The crossbow had been known in ancient times at least in Greece and China, although some of these were larger artillery pieces. Despite its long history it only really became a mainstream battle weapon in Europe during the 12th century, when its use overtook that of the longbow in most armies. While it had a slower rate of fire it had many advantages over the longbow, principally that it required little training or practice to use, whereas the longbow required great skill and experience. Italians, Gascons and Catalans were particularly noted as experts in the weapon, but it was popular in most armies, especially amongst mercenaries. Therefore most European battles of the later Middle Ages would have included this weapon, and this set from Strelets is devoted entirely to it.
Crossbows came with a variety of methods of loading over the medieval period, and usually several systems were on show at any one time as some were better than others but more expensive. However Strelets have avoided addressing this diversity by not including the method of loading on any of theirs. Some have the stirrup, and a couple of men have the belt-hook that was one of the earlier and simplest methods of drawing the bow. However for the rest there is no evidence of lever, cranequin, windlass or any other device. Indeed the crossbows themselves are considerably simplified, and in the case of those holding their bow horizontally (all those on the top row) the bow itself is completely straight, which is both a contradiction in terms and completely wrong. The reason of course is that the mould cannot cope with a curved bow on the horizontal, which is why crossbows are usually done separately. However in this set there are no separate components, so those figures suffer as a result. It is also worth pointing out that none of the crossbows have a string, which is because this kind of fine detail is largely beyond the Strelets sculpting standard.
Crossbowmen were generally armoured but not always so. Mercenaries tended to be able to afford better protection, and the cost of the crossbow meant it was often in the hands of wealthier men anyway, who again could afford some form of armour. The figures in this set are a mixed bunch, with some having pretty good armour while others have none showing. This is fine, and generally the clothing is reasonable although some have strange rosettes on their clothing which we must assume is decorative.
The poses show the various stages of loading and using a crossbow, although some are fairly vague in terms of what the man is actually doing. In general the poses are fine but we note that none of the men about to release their bolt or quarrel are correctly positioned as all have their crossbow against the inside of their shoulder (rather like a musketeer) rather than resting it on top of their shoulder as they should.
Strelets rather basic style is not ideal for this kind of fiddly detailed weaponry and it shows here - we have already commented on the lack of bow details. The men themselves suffer less and are fairly good compared to some recent Strelets sets yet look poor compared to some of the best medievals of recent years. There is not much flash and with no assembly these figures are ready to go straight off the sprue.
It would have been both appropriate and appreciated if the set had include some pavise shields which were commonly used by those armed with the crossbow, but we note that this set includes more than the usual number of figures so perhaps we cannot complain. Crossbowmen tend to be represented by one or perhaps two poses in a typical set of medieval figures, so building a large body of such men can be difficult. This set certainly makes that task a great deal easier, but without the quality of sculpting to compare with Italeri or Zvezda, so it is something of a mixed blessing.