soft and it is hard to arm the crossbow with the foot.  The Records of the Grand Historian, completed in 94 BC, mentions that Sun Bin defeated Pang Juan by ambushing him with a body of crossbowmen at the Battle of Maling.  The Book of Han, finished 111 AD, lists two military treatises on crossbows. 
In the 2nd century AD, Chen Yin gave advice on shooting with a crossbow in the Wuyue Chunqiu:
When shooting, the body should be as steady as a board, and the head mobile like an egg [on a table] the left foot [forward] and the right foot perpendicular to it the left hand as if leaning against a branch, the right hand as if embracing a child. Then grip the crossbow and take a sight on the enemy, hold the breath and swallow, then breathe out as soon as you have released [the arrow] in this way you will be unperturbable. Thus after deep concentration, the two things separate, the [arrow] going, and the [bow] staying. When the right hand moves the trigger [in releasing the arrow] the left hand should not know it. One body, yet different functions [of parts], like a man and a girl well matched such is the Dao of holding the crossbow and shooting accurately. 
It's clear from surviving inventory lists in Gansu and Xinjiang that the crossbow was greatly favored by the Han dynasty. For example, in one batch of slips there are only two mentions of bows, but thirty mentions of crossbows.  Crossbows were mass-produced in state armories with designs improving as time went on, such as the use of a mulberry wood stock and brass a crossbow in 1068 could pierce a tree at 140 paces.  Crossbows were used in numbers as large as 50,000 starting from the Qin dynasty and upwards of several hundred thousand during the Han.  According to one authority, the crossbow had become "nothing less than the standard weapon of the Han armies," by the second century BC.  Han era carved stone images and paintings also contain images of horsemen wielding crossbows. Han soldiers were required to pull an "entry level" crossbow with a draw-weight of 76kg to qualify as a crossbowman. 
Warring States or Han dynasty crossbow trigger and buttplate
Warring States or Han Dynasty crossbow trigger and buttplate made of bronze and inlaid with silver.
Warring States or Han Dynasty crossbow trigger and buttplate made of bronze and inlaid with silver.
Han crossbow trigger on a crossbow frame
Large crossbow trigger (23.49 x 17.78 cm) for mounted crossbows, Han dynasty
Later history Edit
Before the Han Dynasty, the trigger mechanism did not have a Guo (郭, a casing), so that the parts of the trigger mechanism were installed in the wooden frame directly. After the Han Dynasty, the original crossbow has two important design improvements. The first one is to add a bronze casing, and the other is to include a scale table with the shooting range on the trigger mechanism. The parts of the trigger mechanism installed in the bronze casing can provide higher tension than those installed on the wooden frame. As a result, its shooting range has increased greatly. Adding a scale table with the shooting range on the trigger mechanism increases the accuracy of the shooting and helps the shooter to hit the target more easily. After the Han Dynasty, the structures of the original crossbow and trigger mechanism have not changed except that the size became larger to increase the shooting range. 
After the Han dynasty, the crossbow lost favor until it experienced a mild resurgence during the Tang dynasty, under which the ideal expeditionary army of 20,000 included 2,200 archers and 2,000 crossbowmen.  Li Jing and Li Quan prescribed 20 percent of the infantry to be armed with standard crossbows, which could hit the target half the time at a distance of 345 meters, but had an effective range of 225 meters. 
During the Song dynasty, the government attempted to restrict the spread of military crossbows and sought ways to keep armour and crossbows out of private homes.  Despite the ban on certain types of crossbows, the weapon experienced an upsurge in civilian usage as both a hunting weapon and pastime. The "romantic young people from rich families, and others who had nothing particular to do" formed crossbow shooting clubs as a way to pass time. 
During the late Ming dynasty, no crossbows were mentioned to have been produced in the three-year period from 1619 to 1622. With 21,188,366 taels, the Ming manufactured 25,134 cannons, 8,252 small guns, 6,425 muskets, 4,090 culverins, 98,547 polearms and swords, 26,214 great "horse decapitator" swords, 42,800 bows, 1,000 great axes, 2,284,000 arrows, 180,000 fire arrows, 64,000 bow strings, and hundreds of transport carts. 
