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How to employ bodies of slingers in battle (Read 15205 times)
Thearos
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How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Apr 11th, 2009 at 7:56pm
 
Just some thoughts inspired by W. K. Pritchett's wonderful chapter on slingers, in Greek State at War, chap. 5 (on Google Books, BTW).

Slingers belong to the category of light-armed (psiloi in Greek, expediti, etc, in Latin). How do you employ them ? †No doubt the sling served in "small" or "skulking" war for the communities that specialized in its use, for instance the Cretan cities, the Akarnanians, Achaians; Balearic islanders. But in the sort of operations that turn up in our sources (literary, concerned with big war), en masse, in corps of hundreds, sometimes thousands of slingers, archers, javelin-men, on foot. In sieges, they serve to manage space-- clearing space for assaults, making siege works difficult, preventing sorties (the siege of Same in 189 gives an example of this).

In the field ? The enemy is the heavy infantry, the mainstay whose presence holds ground, whose clash is honourable and decisive. WHen drawn up in tactically significant masses (say a box of men, 2000 men, 8 deep, 250 across,)-- a lovely target. Light missile troops contain them, force them to hunker behind shields and make them tactically immobile, make tactical movement difficult and costly (especially in terrain such as passes or river crossings). Even the Greek shield with specially added on curtain to protect the legs against missiles (visible e.g. on the reliefs from the Nereid tomb from Xanthos), or the big Roman scutum, will not make infantry movement under sling and arrow fire any easier.

The light armed corps' mobility means that the main counter, and indeed, main infantry job of closing for hand to hand fighting with edged weapons, is impossible (and failed attempts to close will prove very costly)-- this is true even for javelineers, who have to run up to reach javelin range. If heavy infantry is pinned (by terrain, by other infantry), it can be wiped out or forced to surrender. The earliest detailled descriptions of this sort of clashes are in Thucydides-- where both professionals of the javelin, and light-armed amateurs, inflict checks on heavy infantry; more examples in Xenophon.

What's the counter ? Another screen of light infantry; as Thucydides writes (for a battle during the Sicilian expedition, in 413 I think)-- light infantry drives off light infantry, each side wins and loses, before the serious stuff-- heavy infantry work-- starts.

How do you deploy e.g. 500 slingers ? They can't be shoulder to shoulder, obviously, whatever the slinging style-- perhaps 2.5m to 3 m between each slinger, so the "firing line" is a widely spaced line of men. Is it only one line ? Or is there a second line of firers, disposed in a checker board ? Or even several lines ? A loose mass of men, the rear elements firing above the heads of the others, towards the enemy heavy infantry.

The fun begins when one line of slingers meets another line, within effective range (say 150-200m ?). The contest is no longer about area fire into a mass target, but plinking at individual slingers on the other side, in sharp shooting duels. Slingers drop to reload and offer smaller targets, jump about to offer difficult targets, and try to conserve ammunition, to outlast the other side. What then happens ? Sometimes, one side is very much beefed up, or ione side panics and is drawn to loose off all of its ammo: this happened to the contingent of archers in Athenian service, during their invasion of Aitolia in 427 BC-- in a battle against Aitolian psiloi, and without good light infantry support (since the Athenians had marched on without wiating for Lokrian allied support, which would have included psiloi), the Athenian archers were outnumbered by the Aitolian stone throwers, their commander was killed by a stone, the archers ran out of ammo, the Atiolian stone throwers drove them off, then did for the Athenian marines. More usually, both sides of light infantry draw out each others' sting, then move aside.

Still nerve wracking for those who had to fight in the slinging line, no doubt.
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slingbadger
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Re: How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Reply #1 - Apr 11th, 2009 at 8:31pm
 
   Another way to deploy them was to have them attack from high places, such as cliffs and such. It's strategies like this that really started changing the way war was conducted. Usually it was on a flat field, but now it could be conducted in almost any type of terrain.
  Slingers  were also effective in sieges, both from the walls, and against the walls. The main point for slingers  to strike from castle walls were not to take out the people sieging, but to harass the soldiers who were making the siege weapons, like the trebuchets and such.
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David Morningstar
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Re: How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Reply #2 - Apr 12th, 2009 at 3:45am
 
I would deploy slingers as far forward as possible to maximise the advantage of range. First targets would be would be large blocks of men because they are easiest to hit. Concentrate on the less experienced or perhaps less well equipped infantry and see if you can rout them or at least knock them into serious disorder.

