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Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings (Read 8313 times)
bernardz
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Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Jul 4th, 2012 at 2:06am
 
I have been reading many of the posts here about the casualty rates from sling men.

I would like to make some observations from reading them.

Armor in ancient and medieval times was very expensive, often soldiers did not have them. Furthermore, many of these armies had poor shield discipline. As such in these battles, a slinger would be much more effective then many give credit for here.

So what happens when a mass of poorly armored soldiers with bad shield discipline are met by 100 slingers firing every minute a 1000 shots straight into them.


A slinger is some ways is relatively cheap compared to other soldiers, as he does not need horses, armor or metal, which was expensive. He can often be recruited locally e.g. shepherds.

Even accepting that most here seem to assume that about 1% of the shots are effective. Assuming the slinger came with 100 shots into battle, he takes out one person. In comparison a pikeman overall has a 50/50 chance and takes out half a person.

It appears to me that a slinger has a high benefit/cost





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« Last Edit: Jul 4th, 2012 at 6:24am by bernardz »  
 
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David Morningstar
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Re: Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Reply #1 - Jul 4th, 2012 at 2:59am
 

Agreed. Singers are a cheap unit that drive up the cost of warfare for the other side. They cannot field a large army of unequipped untrained men because your slingers would rout them in a minute. They have to spend their money on properly equipped disciplined troops and so their army would be much smaller.
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bernardz
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Re: Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Reply #2 - Jul 4th, 2012 at 3:10am
 
David Morningstar wrote on Jul 4th, 2012 at 2:59am:
Agreed. Singers are a cheap unit that drive up the cost of warfare for the other side. They cannot field a large army of unequipped untrained men because your slingers would rout them in a minute. They have to spend their money on properly equipped disciplined troops and so their army would be much smaller.


Another point that follows on is that even a properly equipped army with disciplined troops because it needs to move in formation would be slowed down and restricted by slingers (and/or archers) even if they did not take out too many of the opposition forces.


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Mauro Fiorentini
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Re: Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Reply #3 - Jul 4th, 2012 at 6:36am
 
Sorry Bernardz, but where have you read this?

Quote:
Armor in ancient and medieval times was very expensive, often soldiers did not have them. Furthermore, many of these armies had poor shield discipline
.

As always in history, ancient and middle age's armies were equipped with different kind of armors, according to everyone's possibility.
There were armors that were more expensive than others, but it was natural for every soldier to try to defend himself with some kind of armor.

And which army do you know that had poor shield discipline?
In ancient times, Greek and Roman phalanges where legendary; then we have Lombards, Normans and Viking's shield walls. The Italians created a new kind of soldier, the "palvesario", named after the "palvese", that was a huge shield: its role was to defend crossbowmen while they were reloading.
So which armies do you refer to?
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Re: Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Reply #4 - Jul 4th, 2012 at 7:46am
 
Mauro Fiorentini

Quote:
As always in history, ancient and middle age's armies were equipped with different kind of armors, according to everyone's possibility.

There were armors that were more expensive than others, but it was natural for every soldier to try to defend himself with some kind of armor.


Armor is expensive; many armies could not afford it for all their troops. Often only notable people had them, for example, many of the troops in Anglo-Saxon England  had no armor for this reason another would be the Scottish army under William Wallace, which had very poor-quality  armor.

Interestingly sometimes it becomes almost a  badge of honor not to have armor for example, as Julius Caesar's records in his account of the Gallic War when the Gauls went into battle naked.

Another point is that armor slows you down. The Mongols as time got on could certainly afford it but limited their armor because they did not want to sacrifice speed and mobility.

Shield discipline would very much depend on training.  I suspect that many of the medieval levies were not well trained.




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Re: Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Reply #5 - Jul 4th, 2012 at 7:59am
 
Your thinking is interesting, so let me tell you what I think:

the Romans, for example, used slingers and archers as auxiliary troops. They were light infantry, with little or no armor at all.
But they were, in fact, auxiliaries to the main army: a disciplined army of perfectly trained heavy infantrimen.
They had to face many slingers in their Empire, but do we have any information of great casualties due to their bullets?

