Iron age sling bullets seem designed to make terrifying whistling noise

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“Sir, the Romans are throwing rocks at us.”
“That’s not so bad.”
“They whistle.”
“My Gods! If this keeps up they’ll finish a wall that is just high enough to be a mild inconvenience!”


Between the deliberate noisemaking and the small size that suggests multiple-projectile slinging; these sound(sorry) like they were designed for suppressive fire.

Ballistic inferiority, substantially greater labor in fabrication, and inability to silently catch the opponent by surprise(and avoid any sort of ducking/taking cover/etc.) would all be vices; but if you are dealing with opponents who have the advantage of a fort; and are presumably taking it out on you with slings, bows, javelins, or whatever ranged weapons of their own as you try to advance; that would be more or less exactly the situation where ‘give them a strong incentive to keep their heads down while we advance to stabbing range’ would be valuable.


From the article: “…experimenters in the field have noted that a 50g Roman bullet propelled
from a sling has only slightly less kinetic energy than a shot from a .44 Magnum”

Do you feel lucky, Puncus?

Some years ago I visited a desert area in southern Peru that showed signs of long human habitation. There were many stone tools, and the ground was littered with small smooth stones about golf ball size, made of some very dense rock. The two I brought back weigh 56 and 76 grams. Just hefting them makes it obvious that being hit by one would not be just a matter of a nasty bruise.


Arrows might be somewhat worse if you are hit in an area with lots of soft tissue(without comparatively recent haemostastic techniques and antibiotics pulling out an arrow without bleeding to death or dying of infection wouldn’t be fun, while one hell of a bruise and some broken ribs would probably heal as long as no organs ruptured); but the amount of damage you can do to bone(and the brain behind it) without even the tech required for elastic storage of energy is pretty horrific.


The ancients used them defensively (raining lead slingstones from a fort with a force that could crack an unarmed skull was a helpful suggest to people outside to leave), but used them for offensive attacks as well - they had a greater range than ancient bows (according to ancient authors), and a relatively high rate of fire (one slinger could hurl ~12 stones a minute). Xenophon generally referred to slingers and bowmen as a unit in the Anabasis when discussing battles, but noted the Rhodian slingers had a greater range than the Persian bowmen or slingers, so the slings could hit them before they were in range for a counterattack. Alexander used slingers and bowmen in his sieges and attacks to great effect by raining stones and arrows on armies (though it was the advances in the Macedonian cavalry that gave him the most effective edge).


It’s been a while since I read Xenophon, but i believe he mentioned their slingers carving messages into stones, as well as grooves so they whistled in flight.


I read somewhere on line, and I don’t have the link now, that a Roman-era medical text described methods for extracting sling stones that were embedded below the surface of the skin.

The Romans would scratch messages along the lines of “Catch!” or “Heads up!”. Soldiers never change.


silent but deadly



Dang, these are way neat! Totally stealing this for my pen n paper RPG campaign!


Not as scary as the diggeridoo.


Sweet dreams.

(ETA: I tried to find one with Morris dancers too, but the Internet apparently isn’t ready for such things yet.)


In combination slings and bows probably compensated for each other’s deficiencies. Arrows can penetrate armour better but bullets go farther, and the like.

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Imagine thousands of these things being flung at you at high velocity. Yes, then the whistling might add to the terror, since sometimes the sound is accompanied by the kinetic energy of the .44 magnum mentioned above.

We think of catapults as big lumbering things, but Tracey Rihll in her book The Catapul: A history also talks about handheld devices and relatively untrained troops being able to fire lots of these things.

I thought I found out about that book on BoingBoing, Can’t find it so maybe not.

edit: I also have nerf gun darts with holes in the front to make a whistling noise. Slightly less terrifying though.


Also slings and their missiles were MUCH easier to construct and you can carry a lot of them. It requires skill to use well, but with not TV back then, what else are you going to do with your time.

Also, you never really run out of ammo, as rocks would work too.

Oddly, my kid when I did our first and only D&D session chose a sling.

I want to re-run it with her now that she is older. She is into archery now, so I wonder if she will change it.


The Roman ballista came in a range of sizes from big siege engines firing large stones to small arrow-firing devices roughly equivalent to a heavy machine gun. They even had a repeating ballista, where turning a crank drew back the string, dropped a bolt into place, and fired it automatically. The rate of fire of a modern replica was about 11 bolts per minute.

There’s the problem. You pretty well have to start training as a toddler. I have played around a little with a sling, and I am a danger to anyone within fifty yards or so in any direction. In a line of slingers at my skill level, 90% of the casualties would be from friendly fire. The only way I could hit a barn consistently would be to stand inside it, and even then I couldn’t predict which wall.


“A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.”


Back when I was in archaeology field school we turned up a numerous Hellenistic sling bullets at the site we were working on. They’re nasty things: couple inches long, made out of lead in a flattened oval shape. Definitely would not want to be hit by one. Most of them had been cast in molds, and some had inscriptions in Greek like “Here’s a taste of sumac!” which I guess meant something like “Take that, loser!” in the ancient Levant.


Slings are like pencils. What you can do with a simple writing instrument is amazing with practice.

But you have to start early and use it as a lifestyle. A Shepard who slings rocks at critters all day is building marksman skills.

Slings > bows in most ways. Father range, even more accurate… but the skill involved is one it takes a lifetime to develop.

The last slingers to fight in a war was in 1920. Pretty good run for a weapon so easy and practical.


The Jericho Trumpets of antiquity.