Military crossbows were armed by treading, or basically placing the feet on the bow stave and drawing it using one's arms and back muscles. During the Song dynasty, stirrups were added for ease of drawing and to mitigate damage to the bow. Alternatively the bow could also be drawn by a belt claw attached to the waist, but this was done lying down, as was the case for all large crossbows. Winch-drawing was used for the large mounted crossbows as seen below, but evidence for its use in Chinese hand-crossbows is scant. 
|Ideal WS Zhao||1,300||100,000||13,000||50,000||164,300|
|Anti-Xiongnu Han (97 BC)||70,000||140,000||210,000|
|Basic Sui expedition||4,000||8,000||8,000||20,000|
|Basic early Tang expedition||2,000||2,200||4,000||2,900||2,900||6,000||20,000|
Advantages and disadvantages Edit
Now for piercing through hard things and shooting a long distance, and when struggling to defend mountain-passes, where much noise and impetuous strength must be stemmed, there is nothing like the crossbow for success. However, as the drawing (i.e. the arming) is slow, it is difficult to cope with sudden attacks. A crossbow can only be shot off [by a single man] three times before it comes to hand-to-hand weapons. Some have therefore thought crossbows inconvenient for fighting, but truly the inconvenience lay not in the crossbow itself but in the commanders, who did not know how to make use of crossbows. All the military theorists of the Tang maintained that the crossbow had no advantage over hand-to-hand weapons, and they insisted on having long bills and great shields in the front line to repel the charge, and made the crossbowmen to carry sabres and long-hafted weapons. The result was that if the enemy adopted an open-order formation and attacked with hand-to-hand weapons, the soldiers would throw away their crossbows and have recourse to those also. A body of the rearguard was therefore detailed beforehand to go round and collect up the crossbows. 
The crossbow allowed archers to shoot bows of greater strength and more accurately as well due to its greater stability, but at the cost of speed. 
In 169 BC, Chao Cuo observed that by using the crossbow, it was possible to overcome the Xiongnu:
Of course, in mounted archery [using the short bow] the Yi and the Di are skilful, but the Chinese are good at using nu che. These carriages can be drawn up in the form of a laager which cannot be penetrated by cavalry. Moreover, the crossbows can shoot their bolts to a considerable range, and do more harm [lit. penetrate deeper] than those of the short bow. And again, if the crossbow bolts are picked up by the barbarians they have no way of making use of them. Recently the crossbow has unfortunately fallen into some neglect we must carefully consider this. The strong crossbow [jing nu] and the [arcuballista shooting] javelins have a long range something which the bows of the Huns can no way equal. The use of sharp weapons with long and short handles by disciplined companies of armoured soldiers in various combinations, including the drill of crossbow men alternately advancing [to shoot] and retiring [to load] this is something which the Huns cannot even face. The troops with crossbows ride forward [cai guan shou] and shoot off all their bolts in one direction this is something which the leather armour and wooden shields of the Huns cannot resist. Then the [horse-archers] dismount and fight forward on foot with sword and bill this is something which the Huns do not know how to do. 
The Wujing Zongyao states that the crossbow used en masse was the most effective weapon against northern nomadic cavalry charges. Even if they failed, the quarrels were too short to be used as regular arrows so they couldn't be used again by nomadic archers after the battle.  The crossbow's role as an anti-cavalry weapon was later reaffirmed in Medieval Europe when Thomas the Archdeacon recommended them as the optimal weapon against the Mongols.  Elite crossbowmen were used to pick off targets as was the case when the Liao Dynasty general Xiao Talin was picked off by a Song crossbowman at the Battle of Shanzhou in 1004. 
Repeating crossbow Edit
The Zhuge Nu is a handy little weapon that even the Confucian scholar or palace women can use in self-defence. It fires weakly so you have to tip the darts with poison. Once the darts are tipped with "tiger-killing poison", you can shoot it at a horse or a man and as long as you draw blood, your adversary will die immediately. The draw-back to the weapon is its very limited range. 
According to the Wu-Yue Chunqiu (history of the Wu-Yue War), written in the Eastern Han dynasty, the repeating crossbow was invented during the Warring States Period by a Mr. Qin from the State of Chu. This is corroborated by the earliest archaeological evidence of repeating crossbows, which was excavated from a Chu burial site at Tomb 47 at Qinjiazui, Hubei Province, and has been dated to the 4th century BC, during the Warring States Period (475 - 220 BC).  Unlike repeating crossbows of later eras, the ancient double shot repeating crossbow uses a pistol grip and a rear pulling mechanism for arming. The Ming repeating crossbow uses an arming mechanism which requires its user to push a rear lever upwards and downwards back and forth.  Although hand held repeating crossbows were generally weak and required additional poison, probably aconite, for lethality, much larger mounted versions appeared during the Ming dynasty. 
In 180 AD, Yang Xuan used a type of repeating crossbow powered by the movement of wheels:
. around A.D. 180 when Yang Xuan, Grand Protector of Lingling, attempted to suppress heavy rebel activity with badly inadequate forces. Yang's solution was to load several tens of wagons with sacks of lime and mount automatic crossbows on others. Then, deploying them into a fighting formation, he exploited the wind to engulf the enemy with clouds of lime dust, blinding them, before setting rags on the tails of the horses pulling these driverless artillery wagons alight. Directed into the enemy's heavily obscured formation, their repeating crossbows (powered by linkage with the wheels) fired repeatedly in random directions, inflicting heavy casualties. Amidst the obviously great confusion the rebels fired back furiously in self-defense, decimating each other before Yang's forces came up and largely exterminated them. 
