Crossbowmen Were Considered an Elite Corps
…[For] most of the Middle Ages the weapon that best typifies killing from a distance was the crossbow…. Constructed initially of wood, it was made of steel by the fifteenth century [C.E.]. It was essentially a bow mounted crosswise that shot metal bolts that could pierce any cuirass at most distances. It could be effective to 370-500 meters. Crossbowmen had two advantages over bowmen: they did not need extensive and continuous training to become adept, and they could prepare the crossbow ahead of time. Yet the complex mechanism to cock the crossbow meant that it was much slower than the longbow (probably six arrows to one bolt) and left the person firing a visible target for enemy bowmen. This meant that crossbowmen often operated in combination with a footman, called a pavisier, armed with a spear and a very large shield (pavise) behind which the crossbowmen could cock his weapon.
The best crossbowmen were considered to come from Catalonia, Gascony, or Liguria, the Italian region where Genoa is located. They tended to be a large component of most medieval armies, considered an elite corps occupying a central position in the battle line and opening the encounter or attempting to outflank the enemy. Membership in its ranks was so highly valued in Spain that service was considered equivalent to that of a cavalryman.
— Barbarians, Marauders, and Infidels, p. 135