Types of Medieval Military Crossbow Bolts

Apr 2017
1,678
U.S.A.
For medieval military crossbow bolts, what kinds were there? I've heard of bodkin and broadheads, as well as a type I recently found called square-faced bolt heads. These are described as having square-faced heads with four small points, one at each corner of the head, so that they might not glance off armour, but give a straight and smashing blow to mounted men wearing breastplates and helmets, against which the end of a sharp projectile might break, bend, or turn aside. Medieval Crossbows

Any others?
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,002
Australia
For medieval military crossbow bolts, what kinds were there? I've heard of bodkin and broadheads, as well as a type I recently found called square-faced bolt heads. These are described as having square-faced heads with four small points, one at each corner of the head, so that they might not glance off armour, but give a straight and smashing blow to mounted men wearing breastplates and helmets, against which the end of a sharp projectile might break, bend, or turn aside. Medieval Crossbows
A pyramidal head is more aerodynamic than a broadhead, increasing range and accuracy. It has nothing to do with armour penetration. The square-faced head you found seems to have been designed for stunning the target. Giovanni Michiel calls this the "shock of arrows" (see below).

Giovanni Michiel was a Venetian Ambassador to Queen Mary and King Philip. This comes from his "Report of England", written to the Venetian Senate on the 13th May, 1557.

"... and for the body they either use some sort of breastplate (qualche petto di corsaletto) which guards the forepart, although indifferently, or else more willingly (especially those who have the means) some jack (giaco) or shirt of mail (camicia di maglia); but what they usually wear are certain padded canvas jupons (giubboni di canevaccio imbottiti), each of which is double high. two fingers or more in thickness (doppi alti due dita) ; and these doublets are considered the most secure defence against the shock of arrows. Upon their arms they place strips of mail (liste di maglia), put lengthways, and nothing else."

It says that breastplates were the least desirable of all the kinds of armour - only worn by those who couldn't afford anything better. By this time, mail armour and textile armour cost more than plate. It also says that their padded canvas jupons were best at resisting the "shock of arrows".
 
Last edited:

Pacific_Victory

Ad Honorem
Oct 2011
7,654
MARE PACIFICVM
This is wrong. These heads were designed like this to increase the range and improve accuracy. A pyramidal head is more aerodynamic than a broadhead. It has nothing to do with armour penetration.
Can you explain what you mean? By his description it sounds like he was talking about a bolt with four points, not a pyramidal head with a single point.

EDIT:

I see you've covered it in your edit.
 

Todd Feinman

Ad Honorem
Oct 2013
6,591
Planet Nine, Oregon
A pyramidal head is more aerodynamic than a broadhead. It has nothing to do with armour penetration. The square-faced head you noted above seems to have been designed for "stunning" the target. Giovanni Michiel calls this the "shock of arrows" (see below).

Giovanni Michiel was a Venetian Ambassador to Queen Mary and King Philip. This comes from his "Report of England", written to the Venetian Senate on the 13th May, 1557.

..... and for the body they either use some sort of breastplate (qualche petto di corsaletto) which guards the forepart, although indifferently, or else more willingly (especially those who have the means) some jack (giaco) or shirt of mail (camicia di maglia); but what they usually wear are certain canvas jupons, padded (giubboni di canevaccio imbottiti), each of which is double high. two fingers or more in thickness (doppi alti due dita) ; and these doublets are considered the most secure defence against the shock of arrows. Upon their arms they place strips of mail (liste di maglia), put lengthways, and nothing else.

It says that breastplates were the least desirable of all the kinds of armour - only worn by those who couldn't afford anything better. It also says that their padded canvas jupons were best at resisting the "shock of arrows".

So a jupon like this, from Charles VI, would in conjunction with mail (worn underneath) would be best to resist arrows and bolts, but some, of two-finger thickness could resist arrows without mail?

 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,002
Australia
So a jupon like this, from Charles VI, would in conjunction with mail (worn underneath) would be best to resist arrows and bolts, but some, of two-finger thickness could resist arrows without mail?
This would have been worn over the top of mail. Standalone padded armour was as rigid as plywood.