Welcome to Day 24 of my April blog posts about the writing of Before Beltane.
A couple of days ago, I wrote about Celtic spears and Roman pila. Today I’m looking at my use of the less imposing, yet still deadly, weapon named a sling. Slings have been around since men first began to hunt. I presume that when early man realised that a stone thrown at an animal could wound, but not quite kill, they worked out that the force of the throw and the distance covered wasn’t quite sufficient. A simple aid was needed which could help them reach their target with greater accuracy and with enough power behind it to stun, or directly kill the prey.
The earliest slings mentioned throughout the classical world were simply made of natural materials – plant or vegetable fibres, or animal sinews/gut. The act of whirling a stone that’s cradled in a pouch nestled between the two cords, and let fly at the optimum moment, meant a greater force was obtained and the distance of throw was considerably longer than throwing a stone by hand. Slings can be constructed in varied lengths, giving a slinger a wider range of use, and they are easily transported.
Sling stones were made more sophisticated by smoothing stones to a well-rounded shape or, later on, were crafted in metals like iron, or were made of clay. Different shapes were developed to include a shape more like an almond nut.
Sling stone archaeological finds are fairly common, but the actual slings less so since their materials degrade in the ground over time. Since slings are rarely found as grave-goods, it’s thought that slings would have been too ordinary a weapon to add to the weapon stock that a warrior might need in the Afterlife/Otherworld.
Some sling stones found have very interesting properties. A large collection uncovered near the Burnswark Hillfort, southern Scotland, had holes in them. It’s possible that the whooshing/ singing noise those stones made was intended to terrify the enemy.
|Slingers on Trajan's Column -|
Both Late iron Age Britons and Roman armies are likely to have had expert slingers in their midst. A sling stone well-fired could kill an enemy outright, or stun them long enough for other action to be taken to kill them using spear or sword.
Equally, a sling-stone could kill a small animal or bird outright, or stun them long enough for the slinger to reach their prey and kill, before the animal got away.
In Before Beltane, Lorcan uses a sling to kill moor birds, described as being like grouse or capercaillie. Nara adds her sling and sling stones to her pouch when she ventures out to fend for herself when abandoned at the Hillfort of Tarras.