Although the invention of the repeating crossbow has often been attributed to Zhuge Liang, he in fact had nothing to do with it. This misconception is based on a record attributing improvements to the multiple bolt crossbows to him. 
During the Ming dynasty, repeating crossbows were used on ships. 
Repeating crossbows continued in use until the late Qing dynasty when it became obvious they could not longer compete with firearms. 
Mounted crossbow Edit
Large mounted crossbows known as "bed crossbows" were used as early as the Warring States period. Mozi described them as defensive weapons placed on top of the battlements. The Mohist siege crossbow was described as humongous device with frameworks taller than a man and shooting arrows with cords attached so that they could be pulled back. By the Han dynasty, crossbows were used as mobile field artillery and known as "Military Strong Carts".  Around the 5th century AD, multiple bows were combined together to increase draw weight and length, thus creating the double and triple bow crossbows. Tang versions of this weapon are stated to have obtained a range of 1,160 yards, which is supported by Ata-Malik Juvayni on the use of similar weapons by the Mongols in 1256.  According Juvayni, Hulagu Khan brought with him 3,000 giant crossbows from China, for the siege of Nishapur, and a team of Chinese technicians to work a great 'ox bow' shooting large bolts a distance of 2,500 paces, which was used at the siege of Maymun Diz.  According to the Wujing Zongyao, these weapons had a range of 450 meters while other Song sources give ranges of more than double or even triple that.  Constructing these weapons, especially the casting of the large triggers, and their operation required the highest order of technical expertise available at the time. They were primarily used from the 8th to 11th centuries. 
Joseph Needham on the range of the triple-bow crossbow:
This range seems credible only with difficulty, yet strangely enough there is a confirmation of it from a Persian source, namely the historian 'Alā'al-Dīn al-Juwainī, who wrote of what happened when one of the almost impregnable castles of the Assassins was taken by Hulagu Khan. Here, in +1256, the Chinese arcuballistae shot their projectiles 2500 (Arab) paces (1,100 yards) from a position on the top of some mountain. His actual words are: "and a kamān-i-gāu which had been constructed by Cathayan craftsmen, and which had a range of 2500 paces, was brought to bear on those fools, when no other remedy remained, and of the devil-like Heretics many soldiers were burnt by those meteoric shots". The castle in question was not Alamūt itself, but Maimūn-Diz, also in the Elburz range, and it was the strongest military base of the Assassins. 
However, Juwaini's description of the campaign against the Nizaris contains many exaggerations due to his bias against the Nizari Ismailis, and Maimun-Diz was actually not as impregnable as other nearby castles as Alamut and Lamasar, according to Peter Wiley. 
Multiple bolt crossbow Edit
The multiple bolt crossbow appeared around the late 4th century BC. A passage dated to 320 BC states that it was mounted on a three-wheeled carriage and stationed on the ramparts. The crossbow was drawn using a treadle and shot 10 foot long arrows. Other drawing mechanisms such as winches and oxen were also used.  Later on pedal release triggers were also used.  Although this weapon was able to discharge multiple bolts, it was at the cost of reduced accuracy since the further the arrow was from the center of the bow string, the more off center its trajectory would be.  It had a maximum range of 500 yards. 
When Qin Shi Huang's magicians failed to get in touch with "spirits and immortals of the marvellous islands of the Eastern Sea", they excused themselves by saying large monsters blocked their way. Qin Shi Huang personally went out with a multiple bolt crossbow to see these monsters for himself. He found no monsters but killed a big fish. 
In 99 BC, they were used as field artillery against attacking nomadic cavalry. 
Although Zhuge Liang is often credited with the invention of the repeating crossbow, this is actually due to a mistranslation confusing it with the multiple bolt crossbow. The source actually says Zhuge invented a multiple bolt crossbow that could shoot ten iron bolts simultaneously, each 20 cm long. 
In 759 AD, Li Quan described a type of multiple bolt crossbow capable of destroying ramparts and city towers:
The arcuballista is a crossbow of a strength of 12 dan, mounted on a wheeled frame. A winch cable pulls on an iron hook when the winch is turned round until the string catches on the trigger the crossbow is drawn. On the upper surface of the stock there are seven grooves, the centre carrying the longest arrow. This has a point 7 in. long and 5 in. round, with iron tail fins 5 in. round, and a total length of 3 ft. To left and right there are three arrows each steadily decreasing in size, all shot forth when the trigger is pulled. Within 700 paces whatever is hit will collapse, even solid things like ramparts and city towers. 