This's just an example to say that I agree that a slinger can knock out his opponent, but only if he's as badly equipped as the slinger is.
Send cavalry to the slingers or the archers and they're wiped out, unless they have the advantage of number and location.

I told you to explain which armies are you referring to just because we try to give the best information here, and there've been so many armies in the past that it's a bit hazardous to affirm a definitive sentence about how they all could react to slingers.

EDIT: meanwhile, in a Middle Age Irish saga (whose title I can't remember but I'll look for it) we have a celebration of the slingers's power during battles: an evidence that - in THAT context - slingers could be very deadly.
But as I said, it was the Irish Middle Age, which was different from the Italian, German, French.... ones. Which were different from the Roman or Greek ages - which were different from the Italic and Hellenic contexts  Wink
As you can see, it's a huge discussion, which is better not to mortify talking about "ancient of Middle Ages armies".
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Re: Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Reply #6 - Jul 4th, 2012 at 9:17am
 
It's true that discipline and armor varies widely over time. I remember reading that in the middle ages, when the mounted knight reigned supreme, that infantry were eschewed almost universally. I was reading an article about the longbow and Britain and the authors mentioned that in a couple of instances the French cavalry trampled their own men in their haste to get to the battle. That's how little esteem and training went into the infantry. The British, the authors argued, were the first to really "rediscover" infantry's value and that was largely because they had a smaller population. I think there's evidence of using the sling at that point, but mainly in the context of sieges.

I also like the point about lightly armored armies. But we tend to have better sources from the professional disciplined troops, which tend to have both better armor and better shield discipline.
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Re: Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Reply #7 - Jul 4th, 2012 at 9:39am
 
Shields were very common,most armies most of the time used them.Shield discipline? do you really have to be trained or given a command when the first hail of stones brakes your buddy's bones?Shields will save you from sling stones,or lead glandes.Unless it's some weak wicker shield..Stones are quite visible,and audible,and unless the targeted army is distracted,or caught in surprise,they'll raise their shields.If not,after the first volley,they'll surely do it. Lead glandes cannot be seen,fly fast,are small and quite the same color as the sky.So these can REALLY get the enemy ..
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Re: Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Reply #8 - Jul 4th, 2012 at 11:59am
 
Conscripted peasants, like at Hastings, usually didn't have armor or weapons either, they used farming impliments such as hoes, scythes, bush axes and pruning hooks.  The Celts also didn't use much armor, there are several accounts of Roman slingers picking their formations to pieces before the heavy infantry moved in to finish them off.  Most real troops were either issued arms and armor of various types and qualities or required to have and maintain certain items of arms and armor. 

There were "ad hoc" armies where large groups of a local population would form war bands or battle groups or militias to defend or attack, the amount and quality of armor and training would vary wildly from man to man and example to example.  Greek Spartans are an example of the better armed and trained, the peasants at Hastings, whose main job seemed to be to stop arrows aimed at the housecarls are am example of the poorer.
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Re: Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Reply #9 - Jul 4th, 2012 at 4:08pm
 
It is worth noting that at Hastings, there were less of the fyrd and that Harolds army was a large proportion of professional soliders (be it Huscarls or town watches).


But importantly, missiles did very little to the Saxon line in Hastings. The Norman archers tried weakening them from eary in the morning and throughout the day, but really to no avail. The line also held up to heavy cavalry charges of the Norman knights. It was only the mock routing used by the Normans that broke the Saxon lines.
Later in the battle aswell, the Normans changed their archery techniques to have archers volley and crossbows (first time used in England) shoot at a flat trajectory. This apparently weakened the lines, but really in the end it seems the cavalry were the winning factor.

Mauro, is the Irish Saga you are thinking of 'The Ulster Cycle'? It includes tales of Cuchulainn who uses a sling to hold off and harass an entire army. It is an Iron Age saga, not quite Middle Age, so may be a different one you are thinking of?

