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Why Going Backwards is Fun - Paul Elliott
I've been slinging for a year now. I'm still a novice, but I feel I've learned a lot about this art compared to the guy on the street. It all began when I was flicking through John Wiseman's excellent book The SAS Survival Handbook and saw there a method of 'in-the-field' sling construction depicted. As an ancient Greek/Roman graduate (and obsessive!) I thought: 'even I, with my limited craft skills, can make one of those!'. And so I did.

My journey backwards began. I started slinging. I found a couple of like-minded websites and knocked up a decent staff-sling. I was impressed with both my constructions and with my slinging results. I'd dipped into the past, I was practicing a long lost art of war, a form of combat mostly unknown to everyone around me. I practiced regularly on the beach 15 minutes walk away, I habitually carried my sling around in case me and my family took a stroll on the beach, or in case I left my son at the beach-side leisure centre for an hour.

Staff Sling

Sling and Ammo Pouch
Then I joined my local archery club. I was taking this too seriously! Ancient weapons were fun, I'd discovered, and I wondered what the bow was like. I was coached in the use of the plastic recurve bow with integral sighting mechanism, but as soon as possible I discarded this for a longbow. I trained with the club's longbowmen. But I yearned to try out an 'ancient' bow.

Then last summer I got into historical re-enactment. My 'local' options were either 5thC Roman, at York - an hour away, or 3rdC Roman up at Hadrian's Wall, two-and-a-half hours away. I chose Hadrian's Wall and joined Cohors Quinta Gallorum, Here I found a bunch of people just like me, people who had experimented with these 'backwards' crafts or activities, then found Quinta as a means of expressing their interests. My contact for the group empathized with me - he had discovered the sling many years ago too and had tried many times to find an historical pattern for his slings. We swapped notes, showed each other our slings and traded slinging stories ... and was initiated into the world of historical re-enactment.

A year later I think nothing of creating a woollen tunic, a leather pouch or quiver, a spearhead or greaves, boots or a belt. I'm on my second staff sling (with a nice leather pouch stamped with the Greek word 'DEXA'!) and my sixth sling (a leather Romano-Greek sling). And I eventually got my 'ancient' bow, a Grozer recurve bow that is a pretty accurate replica of the type of Eastern bow used by Roman auxiliaries.

But I still sling, once a week if possible. Its a free and very accessible activity for me, where I can spend an hour or two on the beach with a flask of tea and my own company, honing my target skills or just getting high with impressive lofts out to sea! I can practice with the bow in my garden, but a session with the sling is so much rewarding, both physically and spiritually.

Kestrosphendone - Dart-Firing Sling

So slinging has affected my life and gotten me involved in an entirely new aspect of history that I would never have even considered. Re-enactment has led me to re-evaluate the sling and today I consider it a wonderful weapon of war. I have a healthy respect for both it and those who used it. With my physique and character, I can tell you now - I would have been a slinger. Cast those stones, then run like the wind! Who needs armour and shields when you have a sling!

I still have new slinging projects I want to pursue, even though I now have the full Roman legionary's kit (with the Roman shield I recently made). I've constructed a (tentative) kestrospendone - described by Livy as a sling-cast heavy dart - out of old archery materials and part of a garden sprinkler. And I want to attempt to fabricate some ancient lead sling bullets (glandes) when I can work out how to melt lead without burning my house down or poisoning myself with the fumes! After that I may try a kestrosphendone on a staff sling ... and then, who knows ...? The past beckons.

- Paul Elliott

© 2007