In 950 AD, Tao Gu described multiple crossbows connected by a single trigger:
The soldiers at the headquarters of the Xuan Wu army were exceedingly brave. They had crossbow catapults such that when one trigger was released, as many as 12 connected triggers would all go off simultaneously. They used large bolts like strings of pearls, and the range was very great. The Jin people were thoroughly frightened by these machines. Literary writers called them Ji Long Che (Rapid Dragon Carts). 
The weapon was considered obsolete by 1530. 
Modern depiction of a Warring States Mohist siege crossbow
Multi-bolt crossbows connected together
Crossbow firing multiple bolts
Multi-bolt ambush crossbow
Miniature model of a triple bed crossbow
The concept of continuous and concerted rotating fire, the countermarch, may have been implemented using crossbows as early as the Han dynasty,  but it was not until the Tang dynasty that illustrations of the countermarch appeared.  The 759 CE text, Tai bai yin jing (太白陰經) by Tang military official Li Quan (李筌), contains the oldest known depiction and description of the volley fire technique. The illustration shows a rectangular crossbow formation with each circle representing one man. In the front is a line labeled "shooting crossbows" (發弩) and behind that line are rows of crossbowmen, two facing right and two facing left, and they are labeled "loading crossbows" (張弩). The commander (大將軍) is situated in the middle of the formation and to his right and left are vertical rows of drummers (鼓) who coordinate the firing and reloading procedure in procession: who loaded their weapons, stepped forward to the outer ranks, shot, and then retired to reload.  According to Li Quan, "the classics say that the crossbow is fury. It is said that its noise is so powerful that it sounds like fury, and that's why they named it this way,"  and by using the volley fire method there is no end to the sound and fury, and the enemy is unable to approach.  Here he is referring to the word for "crossbow" nu which is also a homophone for the word for fury, nu. 
The encyclopedic text known as the Tongdian by Du You from 801 CE also provides a description of the volley fire technique: "[Crossbow units] should be divided into teams that can concentrate their arrow shooting.… Those in the center of the formations should load [their bows] while those on the outside of the formations should shoot. They take turns, revolving and returning, so that once they've loaded they exit [i.e., proceed to the outer ranks] and once they've shot they enter [i.e., go within the formations]. In this way, the sound of the crossbow will not cease and the enemy will not harm us." 
The Wujing Zongyao, written during the Song dynasty, notes that during the Tang period, crossbows were not used to their full effectiveness due to the fear of cavalry charges.  The author's solution was to drill the soldiers to the point where rather than hide behind shieldbearers upon the approach of enemy soldier, they would "plant the feet like a firm mountain, and, unmoving at the front of the battle arrays, shoot thickly to the middle [of the enemy], and none among them will not fall down dead."  The Song volley fire formation was described thus: "Those in the center of the formation should load while those on the outside of the formation should shoot, and when [the enemy gets] close, then they should shelter themselves with small shields [literally side shields, 旁牌], each taking turns and returning, so that those who are loading are within the formation. In this way the crossbows will not cease sounding."  In addition to the Tang formation, the Song illustration also added a new label to the middle line of crossbowmen between the firing and reloading lines, known as the "advancing crossbows."  Both Tang and Song manuals also made aware to the reader that "the accumulated arrows should be shot in a stream, which means that in front of them there must be no standing troops, and across [from them] no horizontal formations." 
Regarding the method of using the crossbow, it cannot be mixed up with hand-to-hand weapons, and it is beneficial when shot from high ground facing downwards. It only needs to be used so that the men within the formation are loading while the men in the front line of the formation are shooting. As they come forward they use shields to protect their flanks. Thus each in their turn they draw their crossbows and come up then as soon as they have shot bolts they return again into the formation. Thus the sound of the crossbows is incessant and the enemy can hardly even flee. Therefore we have the following drill - shooting rank, advancing rank, loading rank. 
The volley fire technique was used to great effect by the Song during the Jin-Song Wars. In the fall of 1131 the Jin commander Wuzhu (兀朮) invaded the Shaanxi region but was defeated by general Wu Jie (吳 玠) and his younger brother Wu Lin (吳璘). The History of Song elaborates on the battle in detail:
[Wu] Jie ordered his commanders to select their most vigorous bowmen and strongest crossbowmen and to divide them up for alternate shooting by turns (分番迭射). They were called the "Standing-Firm Arrow Teams" (駐隊矢), and they shot continuously without cease, as thick as rain pouring down. The enemy fell back a bit, and then [Wu Jie] attacked with cavalry from the side to cut off the [enemy's] supply routes. [The enemy] crossed the encirclement and retreated, but [Wu Jie] set up ambushes at Shenben and waited. When the Jin troops arrived, [Wu's] ambushers shot, and the many [enemy] were in chaos. The troops were released to attack at night and greatly defeated them. Wuzhu was struck by a flowing arrow and barely escaped with his life. 