When the range is close enough to throw more accurately, use concentrated volleys to attack the enemy slingers and archers. They will be well dispersed and moving as much as possible so it would be necessary to pick a smallish area and saturate it with shot. Move the aim point around for each volley.

As the range closes you have pull the slingers back to the flanks and deploy your javelin throwers instead (or swap from one weapon to the other if your light troops are multi-role)

After the infantry have made contact the slingers of both sides would be quite close to each other at the flanks. You would have to hold your ground in a slinger-vs-slinger shootout. The side that lost that duel would then find their infantry flanks exposed to raking close ranged shots while they are trying to fight the enemy infantry.
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Re: How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Reply #3 - Apr 12th, 2009 at 5:40am
 
In fact, that is  where they were. Usually they were deployed right behind the archers, so that the 2 units were coordinated. A constant rain of both arrows and sling stone would be coming down on the enemy. One wonders if this is the origin of the phrase "Sticks and stones may break my bones."
    Another front deployment was behind advancing spearmen. So, there you are, sling stones are coming down on you, so you put your shield up for protection right? Then, here come the spearmen towards you.
   Drop your shield and get clobbered by a slingstone, or keep it raised and get speared, great choice, huh?
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Re: How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Reply #4 - Apr 12th, 2009 at 7:17am
 
It apparently stands to reason that slingers would not be able to stand shoulder to shoulder in close formation. Yet that is precisely what the Assyrian relief sculptures featured on our home page show. Is this just artistc licence or did they really stand so close and throw overhand style and in unison?  Please comment as this has really puzzled me for some time.
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Thearos
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Re: How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Reply #5 - Apr 12th, 2009 at 11:01am
 
DM-- all the things you say are no doubt right. But they can be countered by hard core guys on the other side, who apply exactly the same tactics (saturation area fire, sniping, etc). Hence the observation by Thucydides (I think also Polybios in his description of the battle of Cannae, in bk 3) that light armed usually simply neutralize each other, before the main clash-- if the light armed on either side know what they're doing and are well led. On the flanks ? It could be, especially if there is no cavalry; if there is, cavalry  occupies the flanks and is used for various battle winning manoeuvers (Alexander's battles; again, Hannibal at Cannae). But slingers and archers probably stay occupied (Polybios' famous description of the Mak. phalanx says that the long pikes of the rear ranks, help by breaking the flight of missiles).

Light armed need good tactical handling-- which means either mercenaries, or young men from warrior societies which indulge in constant "skulking" warfare. Thucydides describes the retreat of Thracian peltasts (javelin and buckler men) after the sack of Mykalessos in Eastern Boiotia: they hold off cavalry by careful tactics (massed fire and retreat by leaps and bounds)-- these are Thracian fighters hired by Athens, and presumably semi-professional light infantry.

It  may well be contact with this kind of infantry, starting with Athenian involvement in N. Greece and Thrace in the 460s BC, that introduces the revolution in tactics in fifth-century Greece (before the Peloponnesian War)-- lightening of equipment, manoeuvers, reserves. The point is made by N. Sekunda, in various points, but he also observes that Peloponnesian tactics seem to be evolving the same way, away from straight hoplitic slug-fests, perhaps as part of internal evolution.

In Classical Greece, the most efficient and feared light armed are the peltasts, not slingers or archers: javelins or darts, light shield, sword, heavy boots; in contrast, slingers appear in very specific contexts-- sieges, river crossings, holding off cavalry (the best source is Xenophon's Anabasis).

