Archeologists have unearthed a set of Roman lead sling bullets which were used against the barbarian foes in Scotland. The bullets were found to make a piercing whistle noise when hurled through the air, a sound thought to have been used to strike terror in their enemies 1,800 years ago.
According to an article published recently by LiveScience, the bullets were discovered at Burnswark Hill in southwestern Scotland. The find was made during the excavation of a field where a massive attack of the Roman army took a place in the 2nd century AD.
Burnswark Hill, Scotland (geograph.co.uk)The excavation work was led by John Reid of the Trimontium Trust, a Scottish historical society which is directing the first major archaeological investigation of Burnswark Hill site in 50 years. The bullets weigh about 1 ounce (30 grams) and had been drilled with a 0.2-inch (5 millimeters) hole. The researchers believe that it was designed to give the soaring bullets a sharp buzzing or whistling noise in flight, making them what they called a real ''terror weapon''.
John Reid said to LiveScience:
"You don't just have these silent but deadly bullets flying over; you've got a sound effect coming off them that would keep the defenders' heads down. Every army likes an edge over its opponents, so this was an ingenious edge on the permutation of sling bullets."
Some of the Roman sling bullets found at the Burnswark Hill battle site in Scotland. The two smallest bullets, shown at the bottom of this image, are drilled with a hole that makes them whistle in flight. Credit: John Reid/Trimontium TrustAbout 20 percent of the lead sling bullets discovered at Burnswark Hill had been drilled with the holes. They were also smaller than the typical bullets, so the researchers pinpointed that the soldiers may have used several of them with one throw. The size of the bullets gave the ability to fire them in groups of three or four, so the soldiers could receive a scattergun effect. The researchers believe that they were for ''close-quarter skirmishing''.
Sling bullets are a very common find at excavation sites related to Roman army battles in Europe. The largest ones are shaped like lemons and weigh up to 2 ounces (60 grams). The smaller bullets, shaped like acorns, are a common find on the site in Scotland. Apart from Romans, Greeks also used them during battles. However, the researchers suggest that the holes in Greek bullets were reservoirs for poison. Some of the bullets contain written messages intended to taunt their enemy. As Ancient Origins writer, Mark Miller, explained in his article:
''Writing messages on bullets and missiles goes back at least to Biblical times and continues to modern times among Israelis, Jordanians, Americans and others. The practice became industrial to ancient Greeks and Romans, who manufactured lead sling bullets in molds with taunting messages in bas-relief, such as ‘Ouch!’, ‘Be lodged well’, and ‘Here’s a sugar plum for you!’.
Ancient Greek sling bullets with engravings. One side depicts a winged thunderbolt, and the other, the Greek inscription “take that” in high relief. (Wikimedia Commons)The ancient Greeks and Romans produced lead bullets for use in slings in mass quantities, sometimes in molds and sometimes just by digging a hole into sand and pouring molten lead into it. The messages that ancient Romans put on lead sling bullets ranged from naming the leader of the sling unit, the commander of the troops or messages invoking a god or wishing injury upon or insulting the targets.
Bullets launched with a sling traveled farther than an arrow and caused devastating though subtle injuries to the people they struck, according to ancient sources. Lead made a very good missile because it is heavy and could remain small and because they were very hard to see and avoid.''
When the Romans attacked at Burnswark Hill, the slings were used mainly by specialized units of auxiliary troops ("auxilia") recruited to fight alongside the Roman legions. In ancient times, the Balearic Islands, an archipelago near Spain in the western Mediterranean, was famous for the best Roman slingers. They supported Julius Caesar during his unsuccessful invasions of Britain in 55 BC and 54 BC.
The work of a slinger wasn't easy, but their strategy was very effective. According to Current Archeology, the 50g bullets could be cast at least 200 meters and reach speeds of up to 100 mph (160 km/h). This means that a Roman bullet propelled from a sling has only slightly less kinetic energy than a shot from a 44 Magnum gun.
The Brunswark Hill site lies a few miles away from the line of Roman forts and Hadrian's Wall. The attack of the Romans was perhaps a part of the military campaign by Antonius Pius, the successor of Hadrian. The war with Scottish tribes took about 20 years, until 158 AD, when the Romans gave up their plans to conquer those lands.
Top image: A Spartan using a sling. Credit: Shumate
By Natalia Klimzcak