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Slings in ancient warfare

Discussion in 'Research' started by Swordfry, Feb 18, 2016.

  1. Swordfry

    Swordfry Troubadour

    I have started taking a liking to slings now. And I realize that in my books, which take place in a more ancient, primitive setting of my planet, they might be more viable as a ranged weapon as you can really just pick up rocks and not actually have to make most of your ammo, like with arrows. But I do have a few questions concerning their use in ancient warfare:

    1. Exactly how many people used them? By the time the bow and arrow showed up, how many people favored the sling over the bow? Slings have advantages, like concussive damage to internal organs without even having to puncture armor. What would the numbers of archers vs slingers look like in an army?

    2. Formations in armies. Did slingers have their own lines separate from the archers? How exactly would they be used in battle tactics?

    3. Would slings be a viable option for a weapon in forests? In my books, a thick forest in one of the main settings. I imagine the many trees might be a worry, but any more than any other missile weapon?
  2. SotaMursu

    SotaMursu Acolyte

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  3. Here is a good starting point for most of your questions:

    Sling (weapon) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    What I found crazy is that they lasted into the Iron Age. Going further down the page there are other variations on the classic sling, one might argue that a trebuchet is just a giant sling. Anyways, hope that helps.
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  4. Jerseydevil

    Jerseydevil Minstrel

    1. I know for a fact that the Celts used them very extensively against the Romans in their hill forts. Piles of sling stones were found at the remains of Gallic settlements for use against the Romans. They were the main missile weapons used against Caesar as he rampaged around Gaul. The Greeks used them as well, usually as skirmishers (more on that later). Outside of warfare, the sling was very commonly used by shepherds as weapons well into the Middle Ages, since a bow and arrows take up too much space and are cumbersome. In warfare, people pressed into service would use what they knew. As far as exact numbers, it's impossible to tell, and in a Medieval context would probably be used by local militia rather than formal troops. In Gaul, there was no formal army. Anyone who could fight did so, and simply brought what was known to them. If someone knew how to use a sling from their occupation, he might as well use that. In more formal settings, I have not heard of someone being recruited as a slinger, receiving specialized slinger training, etc. I'm not saying it didn't happen, I'm just no aware of it.

    2. I don't know much about this, but they would not be in the same formation as archers. The Greeks, and especially the Macedonians used them as skirmishers, moving in front of the main formation, picking apart the enemy, breaking apart their formation and generally being a pain in the neck before the main army clashed. Actually, slingers and skirmishers were decisive at the battle of Galugumela, Alexander the Great's greatest victory. They provided what we would call today "covering fire," for Alexander and his Companions as they charged into the Persian ranks.

    The main factor here is the trajectory. Bows can shoot over the top of a formation and the arrow can still hit its target with enough force to cause damage with a decent amount of accuracy. A sling stone can be used in an arcing pattern, but it is very difficult to hit something that way. They work best at a flat trajectory, the stone or bullet (lead balls made for this purpose) moving directly towards the target without arcing.

    3. There is a bit of an issue here. In Western Europe, ranged weapons are not particularly common. They did exist, and people were more than happy to use them, but the thick forests limited their usefulness. Only a tiny fraction of armies had ranged weapons of any kind, usually between 10-20% of the army, depending on nation and era, and that's being generous. The English and Welsh are an exception to this. Ranged weapons were more common as one traveled east, as the forests cleared, giving line of sight to the person using it. Islamic armies, nomads of the steppes, the Chinese, etc, all made much more extensive use of ranged weapons in general.
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  5. intipablo

    intipablo Scribe

    It depends, are you aiming for your book to be historically accurate. If so, where in the world is your book/slingers set?
    I know they were used quite often in ancient Britons and possibly the Gauls (i dont remember). The younger, less battle-ready men/boys would fight with these slingers. They were really the only ranged warrior in the ancient empire. They believed armour and bows were cowardly.

    Like the first question it depends on where your book is set and how historically accurate you want it to be. But i don't know much about this, i'll look into it.

    Not sure much about this one either, but i think all ranged weapons in this stance would be pretty ineffective.
  6. Velka

    Velka Sage

    Don't forget that slings have an advantage over bows as they are still 100% useful when wet. Bowstrings, not so much.

    Check out a bunch of great articles on the historical use of slings at slinging.org It may answer a few of your questions.

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