One outlier is the near capture of the Carthaginian camp by Agathokles, described by Diodoros in Bk 19 )the year escapes me, but is in the teens of the fourth century): the Sicilian Greeks nearly overrn the camp, but are driven off by Balearic slingers, presented with a target rich environment (the disorderly massed attack of heavy infantry crowding into the camp through a few gates).


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Thearos
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Re: How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Reply #6 - Apr 12th, 2009 at 11:06am
 
Aussie-- I suppose that in sieges, the point is massed fire, to clear defenders off the wall ('managing space' through the application of harm), and slingers can fire massed from behind field fortifications (could they even manage "indirect fire", with ranges called and fall of shot observed ?). But there must be practical limitations, even for overarm fire with no windups-- if only because of the risk of fouling your neighbour's shot ? Time for some experimentation !
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Re: How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Reply #7 - Apr 12th, 2009 at 4:39pm
 
try to look at other drawings from that age (and localle). i believe they are all pictured that way - it was simply their style of showing a lot of people.

it's just a presumtion.
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Re: How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Reply #8 - Apr 13th, 2009 at 7:26am
 
I reckon the real Greek style of slinging was either a figure-8 or a simple overhead throw like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTT78jJuFuU

With the rotation and throw in the vertical plane you are much less at risk of hitting or tangling up with your neighbour. It is also accurate left-to-right, leaving only the range as a variable.
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Re: How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Reply #9 - Apr 13th, 2009 at 9:26am
 
David Morningstar wrote on Apr 13th, 2009 at 7:26am:
I reckon the real Greek style of slinging was either a figure-8 or a simple overhead throw like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTT78jJuFuU

With the rotation and throw in the vertical plane you are much less at risk of hitting or tangling up with your neighbour. It is also accurate left-to-right, leaving only the range as a variable.


David, Like you I have also wondered whether "Greek style" was actually done in a vertical rather than a horizontal plane. Simple drawings or paintings only show the starting position not the following movement, and for me at least, vertical gives better accuracy and a very compact action allowing slingers to stand comparatively close.
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Thearos
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Re: How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Reply #10 - Apr 13th, 2009 at 1:14pm
 
There is a vase painting that shows a man in "starting" position, not in the well known "pouch before the eyes" aiming position, but simply with outstreched arm to aim, and sling holding arm held out back, with sling hanging--  perhaps the representation of a simple overhead, "whipped" throw, rather like a javelin throw.
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Re: How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Reply #11 - Apr 13th, 2009 at 2:24pm
 
Thearos wrote on Apr 13th, 2009 at 1:14pm:
There is a vase painting that shows a man in "starting" position, not in the well known "pouch before the eyes" aiming position, but simply with outstreched arm to aim, and sling holding arm held out back, with sling hanging-- †perhaps the representation of a simple overhead, "whipped" throw, rather like a javelin throw.



I have seen that and tried it 'javelin style'. Unfortunately it didnt work for toffee. One thing to note is that the thumb of the throwing hand is raised and not gripping anything. This makes it hard to see how this is an accurate depiction of a slinger.

It could be something more like this:

http://www.lloydianaspects.co.uk/weapons/sling.html

http://www.lloydianaspects.co.uk/weapons/sling2.html

Or maybe like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WADQStF-Rq4
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Thearos
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Re: How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Reply #12 - Apr 13th, 2009 at 5:02pm
 
That's the one ! The man wears a soft woolley hat, and a skin serving as a rough shield.
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Re: How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Reply #13 - Apr 13th, 2009 at 6:53pm
 
I'm pretty sure the drawing is accurate in its detail. I have seen other depictions of the thumbless release grip. It can be a loose fitting loop over the index finger or even a toggle held between the index and middle finger. In normal throwing the final flick is delivered by the fingers, by that stage the thumb is not really gripping the ball.
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Re: How to employ bodies of slingers in battle
Reply #14 - Apr 13th, 2009 at 7:25pm
 
If that drawing is accurate why is the lefty slingerís right leg appear facing the other way, or is he actually a righty ?
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