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Re: Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Reply #10 - Jul 4th, 2012 at 7:18pm
 
This question was discussed by R. Gabriel in one of his books (I referred to them in this thread:

http://slinging.org/forum/YaBB.pl?num=1257730993/0

Gabriel's point was in fact that the lethality of slings and arrows is not that high. He gets that slingstones and arrows are high lethality weapons, but notes that in no ancient battle was the main line of heavies mowed down. So Gabriel's assumption is that missile effectiveness is reduced by armour and shields-- probably considerably so. As confirmation of this, we might turn to Xenophon, who in his Anabasis provides an eyewitness account of what it's like to fight against slingers:

[3.3.6] After this they took breakfast, crossed the Zapatas1 river, and set out on the march in the formation decided upon,2 with the baggage animals and the camp followers in the middle of the square. They had not proceeded far when Mithradates appeared again, accompanied by about two hundred horsemen and by bowmen and slingers--exceedingly active and nimble troops--to the number of four hundred. [3.3.7] He approached the Greeks as if he were a friend, but when his party had got close at hand, on a sudden some of them, horse and foot alike, began shooting with their bows and others with slings, and they inflicted wounds.

-- wounds, and not fatal casualties. I also would mention Thucydides 2.81.8, describing a campaign in W. Greece in 429:


But when the barbarians in their flight broke in upon them, they took them in and uniting their two divisions kept quiet there during the day, the Stratians not coming to close quarters with them, because the rest of the Acarnanians had not yet come to their support, but using their slings against them from a distance and distressing them; for it as not possible for them to stir without armour; and indeed the Acarnanians are famous for their excellence in the use of the sling.


The assumption seems to be that if you wear armour, you're actually somewhat safe from sling sniping. My own view is that the battle winning, ground-occupying, assault infantry which closes with the enemy and kills him or drives him off are, by nature, pretty heavily armoured (this also comes from reading stuff in another forum, fioredeiliberi.org); light infantry often runs off. (Caesar doesn't, I think, describe naked chaps in battle; that's Polybios in book 2, about Telamon. Caesar's opponents are pretty heavily armoured, if the archaeology is indicative).

So: body armour (of any type: plate, or flexible— mail, linen, padded), helmet, and shield, are sufficient to greatly neutralize missiles of any type (slingstones, hand thrown stones, arrows); as Morningstar often observes on this forum, the real killer is the javelin, which has enough mass and punch to give even the armoured chaps problems. I'd add that the other way of neutralizing missile troops is another line of missile troops, which produce the characteristic pre-battle skirmishing between lights-- described by Thucydides in Sicily, or by Polybios at Cannae-- inconclusive.
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Re: Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Reply #11 - Jul 4th, 2012 at 7:19pm
 
BTW, the "ill trained levies" are likely to be wielding the sling in the first place.
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Re: Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Reply #12 - Jul 4th, 2012 at 7:41pm
 
Sorry for the third post: in the thread i quote above, I mentioned the battle of Sphakteria (425 BC), where 10,000 men (including a good deal of highly specialized missile troops) pelted 400 Spartans over several hours, and killed 100 + of them (and admittedly wounded most of them-- but by the end of the day they were still combat capable).

You can calculate the various ratios; but if the figures are accurate, it might be a case of 50,000 projectiles killing about 120 men, so perhaps 400 projectiles for every KIA. The calculations may be off, but give an idea-- and this is in pretty optimal conditions (flanking fire, no competing line of skirmishers), and over hours. And, by the way, the Spartans were a garrison, and not wearing heavy kit-- no body armour, floppy "bush hats" rather than helmets, just their shield.
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Re: Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Reply #13 - Jul 5th, 2012 at 6:12am
 
Nemo, thanks for the suggestion, but I really can't remember which saga was it.
I have to look into my database and I'll tell you  Smiley
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Re: Ancient and Medieval casualty rates to slings
Reply #14 - Jul 8th, 2012 at 7:06pm
 
Although many soldiers in ancient and early medieval armies would have lacked armour, by the late middle ages few soldiers in Europe would have lacked armour completely (or proper weapons), which probably had something to do with the slings disappearance from the European battlefield.
At the battle of Najera in 1367, a huge Franco-Spanish army that included 4,000 Spanish slingers was routed by a much smaller English force, and suffered dismal losses.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_N%C3%A1jera
As far as I know, Najera was one of the last times that mass numbers of slingers were deployed in a European battle.
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