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From what I remember, Galántai Zoltán once claimed in a lecture (at Budapest University of Technology and Economics) that in ancient Greek times, some people have mutually agreed to outlaw the use of the gastraphetes (large crossbow) in wars against each other. According to him, this ranged weapon was very efficient in killing, yet it could be used by soldiers with very little training compared to other similar weapons like bows. It has turned the wars too deadly, which is why such an agreement was made.

What is the truth in this? Was there ever such a treaty? If so, who have agreed to it, and when?

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    Just for clarity it would help to know about who Galántai Zoltán is (there don't appear to be any English language pages about him). – Steve Bird Mar 9 '17 at 11:38
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    @Steve Bird: Galántai Zoltán is currently a professor in Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences, Üzleti Tudományok Intézet, Pénzügyek Tanszék, according to uti.bme.hu/web/38596/~/17810/home . He was already a professor of Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences, but possibly a different department, when he held this lecture there. The weakest link here is my memory about the lecture, since I can't find any notes supporting my statements. – b_jonas Mar 9 '17 at 11:55
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    Hm, there might be some truth to this, I do remember a story of a Greek king expressing disgust when first seeing these new war machines. I'm afraid I don't remember any specifics, though. – yannis Mar 9 '17 at 12:08
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    In the II Lateran Council, Innocent II did ban the use of crossbow against Christians as a "cruel weapon"; article 29 of the council proceedings. Of course, it is worth commenting that at the day crossbows were one of the few weapons that not-so-well-trained peasants could use against knights with a realistic chance of success, so he probably was a little biased. – SJuan76 Mar 9 '17 at 14:09
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    When the heavy arrow was released by pulling a cord, the missile was said to have flown several times farther than any archer’s arrow and it went clean through a shield and corselet. Instead of praising the Sicilian officer for bringing such a powerful weapon, Archidamus is said to have shouted, “By Heracles, this is the end of man’s valor” - The Classical Cold War: Exploring the Effects of Greco-Roman Advancements of Missile-Shooters – yannis Mar 9 '17 at 16:06
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There have been bans of missile weapons in the past, but I don't find any indication that there was any particular action against the gastraphetes.

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There is indication of a Greek ban on the use of bows during the Lelantine War

During the the Lelantine War that took place between them it is stated that the two city-states made an agreement banning the use of 'missile weapons'. If this prohibition of a specific type of weapon is true it stands unique and would be the earliest example of arms limitation in history.

The problem with respect to the Gastraphetes is that this ban and war occurred about 300 years before its invention. (Note that this ban, and indeed the entire battle, has been considered by some to be fictional.)


One other ban which did include both bows and crossbows, was enacted during the Second Council of the Lateran,by Pope Innocent II in 1139.

The wounds caused by the crossbow in warfare were however considered so barbarous that its use except against infidels was interdicted by the second Lateran Council in 1139 under penalty of an anathema as a weapon hateful to God and unfit for Christians. This prohibition was confirmed at the close of the same century by Pope Innocent III Conrad III of Germany 1138 152 also forbad the crossbow in his army and kingdom. The employment of crossbowmen nevertheless again became common in English and Continental armies in the reign of Richard II 1189-1199...

  • The Second Council of Lateran may be relevant. It doesn't bother me that all sorts of bows and crossbows were banned, for a blanket ban might be easier than singling out the particular types of crossbows that caused a problem. The time difference does bother me, but I might be misremembering the original statement. – b_jonas Mar 9 '17 at 14:53
  • The Second council language, if I recall, does have similar language, but occurred 1400 years after the gastraphetes. – justCal Mar 9 '17 at 15:11
  • We don't know if the Gastraphetes was invented after the Lelantine war; all we know is the first mention of the Gastraphetes, which could have been invented much earlier. – congusbongus Jul 24 '17 at 4:15

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