Arbalests, Bows & Crossbows
There's a lot of misinformation (Heck. There's a lot of downright wrong information) out there on these three basic forms of missile weapon … the following is gleaned from a variety of re-enactor sources ...
Arbalest. These only start to appear in the late 14th century, only start to be more than an occasional rarity by the middle of the 15th century, and only become (somewhat) common by the late 15th century. They differ from an ordinary Crossbow in that they have a spring-metal bowstave and, therefore, cannot be spanned without some form of mechanical aid. Rate of Fire was no more than a round a minute for a trained user and maximum range was 380-400 yards (~100 yards for aimed fire at individual targets). They were most commonly used as sniping weapons during sieges.
Crossbow. Though their use as Hunting weapons goes back to Roman times, they weren't widely adopted for military use, and then mostly on the Continent, until the 13th-14th centuries. They originally had a simple self bowstave and could be spanned by hand … later models (from the middle of the 14th century) started to appear with composite bowstaves which required some form of assistance to be spanned. Rate of Fire was 4-6 round per minute. Maximum range was 300-350 yards, but accurate range for massed fire was 200 yards and for aimed fire at individual targets more like 60 yards.
Longbow. Maximum range was around 300 yards, Effective Range for Massed Fire was 200 yards and for aimed fire at individual targets, around 80-100 yards. Rate of Fire was 5-6 arrows per minute for aimed fire, or a dozen arrows per minute for massed area fire.
As you can see, despite claims by older works (and more recent ones that uncritically rely on them), the ranges at which these three weapons were effective was close to identical. Likewise, the damage they did was close to identical as well … with higher draw weights being almost completely cancelled out on Crossbows and Arbalests by the very short arms and short draw distance compared to the Longbow. The big advantage that the Crossbow family had over the Longbow was that it took, at most, weeks to make an effective Crossbowman, but it took many many years to train an effective Longbow Archer.
Short Bow. Differed from Longbows in that (on the Continent, where they dominated) they were drawn to the chest, not the ear. Maximum range was around 250 yards, effective range was around 100 yards for massed fire and 40 yards for aimed fire. Rate of fire was similar to that of a Longbow.
Composite Bow. Generally found only on the margins of Europe or in the Arab/Muslim world.Despite claims by older works, often (all too often) repeated uncritically by more recent works, they don't have a significantly greater massed fire, effective fire or aimed fire range than Longbows, nor do they do significantly more damage than a Longbow of the same draw weight. Their big advantage is that they are shorter for the same draw weight than a Longbow … an important consideration for use by Mounted troops (which was more common in areas where they were used).