After losing half his army Wuzhu escaped back to the north, only to invade again in the following year. Again, he was defeated while trying to breach a strategic pass. The History of Song states that during the battle Wu Jie's brother Wu Lin "used the Standing-Firm Arrow Teams, who shot alternately, and the arrows fell like rain, and the dead piled up in layers, but the enemy climbed over them and kept climbing up."  This passage is especially noteworthy for its mention of a special technique being utilized as it is one of the very few times that the History of Song has elaborated on a specific tactic. 
There is another theory pointing towards a Southeast Asian origin for the crossbow based on linguistic evidence:
Throughout the southeastern Asia the crossbow is still used by primitive and tribal peoples both for hunting and war, from the Assamese mountains through Burma, Siam and to the confines of Indo-China. The peoples of the northeastern Asia possess it also, both as weapon and toy, but use it mainly in the form of unattended traps this is true of the Yakut, Tungus, and Chukchi, even of the Ainu in the east. There seems to be no way of answering the question whether it first arose among the barbaric forefathers of these Asian peoples before the rise of the Chinese culture in their midst, and then underwent its technical development only therein, or whether it spread outwards from China to all the environing peoples. The former seems the more probable hypothesis, given the further linguistic evidence in its support. 
Around the third century BC, King An Dương of Âu Lạc (modern-day northern Vietnam) commissioned a man named Cao Lỗ (or Cao Thông) to construct a crossbow and christened it "Saintly Crossbow of the Supernaturally Luminous Golden Claw" (nỏ thần), which one shot could killed 300 men.   According to historian Keith Taylor, the crossbow, along with the word for it, seems to have been introduced into China from Austroasiatic peoples in the south around the fourth century BC. 
In 315 AD, Nu Wen taught the Chams how to build fortifications and use crossbows. The Chams would later give the Chinese crossbows as presents on at least one occasion. 
Siege crossbows were transmitted to the Chams by Zhi Yangjun, who was shipwrecked on their coast in 1172. He remained there and taught them mounted archery and how to use siege crossbows.   In 1177 crossbows were used by the Champa in their invasion and sacking of Angkor, the Khmer Empire's capital.    The Khmer also had double bow crossbows mounted on elephants, which Michel JacqHergoualc’h suggest were elements of Cham mercenaries in Jayavarman VII's army. 
Lac Viet bronze crossbow, 500 BCE - 0
Statue of Cao Lỗ holding the magical crossbow he built for An Dương Vương
Khmer elephant mounted crossbow
Khmer elephant mounted crossbow
The earliest crossbow-like weapons in Europe probably emerged around the late 5th century BC when the gastraphetes, an ancient Greek crossbow, appeared. The device was described by the Greek author Heron of Alexandria in his Belopoeica ("On Catapult-making"), which draws on an earlier account of his compatriot engineer Ctesibius (fl. 285–222 BC). According to Heron, the gastraphetes was the forerunner of the later catapult, which places its invention some unknown time prior to 399 BC.  The gastraphetes was a crossbow mounted on a stock divided into a lower and upper section. The lower was a case fixed to the bow while the upper was a slider which had the same dimensions as the case.  Meaning "belly-bow",  it was called as such because the concave withdrawal rest at one end of the stock was placed against the stomach of the operator, which he could press to withdraw the slider before attaching a string to the trigger and loading the bolt this could thus store more energy than regular Greek bows.  It was used in the Siege of Motya in 397 BC. This was a key Carthaginian stronghold in Sicily, as described in the 1st century AD by Heron of Alexandria in his book Belopoeica. 
Other arrow shooting machines such as the larger ballista and smaller Scorpio also existed starting from around 338 BC, but these are torsion catapults and not considered crossbows.    Arrow-shooting machines (katapeltai) are briefly mentioned by Aeneas Tacticus in his treatise on siegecraft written around 350 BC.  An Athenian inventory from 330–329 BC includes catapults bolts with heads and flights.  Arrow-shooting machines in action are reported from Philip II's siege of Perinthos in Thrace in 340 BC.  At the same time, Greek fortifications began to feature high towers with shuttered windows in the top, presumably to house anti-personnel arrow shooters, as in Aigosthena. 
