In every ancients wargame I play, whether big-battle style or skirmish, I make sure that I take any slingers I can get from the available troop types in an army list. These figures are also among first ones I paint. In fact, it's always a matter of deep chagrin for me when I get interested in a range of ancients figures only to discover that they left out our friend the slinger. So, this post is my humble paean to a humble weapon.
The sling in warfare through the ages
Slings are one of the earliest known weapons, being essentially an extension of throwing a rock by hand. Though likely used first for hunting, they became common in prehistoric warfare. They go back to Neolithic or even Paleolithic times. Like the earlier developed atlatl, the sling was an application of the principle of mechanical leverage long before Archimedes
|Petroglyh of slinger from Çatal Hüyük ca. 7500 BC|
|Petroglyph of slingers from the island of Naxos, ca. 2000 BC|
|Clay sling bullets in situ at Hamoukar, Syria ca. 3500 BC|
|You're laughing now, but wait for it...|
|Slingers on a silver rhyton from Mycenae|
|Assyrian slingers form up behind the archers|
|Slingstones bigger than meatballs|
Rhodian slingers continued in use by Greek armies; Pyhrrus had a corps of 500 of them at Heraclea. Hannibal employed slingers from the Balearic Isles in his campaigns in Italy. Rome employed both Balearic slingers and Rhodian slingers after these areas came under their control. Some lead sling stones recovered from archaeological sites have inscriptions on them in Latin or Greek that say things like "catch!" or "take this!" A practice not dissimilar to writings on ordnance in modern times.
|Roman slingers from Trajan's column ca. 113 AD|
At the Battle of Kappel in 1531, Swiss soldiers carried stones in their pockets to use as close-range missiles. Although not an example sling use, it still shows how the ballistic use of stones could have an effect. The Swiss stone-throwers were credited with stopping a cavalry charge at one point. (Kappel, by the way, was the battle where the Swiss
The Spanish conquistadors in the 16th c. encountered slings in the hands of the Aztecs and Incas whom they conquered. These missiles were more feared than the native arrows and javelins because, unlike those weapons, the slingstones had deadly effect against the armored Spanish troops. There is evidence that Coronado's men used slings themselves—in addition to their arquebuses and crossbows—in his 1540 Cíbola expedition in the American southwest.
|Clay figurine of a Meso-American slinger ca. 300 AD|
The staff-sling supplemented, and later superseded, the shepherd's sling that was in common use for so many thousands of years. The staff-sling simply attached one end of a sling to the end of a pole with the other end slipped over a peg at the top of the pole. Using the weapon was similar to the action of a trebuchet. Although the actual range of the staff-sling may have been no greater than the shepherd sling, it was handier for throwing larger projectiles and even incendiaries in siege or naval warfare.
Slingers in wargames
In reviewing a set of ancients rules, I always have a keen eye about how slings perform in them. I'm not really looking to see whether they perform better than bows, only that they perform differently and not be lumped into a group with bows as long-range missiles (as opposed to javelins and darts, which are short-range missiles). Unfortunately, the latter is often the case.
There are a few rays of light, however. I was pleased to find in the skirmish rules BattleLust by Columbia Games that slings and staff-slings are separate missile weapons. I even found that staff-slings are less accurate at close range than slings, but have the advantage of range and outperform the humble shepherd sling at longer ranges.
WRG Ancients (6th ed.) had separate stats for slings that gave them better effect against armored troops than bows, even if their range was shorter. The WRG 5th edition ancients rules separated staff-slings from the rest, but the humble shepherd sling was counted among the bows and javelins.
Rogue's Gallery: Slingers I have known
The following are a few of the slinger figures I've painted and played with over the years.
These are from Crusader Miniatures. I blogged about these guys earlier when they were painted for a 28mm version of Field of Glory. I abandoned the FoG project, but not the figures. I've since re-based them on single-figure stands for use in skirmish games.
Bronze Age Europeanoids
These are from Monolith Designs 40mm Prehistoric Europe range. I completed these figures as part of my Bronze Age Europe skirmish project. The Song of Blades and Heroes rules I use don't give slingers any kind of distinction; they're just like anyone else with a distant shooting weapon. Although, SoBH is versatile enough to allow my own tinkering with special slinger rules…
These are some of the beautiful figures from Foundry's World of the Greeks range sculpted by Steve Saleh many years back. I've played with these figures in my De Bellis Velitum games. Alas DBV counts slingers as any other "shooter" no different than bowmen, cross-bowmen, staff-slingers, or even the fabled Lithuanian bat-dung hurlers.
Naked Guy With A Rock (βράχος-ρίψης γυμνιστών)
One notable figure from among my Greek slingers is the bollocks nekkid guy holding a big rock (so, not actually a slinger). In one of our DBV games, he took on all comers and walked away. Legend has it that he retired with his trusty rock to an island in the Cyclades where he entertained tourists with lurid tales of taking on an army single handed with nothing but his rock and a smile.
|What does one wear to a rock fight?|
These excellent figures, made by Black Tree Designs, were a very nice addition to my Pictish forces for Pig Wars, which are otherwise from Old Glory's Age of Arthur range. Old Glory doesn't offer Pictish slingers, so I was quite happy to find the Black Tree figures in a blister pack at The Panzer Depot stall at an Enfilade! convention long ago (so long ago that John Kennedy, proprietor of TPD, was actually at Enfilade! selling things instead of sitting it out like Achilles among the Argive ships).
I've got several other packs of slingers: Saxons, Irish, Byzantine (staff-slingers), Spartans, etc. that I'll eventually paint and get into games. I'm rather keen, now that I think of it, to do something with Aztecs and Conquistadors. I likely won't use the old Minifigs "Big Fig" slingers, but Eureka makes a nice range.
I've also got a lot of 15mm ancients still in the raw lead. Some of these are the excellent Rhodian slingers from Xyston. I just don't have an application for them yet. The mind, however, churns...
While fiddling about on the Interwebs for information about slings, I discovered the website slinging.org, which is devoted to reviving the sport of slinging. The site has lots of information about modern-day slinging with links to other sites. Some of the sites linked to offer slings for sale. I couldn't resist. I ordered a split-pouch sling made of woven paracord from David the Shepherd. It's advertised as being ideal for slinging golf balls, although until I learn how to aim and control the sling, I'm sticking to marshmallows. They won't stop Goliath, but they won't go through a neighbor's window or drop some ill-fated passerby either.
|Sling and sling-mallows|
I've also looked into getting a Balearic style sling made of woven sisal from T.J. Potter Slingmaker. This is a lot more like the ancient weapon and is modeled after the slings still in use in the Balearic Isles of Spain, where annual slinging contests are still held in honor of the islands' history of producing the finest slingers of the ancient world.
The big problem with slinging in these modern times is finding a place to sling—especially to practice—that is open and far from anything/anyone that could get hit by a stray shot. I expect stray shots to be my standard release for some time.