Dec 072011

Gastraphetes 400 BCE

The modern world is in debt to the work of the ancient Greeks. To say that the ancient Greeks were great thinkers is an understatement.  They expanded knowledge in every field around; Art, Architecture, History, Medicine, Philosophy, Religion, Science, and even War.  They were such great guys that they didn’t even put up too much stink when the ancient Romans “borrowed” everything!
To help wage war, the Greeks invented a early type of crossbow called the gastraphetes (“belly-bow”)  around the year 400 BCE.  It was actually a little better than the one that the Romans would use later because it had a notched locking mechanism that held the string and bolt in place.  The bow itself was composite, meaning that it was made of several types of material.  These bows are more powerful than simpler bows, but take more materials and time to make.

Man Loading Gastraphetes

The gastraphetes had several advantages over normal bows of the time.  A crossbow takes less skill to successfully fire because the user does not have constantly use their strength to hold the string back and aim.  The crossbowman can take more time to aim.    Another advantage is the range.  Some sources say that the gastraphetes could fire 50 meters farther than the normal bows of the day!

The invention of the gastraphetes helped the Greeks win many battles, and it also led to the creation of even bigger siege weapons like the ballista!

Name: Gastraphetes (“Belly-bow”)

Type: Composite Crossbow

Origin:  Ancient Greece

Date: Around 400 BCE

Inventor: Uncertain, but possibly at command of tyrant  Dionysius I of Syracuse.

Bolt: 40-60 cm

Tension Power: 70-60 kg

Estimated Range: 200-250 meters