The late 4th century author Vegetius provides the only contemporary account of ancient Roman crossbows. In his De Re Militaris, he describes arcubalistarii (crossbowmen) working together with archers and artillerymen.  However it is disputed if arcuballistas were even crossbows or just more torsion powered weapons. The idea that the arcuballista was a crossbow is based on the fact that Vegetius refers to it and the manuballista, which was torsion powered, separately. Therefore, if the arcuballista was not like the manuballista, it may have been a crossbow. Some suggest it was the other way around and manuballistas were crossbows.  The etymology is not clear and their definitions obscure. Some historians believe neither the arcuballista or manuballista were crossbows.  According to Vegetius, these were well known devices, and as such didn't make the effort to describe them in depth. 
On the textual side, there is almost nothing but passing references in the military historian Vegetius (fl. + 386) to 'manuballistae' and 'arcuballistae' which he said he must decline to describe as they were so well known. His decision was highly regrettable, as no other author of the time makes any mention of them at all. Perhaps the best supposition is that the crossbow was primarily known in late European antiquity as a hunting weapon, and received only local use in certain units of the armies of Theodosius I, with which Vegetius happened to be acquainted. 
To date, the only contemporary accounts of the arcuballista – the Roman crossbow – appear in the pages of De Re Militaris, written by Vegetius in the late 4th century AD. Drawing on a miscellany of earlier sources, Vegetius makes frustratingly vague references. He writes at one stage about crossbowmen lining up with other artillerymen (using torsion machines) in line of battle and at another about both sagittarii (regular archers) and arcuballistarii (crossbowmen) working together on siege towers to clear the ramparts of defenders. These are flickering glimpses, however he gives little indication of the extent to which the arcuballista was used in warfare, or of the numbers of troops in a legion who might have been armed with it. 
Arrian's earlier Ars Tactica, written around 136 AD, does mention 'missiles shot not from a bow but from a machine' and that this machine was used on horseback while in full gallop. It's presumed that this was a crossbow. 
The only pictorial evidence of Roman arcuballistas comes from sculptural reliefs in Roman Gaul depicting them in hunting scenes. These are aesthetically similar to both the Greek and Chinese crossbows, but it's not clear what kind of release mechanism they used. Archaeological evidence suggests they were based on the rolling nut mechanism of medieval Europe. 
10th century depiction of a gastraphetes
The gastraphetes among other ancient mechanical artillery
Pictish depiction of a hunting crossbow in the bottom right.
References to the crossbow are basically nonexistent in Europe from the 5th century until the 10th century. It's argued that the term solenarion, found in the Strategikon of Maurice, refers to a crossbow. This is disputed by other historians who interpret "the device in question as an arrow guide."  There is however a depiction of a crossbow as a hunting weapon on four Pictish stones from early medieval Scotland (6th to 9th centuries): St. Vigeans no. 1, Glenferness, Shandwick, and Meigle. 
The crossbow reappeared again in 947 as a French weapon during the siege of Senlis and again in 984 at the siege of Verdun.  They were used at the battle of Hastings in 1066 and had by the 12th century become a common battlefield weapon.  The earliest remains of a European crossbow to date were found at Lake Paladru and has been dated to the 11th century. 
According to Anna Komnene (1083–1153), the crossbow was a new weapon associated with barbarians and was not known to the Greeks:
This cross-bow is a bow of the barbarians quite unknown to the Greeks and it is not stretched by the right hand pulling the string whilst the left pulls the bow in a contrary direction, but he who stretches this warlike and very far-shooting weapon must lie, one might say, almost on his back and apply both feet strongly against the semi-circle of the bow and with his two hands pull the string with all his might in the contrary direction. In the middle of the string is a socket, a cylindrical kind of cup fitted to the string itself, and about as long as an arrow of considerable size which reaches from the string to the very middle of the bow and through this arrows of many sorts are shot out. The arrows used with this bow are very short in length, but very thick, fitted in front with a very heavy iron tip. And in discharging them the string shoots them out with enormous violence and force, and whatever these darts chance to hit, they do not fall back, but they pierce through a shield, then cut through a heavy iron corselet and wing their way through and out at the other side. So violent and ineluctable is the discharge of arrows of this kind. Such an arrow has been known to pierce a bronze statue, and if it hits the wall of a very large town, the point of the arrow either protrudes on the inner side or it buries itself in the middle of the wall and is lost. Such then is this monster of a crossbow, and verily a devilish invention. And the wretched man who is struck by it, dies without feeling anything, not even feeling the blow, however strong it be. 
The first medieval European crossbows were made of wood, usually yew or olive wood. Composite lath crossbows began to appear around the end of the 12th century and crossbows with steel laths emerged in the 1300s. Crossbows with steel laths were sometimes referred to as arbalests.  These had much higher draw weights than composite bows and required mechanical aids such as the cranequin or windlass for spanning. Usually these could only shoot two bolts per minute versus twelve or more with a skilled archer, often necessitating the use of a pavise to protect the operator from enemy fire. Despite the appearance of stronger bows, wooden laths remained popular into the 1400s due to being less sensitive to the water and cold. 
