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A Manual for Korean Traditional Cross-bow

김기훈 1 강신엽 2

1육군사관학교
2육군박물관

Accredited

ABSTRACT

A Manual for Korean traditional cross-bow, Nohae(弩解), is a military book which explains how to make Korean traditional cross-bows and how to operate them. It was written by Byeon Jin-yeong(邊震英), a former magistrate of Gapsan, northern frontier region of Joseon Dynasty. It was first published in 1727 and then republished in 1729 with revision of his friend, Yi Se-hwan(李世瑍). Nohae is a small book, of which the main text is composed of only 33 pages, among which 11 pages are allocated to drawings. Cross-bow is an improved version of traditional bow, by using wooden apparatus in order to reduce the required force to shoot arrows with greater penetrating power. In case of China, cross-bows had been extensively used since the Spring-autumn and Warring period (B.C. 8th-3rd century) to defend against northern nomadic tribes, who excelled in mounted combats. In the age of the Three Kingdoms (1st-7th century) in Korea, it seems cross- bows were widely employed in combats as the existence of specialized unit for cross-bows suggests. However, the use of cross-bows had become rarer in Goryeo Dynasty and by Joseon Dynasty, the techniques for cross-bow production were nearly extinct. In that respect, it can be argued that ‘A Manual for Cross-bow’ by Byeon Jin-yeong was a military book, designed to respond to the vanishing techniques for cross-bow production. Byeon Jin-yeong criticised the contemporary weaponry system that heavily relied on horn bows, and explained his hopes to introduce more user-friendly cross-bows than horn bows. In introduction, he lamented the fact that knowledge of cross-bow had not been maintained. He then recorded that he took the chance of his appointment as magistrate of northern frontiers to develop cross-bows based on ancient drawings and his own alterations, and had successful results. The main texts are composed of 13 parts, broadly divided into production techniques and operational methods. In production techniques, main components of cross-bows including arrows, cross-bow body, a trigger and pulley are described withdrawing. The part for operational methods explains how to install linked cross-bows, and suggest methods to use cross-bows for ambushes. It is followed by how to effectively use cross-bows in fortress defence or naval battles, and the last part proposes possible unit formations or suitable tactics to improve effectiveness of the weapon. Despite the hopes of the author, cross-bows had played little roles in the late Joseon Period. Byeon Jin-yeong’s manual itself, however, is a historically valuable contribution. It is the only existing manual of Korean cross-bows, whose meaning is highlighted by the fact that it is Joseon’s own manual of this powerful weapon.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.