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General >> Project Goliath - The History of The Sling >> Another remark on the status of slingers in Rome
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Message started by Fundibularius on Jan 31st, 2010 at 6:37pm

Title: Another remark on the status of slingers in Rome
Post by Fundibularius on Jan 31st, 2010 at 6:37pm
We had the question of the general status of slingers in antiquity some time ago already, I guess.

Accidentally, today I found some passages by Valerius Maximus, a Roman writer in the first quarter of the first century AD which might shed some light on how slingers were looked upon in his time and in the centuries before. He tells two anecdotes from Roman history with a similar content.

The first one is about a cavalry unit which, during a campaign in Sicily, surrendered to the enemy. After their return to Roman troops, the proud cavalrymen have to give up their horses (and their status) in shame and are moved to slingers’ units (…consul… turmas[…] equitum […] ademptis equis in funditorum alas transcripsit. Val. Max. II, 7, 9)

The second anecdote is from the Pyrrhic war. King Pyrrhus set a great number of Roman POW free and let them return to Rome. The senate decides that those of them who had served in the cavalry are to be degraded to infantry, and those who had been infantrists are to join the slingers (Val. Max. II, 7, 15).

In both cases, being degrading to slingers is regarded as a punishment almost worse than death.

Title: Re: Another remark on the status of slingers in Ro
Post by Thearos on Jan 31st, 2010 at 7:22pm
V. good catch.

Title: Re: Another remark on the status of slingers in Ro
Post by slingbadger on Feb 1st, 2010 at 7:29am
That happened a lot. Captured soldiers who decided to join with the Romans were immediately assigned to slingers. All armor and equipment had to be surrendered.  

Title: Re: Another remark on the status of slingers in Ro
Post by Fundibularius on Feb 1st, 2010 at 9:51am
The difference is that these were not captured enemies but Roman citizens who returned after being POW. They were blamed by the senate for shameful surrender (i.e. not having fought to the death) and sent to an obviously deeply despised formation in the public eye - slingers.

I can still imagine somehow that slingers did not earn the same respect as the legionnaires or the equites because they fought "cowardly" from the distance instead of getting into the hand-to-hand-mélée on the field.

I wonder, however, which use these "degraded" troops can have had at all in their new function. As we all know, one does not become a good slinger in a weekend or probably not even in a few weeks of military drill. Now considerable numbers of these soldiers were integrated into a specialised formation, maybe without even being able to fire a good shot at the enemy. To me this seems rather uneffective from a tactical point of view.

Title: Re: Another remark on the status of slingers in Ro
Post by curious_aardvark on Feb 1st, 2010 at 1:37pm
one can become a good barrage slinger easily in a week of solid training.
Slingers were not generally snipers.

All that is required is to get the missile a decent distance in front of you :-)

Title: Re: Another remark on the status of slingers in Ro
Post by Aussie on Feb 1st, 2010 at 3:49pm

Curious Aardvark wrote on Feb 1st, 2010 at 1:37pm:
one can become a good barrage slinger easily in a week of solid training.
Slingers were not generally snipers.

All that is required is to get the missile a decent distance in front of you :-)


:o :o :o Mate, I can't believe my eyes! What about all those stoushes we've had in the past where you maintained it took decades to train them and the only reason archers superceded slingers was the shorter training period etc.   :o :o :o

Title: Re: Another remark on the status of slingers in Ro
Post by David Morningstar on Feb 1st, 2010 at 5:17pm

Aussie wrote on Feb 1st, 2010 at 3:49pm:

Curious Aardvark wrote on Feb 1st, 2010 at 1:37pm:
one can become a good barrage slinger easily in a week of solid training.
Slingers were not generally snipers.

All that is required is to get the missile a decent distance in front of you :-)


:o :o :o Mate, I can't believe my eyes! What about all those stoushes we've had in the past where you maintained it took decades to train them and the only reason archers superceded slingers was the shorter training period etc.   :o :o :o


For chucking into an oncoming army of thousands, a week is enough.  To hit one man at 50 yards, start as a boy. I have just taken my first steps into archery and I was immediately far more accurate with a bow than I am with a sling.