The crossbow superseded hand bows in many European armies during the 12th century, except in England, where the longbow was more popular. Along with polearm weapons made from farming equipment, the crossbow was also a weapon of choice for insurgent peasants such as the Taborites. Genoese crossbowmen, recruited in Genoa and in different parts of northern Italy, were famous mercenaries hired throughout medieval Europe, while the crossbow also played an important role in anti-personnel defense of ships.  Some 4,000 crossbowmen joined the Fifth Crusade and 5,000 under Louis IX of France during the Seventh Crusade. 
Crossbowmen occupied a high status as professional soldiers and often earned higher pay than other foot soldiers.  The rank of the commanding officer of crossbowmen corps was one of the highest positions in many medieval armies, including those of Spain, France, and Italy. Crossbowmen were held in such high regard in Spain that they were granted status on par with the knightly class. 
The payment for a crossbow mercenary was higher than for a longbow mercenary, but the longbowman did not have to pay a team of assistants and his equipment was cheaper. Thus the crossbow team was twelve percent less efficient than the longbowman since three of the latter could be part of the army in place of one crossbow team. Furthermore, the prod and bow string of a composite crossbow were subject to damage in rain whereas the longbowman could simply unstring his bow to protect the string. French forces employing the composite crossbow were outmatched by English longbowmen at Crécy in 1346, at Poitiers in 1356 and at Agincourt in 1415. As a result, use of the crossbow declined sharply in France,  and the French authorities made attempts to train longbowmen of their own. After the conclusion of the Hundred Years' War, however, the French largely abandoned the use of the longbow, and consequently the military crossbow saw a resurgence in popularity. The crossbow continued to see use in French armies by both infantry and mounted troops until as late as 1520 when, as with elsewhere in continental Europe, the crossbow would be largely eclipsed by the handgun. Spanish forces in the New World would make extensive use of the crossbow, even after it had largely fallen out of use in Europe. Crossbowmen participated in Hernán Cortés' conquest of Mexico and accompanied Francisco Pizarro on his initial expedition to Peru, though by the time of the conquest of Peru in 1532-1523 he would have only a dozen such men remaining in his service. 
Earliest European depiction of cavalry using crossbows, from the Catalan manuscript Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1086.
On Nephi’s Steel Bow
“And it came to pass that as I, Nephi, went forth to slay food, behold, I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel and after I did break my bow, my brethren were angry with me because of the loss of my bow, for we did obtain no food.”
Verse 21 reports that the bows of Nephi’s brothers had lost their “springs” (presumably, the tension provided by the flexibility of the wood). In verse 23 Nephi makes a new bow of wood and an arrow from a straight stick, and inquires of his father where he should hunt. Lehi inquires of the Lord, and the liahona directs Nephi to the top of the mountain, where he is able to slay wild beasts to feed the family.
Critics of the Book of Mormon have long pointed to Nephi’s bow of steel from verse 18 as a clear anachronism, as carbonized steel did not yet exist at that time.
William Hamblin’s comments in an article on “Steel in the Book of Mormon,” reprinted in this 2005 Meridian Magazine article:
represent the current apologetic state of the art on this issue.
The key paragraph of Hamblin’s piece on this point is as follows:
“An interesting key to the problem is Nephi’s steel bow (1 Ne 16.18). My assumption here is that this phrase is meant to describe the same weapon that is called a “steel bow” in the KJV Bible. (I think this is obvious whether Joseph Smith invented the text or
it is ancient.) The phrase “bow of steel” occurs three times in the KJV: 2 Sam 22.35, Job 20.24, and Ps 18.34. In all cases it translates the Hebrew phrase qeshet nechushah, which modern translations consistently, and correctly, translate as “bronze.”
There is one other reference to “steel” in the KJV at Jer 15.12, also referring to bronze. The metal is apparently called “steel” in the KJV because bronze is “steeled” (strengthened) copper through alloying it with tin or through some other process.”
This is a useful start on the issue. It successfully rebuts the notion that “steel” is an anachronism in the Book of Mormon. And I think we can certainly agree that Nephi’s steel bow must be understood in the same light as the KJV “bow of steel” that appears in three passages of the Old Testament.
Nevertheless, problems remain. Why would anyone make a bow of copper or bronze? These metals are not practical for bow construction, even if only added as ornamental touches. And why would such a bow break?
Of course, those same problems exist in the OT passages as well. Virtually all modern translations render the Hebrew expression qesheth nechushah as something like “bronze bow,” and simply acknowledge that we do not really know what that means in terms of bow construction.
