A period illustration of the Battle of Crécy. English longbowmen figure prominently in the foreground at right where they drive away the French crossbowmen.
A ranged weapon is any weapon that can engage targets beyond hand-to-hand distance, i.e. at distances greater than the physical reach of the weapon itself. It is sometimes also called projectile weapon or missile weapon because it typically works by launching projectiles, though technically a directed-energy weapon (which doesn't involve projectiles) is also a ranged weapon. In contrast, a weapon intended to be used in hand-to-hand combat is called a melee weapon.
Ranged weapons give the attacker an advantage in combat, since the target is often getting hit from beyond immediate visual range, and therefore has less time to react and more difficulty defending and hitting back effectively. It also puts distance between the attacker and the opponent, which is a safer combat option since the close physical contact during melee combat often puts the attacker within the immediate striking range of enemy counterattack, and thus at an equal risk of getting hurt or killed.
Early ranged weapons often included specifically designed hand-thrown weapons such as javelins, slings and darts, as well as more complex elastic weapons such as slingshots and bows; and siege engines like stone throwers, catapults, ballistas and trebuchets. These ranged weapons were extremely effective in combat, especially when used en masse, as they gave the wielder opportunity to launch multiple rounds of attack before an enemy armed with melee weapons or shorter-ranged missile weapons could even get close enough to pose a threat.