Title: Re: Another remark on the status of slingers in Ro
Post by Jaegoor on Feb 2nd, 2010 at 9:49am
Hi Leuts,


Today we go out from it, the Slinger something special were.

I think this the Sling much more known in the Volck was than today. She was just banal

A little bit what every child beherschte.

It is also not right, the Slinger only on width have fought.

They were also equipped with sign and sword.

With big security they had a high mortality in the fight.

Therefore, nobody also wanted to go there.

Title: Re: Another remark on the status of slingers in Ro
Post by timann on Feb 2nd, 2010 at 11:29am
I can only guess that a sling formation made up from not-really-volunteer good-enough-slingers could easily be unfortunate  enough to deliver a good amount of "friendly fire".   But, there are dangers all around in war.
timann

Title: Re: Another remark on the status of slingers in Ro
Post by Thearos on Feb 3rd, 2010 at 5:59pm
Some possibilities

-it wasn't that difficult to sling (for a culture where men are used to throwing things)

-those demoted legionaries didn't sling terribly well, but the Roman state put more importance on punishing them than getting effective slingers: what counted was symbolism and publicity of humiliation

-the slinging line was dangerous enough that the punishment amounted to a high risk of injury or death, ungloriously, in the pre-battle skirmishes

Title: Re: Another remark on the status of slingers in Ro
Post by Fundibularius on Feb 4th, 2010 at 4:01am
Sounds plausible to me, although I still wonder how the Romans who usually stressed effectiveness a lot, put the humiliating aspect over the pragmatic. In my view, for the "professional" regular slingers, those newcomers must have been more of an obstacle than a support.

I also wonder how dangerous it really was to be a slinger under those circumstances. Sure, they usually had more distance to the enemy, but what if, let's say, an enemy cavalry unit charged upon them? By the nature of their weapon, I suppose, slingers must have stood quite loosely on the field. That means their cohesion was poor if they did not succeed in taking out most of the attackers from a distance.

Compared to a normal infantry unit, which can stand in close formation, one man protecting himself and his neighbour, slingers must have been rather easy prey for horsemen once they got between them,  even if the slingers also wore shields and swords. I think you are right, Thearos: being a slinger was not only more shameful (from a Roman point of view), it was also more dangerous than serving in other units.

Title: Re: Another remark on the status of slingers in Ro
Post by David Morningstar on Feb 4th, 2010 at 9:58am

Unsupported slingers are toast, as seen at  the Battle of Pharsalus where Julius Caesar defeated Pompey and became sole ruler of Rome: http://www.livius.org/pha-phd/pharsalus/battle.html

However, when closely supported by infantry they can stand and shoot back (there is a historical example that I cant find a link for at the moment)

Title: Re: Another remark on the status of slingers in Ro
Post by funda_iucunda on Feb 19th, 2010 at 6:08pm
Somewhere in a Roman source (unfortunately I forgot where) it is mentioned that the legionaries used the sling pretty skillful as it was used in spare time for hunting small game. They were well trained and specialized heavy Infantry men. But you never escape from your everyday pulmentum by hunting rabbits and ducks with your pilum or sword. I am pretty sure that the legionaries had at least private experience in slinging. (The comparable situation must have been when those hoplites of Xenophons "Tenthousands" who negotiated huge fees for accepting the socially badly regarded - but actually very urgent - slinging service. They produced their glandes during the following night and succeeded against the Persian professionals at the very next morning.)
The social punishment by making a proud legionary become a slinger is a matter of social status not of skill or practice. Please keep in mind that during the republican era the army was organized according to the five tax classes. Those who paid the lowest taxes could not afford expensive weapons. They used what everybody had at home, at least a sling. For a poor man this was acceptable, for a rich one not. Furtheron, as Rome was small at the beginning everybody knew why the rich neighbour newly moved to the ranks of the poor devils. What a shame!
It's like today. A big expensive car is really not in every respect the best choice. But if reputation matters you have no cheap option.

funda iucunda

Title: Re: Another remark on the status of slingers in Ro
Post by Fundibularius on Feb 22nd, 2010 at 4:11am
Very good points, funda_iucunda. Thanks!

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