A recent article seeks to answer these questions, and therefore is significant not only for our
understanding of the Old Testament precedents, but also for our understanding of Nephi’s steel bow from 1 Nephi 16:18.
The article is Aron Pinker, “On the Meaning of [qesheth nechushah],” The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, Volume 5, Article 12 (2004-2005), available here:
Pinker begins by surveying the difficulty with positing a bow made of bronze, which would not work for bow construction, inasmuch as the body must be light and pliable. Some have thought that the bronze refers only to ornamentation on the bow, but that would still interfere with the proper working of it. Of course, a bow that was entirely ornamental could be made of bronze, but the scriptural passages contemplate a bow that actually works.
Pinker next surveys previous attempts to see the key Hebrew term, nechushah, as something other than bronze:
1. A number of medieval rabbis (Rashi, Kimchi, Ralbag) understood nechushah as a metaphor for strength: i.e., “strong bow, hard to pull bow.”
2. Mitchell Dahood interpreted the qesheth nechushah of Ps. 18:35 as “the miraculous bow,” taking nechushah from *NCHSH in the sense of “practice divination, to charm, enchant,” and translated:
Who trained my hands for battle
Lowered the miraculous bow into my hand.
This is certainly intriguing in light of the fact that there is a divination element to the Nephite story. But this requires a different approach to the “bronze bow” passage of Job 20:24, where a miraculous bow would not work in the context. Since the Psalm passage is virtually identical to the 2 Sam. 22:35 passage, Dahood’s theory requires two entirely different translations for what are essentially the only two biblical occurrences of the expression.
3. Bruno suggested that nechushah does not mean “copper, bronze” in these passages, but that it is the Niphal of the root *CHWSH, “make haste” the bow is thus a “quick bow.” But such a form is not attested in the Hebrew Bible, and the concept of a “quick bow” does not make any sense in archery.
4. Tournay and Schwab thought the expression referred to a bow that could shoot bronze-tipped arrows, but there is no evidence for such a distinction in bows, and the material of the arrowhead is never specified in the Hebrew Bible.
5. Schmuttermayer simply suggests deleting the word nechushah in the Samuel and Psalm passages, but his reasons for deleting the word are not compelling and do nothing to resolve the Job passage.
Pinker points out that the only possible meaning for nechushah that has not been suggested is “snake-like, serpentine.” The shape made by a moving snake conforms admirably to the shape of the wooden body of a double-convex bow. Thus, he suggests that the word does not refer to the material from which the bow is made, but to the shape of a particular type of bow. Rather than “bronze bow” in these passages, he
suggests that they should be understood as “snake-like bow,” referring to a double-convex form of construction (which is well attested from antiquity).
Pinker suggests that the derivation of nechushah “snake-like” from nachash “snake” finds support in the nechushtan, or bronze serpent-pole of Moses. The derivation of this name is uncertain some think it derives from the word for “bronze,” and others that it derives from the word for “snake.” (But in either event, the most prominent visual feature of the pole would have been the snake, not its bronze construction.) Pinker identifies several similarly derived forms in the Hebrew Bible.
Pinker’s theory would have the benefit of providing for a consistent approach between the Old Testament passages rather than trying to interpret them in different ways.
The Job 20:24 passage reads as follows in the KJV:
He shall flee from the iron weapon, and the bow of steel shall strike him through.
Pinker notes that interpretation of this passage has suffered from a misunderstanding of the parallelism, thinking that nechushah must be a metal in synonymous parallelism with the iron of the first line. Based on an analysis of the verbs of the passage, Pinker determines that the parallelism of the passage was not meant to be synonymous, but rather antithetic. The intended contrast is between the close range of the iron weapons (sword, ax, mace, etc.) and the long-range weapons (not containing metals). The verse is saying that anyone who will escape the metal weapons of close quarters combat would be pierced by the long-range weapons, such as the snake-like bow. According to Pinker’s reading of the passage, Zophar the Naamathite describes the effectiveness of God’s anger in standard military terms: “fleeing from metal (close quarters) weapons he is pierced by (an arrow of) a snake-like bow (long-range weapons),” taking “an arrow of” as an ellipsis (cf. Isa. 41:2).
If Pinker is correct in his understanding of qesheth nechushah as a “snake-like [double-convex] bow,” and if Hamblin is correct that we must understand Nephi’s steel bow in light of the Old Testament precedents (and I think he clearly is), then we can posit that the Hebrew underlying 1 Ne. 16:18 was something like “I did break my qesheth nechushah.” Joseph rendered nechushah, under the influence of the KJV precedents, with the clause “which was made of fine steel.” But when we strip away the Jacobean level influence of the KJV, what Nephi really wrote was “I did break my snake-like [double convex] bow.”