Don’t know how I initially started thinking about this question, and I know there is no way to find an answer, but found it interesting nonetheless. The question I ask is which weapon has killed more people in history, the crossbow or the Ak-47? Like all my other thoughtchalks, let’s delve deeper into that question.
The crossbow has a long, storied history. The earliest known crossbows date back to 5th century BC in Europe and Asia. Through their historical evolution, crossbows varied in size, ranging from single handheld device concealable in a cloak to the size of a modern day cannon shooting bolts weight several pounds. The major advantage the crossbow had over it’s major competitior, is ease of use. An untrained warrior could operate the device, and provide the same level of lethality as a fully trained archer. As proof of concept, W.F. Paterson in 1990 recreated medieval longbow and crossbow to compare the firing characteristics of each weapon. Of note, the resulting speed of each bolt (aka arrow) was equivalent.
W.F. Paterson (1990)
|Type of Weapon||Draw weight||Bolt weight||Speed of bolt||Difference|
|Longbow||68 lbs.||2.5 oz||133.7 fps||Not much!!|
|Crossbow||740 lbs||1.25 oz.||138.7 fps||Not much!!|
Recalling basic physics, the force of each arrow is directly proportional to speed and weight. In short, the longbow has advantage of resulting penetrating force of arrow, but both can penetrate flat armor.
Obvious downside of crossbow is expense. The craftsmanship required metallurgy and carpentry, with precise moving parts, where as the longbow was essential a stick with string attached to it. Choosing between the weapons was cost versus skill of the warrior.
One thing I found particular fascinating is how crossbows were initially perceived. The church of christ in 1066 “considered [the crossbow] so barbarous that it was prohibited as a ‘weapon hateful to God and unfit for Christians.'” I’ve even heard, but have yet to confirm with concrete evidence, that the crossbow was considered one medieval author to be so dangerous that “surely, it will be the weapon to end all wars.” I see a eerie parallel to our modern day perspective on atomic bomb.
The AK-47, is a selevtive fire, gas operated assault rifle first developed in the Soviet Union in 1947 by mikhail Kalashnikov. Consider to be one of the greatest guns ever made, and undeniable a very iconic symbol of modern warfare, the AK-47’s influence on modern soceity extends well beyond that of Russian/Soviet history. In fact, the AK-47 is an emblem featured on the flag of Mozambique.
The reason for AK-47’s rise to international acclaim is a direct result of it’s design. Similar to the crossbow, the level of skill needed to operate the rifle is minimal. Additionally, AK-47s are incredibly resilient to environmental conditions; despite getting wet or dirty, the AK-47 can still fire whereas the american equivalent M-16 required regular cleaning to avoid jamming. The gun was so easy to use, even children could use it, spawning such unnerving pictures as the one here. Also the sheer numbers of guns produced made getting guns and replacement parts easy within the black market. It became the staple weapon of illegal trade amongst many countries around the world, allowing rebel warlords to topple existing regimens.
Who’s killed more?
Now back to the original question at hand. Both weapons share similar qualities as high level of lethality combined with ease of use, making their use wide spread. To answer the question, there are two variables to consider….amount of time the weapon has existed, and number of fatalities it has caused per year.
When comparing how long each has been in existence, the crossbow has been around since the 5th century, making it 2500 years old! The AK-47, in comparison, is only a measly 67 years old. That means the crossbow has been killing people for ~37 AK47 lifetimes. Clearly the crossbow has the edge in this category.
But what about number of fatalities per year? There are multiple contributing factors here. One is directly proportional to population size. The size of the population has grown exponentially in the most recent centuries. Making the number of people who could potentially be killed much higher for more recent years.
One must also consider firing rate. The amount of time to replace a AK-47 magazine of bullets is much faster and easier than loading an additional bolt into a crossbow. And the crossbow can only shoot one bolt before reload, where 10 rounds/sec! So per unit time of using each weapon, the AK-47 assault rifle has clear advantage.
What about the actual estimated numbers? Obviously we don’t have data from the deaths caused by crossbows over the last 2,500 years, but there is some information about Ak-47s. It is estimated that 250,000 people die each year from wounds inflicted by Ak-47s.1 That means over it’s entire lifetime, ~16.75 million people have died as a result of one weapon.
Now extrapolating that data to crossbow, how many people would have to be killed every year for the crossbow to be a possible contender. Dividing 16.75 million of people by 2,500 years, the number comes out to 6,700 people/year!
Considering the size of world population, and the infrequency of such large scale wars historically, I highly doubt that many people are killed, on average, per year by the crossbow. So if I had to take a stance, my final answer is clear:
The Ak47 has killed more people than the crossbow. Despite only being a few decades old, the sheer volume of damage has inflicted overshadows the influence of the crossbow on warfare. Just goes to show how deadly our level of technology has become.