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Slinger formations in Antiquity (Read 3097 times)
Justin Swanton
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Slinger formations in Antiquity
Jun 5th, 2018 at 7:48am
 
Hi Everyone,

Having spent some time reading through this forum I must say I am impressed by the general politeness and consideration of forum members - definitely up on some forums I have frequented.

I am currently writing a book on battle formations in the ancient world, with emphasis on Fertile Crescent armies, Greece, Macedonia and Rome. The first part of the book looks at formations in general and part of that looks at skirmisher formations: javelin, bow and sling.

The manuals make skirmisher formations half as deep as heavy infantry - 8 men per file as opposed to the ideal 16 men for heavy foot. This seems to correspond more or less to reality leading me to wonder why this was the case.

My proposed answer follows these lines: shooting in too much depth did not help skirmishers as they were designed to shoot a target moving towards them which they would eventually have to evade. Massed fire (they all shoot together) works only at maximum range as that is the only range an archer/slinger could be counted to maintain consistently whilst shooting blind. It seems counterintuitive but it is in fact much easier to shoot to a fixed distance at extreme range than at a much shorter range. At extreme range, a variation in the elevation of a bow or angle of release of a sling does not translate into much variation of distance the missile will cover (a look at shooting parabolas will clarify this), but at shorter ranges a slight variation in angle translates into a significant variation in distance. An advancing enemy line was broad but not deep: aiming wasn't important but accurately gauging the range of one's missile was.

Hence archers/slingers deployed in depth could shoot to maximum range only when they were shooting blind over the heads of their comrades. Once the enemy had advanced within that max range window the shooters would have to be able to sight them. This then limited fire to the front two ranks only, the second rank shooting between the men of the front rank. This being the case it was essential to rotate the front ranks: they shoot, countermarch to the rear, are replaced by the ranks behind them who shoot, etc. By the time the original shooters have reached the front they have reloaded and are ready to shoot again.

In this scenario it is not necessary to have a deep line, just one deep enough to allow shooters enough time to reload before reaching the front again. Presuming that a slinger line is deployed in open formation, 4 men per file can shoot at any one time: the front 2 men move into the file gap to the right of their file; the 3rd and 4th men move up; all shoot; the 4 men countermarch down the file gap to the rear and are replaced by the next 4 men in the file, and so on. This makes sense of Vegetius' injunction that slingers must swing only once overhead before loosing their bullet - they need to shoot as quickly as possible to allow the chaps behind them to shoot next.

The manuals assign 8 men to each skirmisher file. That's in intermediate order. In open order (necessary to allow the skirmishers space to countermarch to the rear) there will be 16 men per file. That means that 1/4 of the file is shooting at any given moment. That gives each man the time of three 'shoots' to countermarch to the rear, reload his sling, and ready himself for the next shot. Sounds about right.

Comments?
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« Last Edit: Jun 5th, 2018 at 11:48am by Justin Swanton »  
 
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Sarosh
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Re: Slinger formations in Antiquity
Reply #1 - Jun 5th, 2018 at 11:01am
 
where did you get that info? i would like to do some reading.

i like the rotation of front line that's how i imagine it.

but how do they reload and carry the ammo?

some ideas are :
1) they carry their ammo during the battle and either throw w/ low power (unlikely) or lay the ammo bag(?) down and throw .
2) they carry the max amount of stones that doesn't inhibit slinging 5-20 stones (?) depending on mass.Plus they have reloaders on the rear lines whose job is to carry a heavier load of stones where slingers can fill their small packs and return to the front.

another tactic would be to have javelins in front of heavy infantry and sling at will while the enemy advances, when in javelin range throw the javelins and retreat to the sides or through the ranks of heavy infantry. heavy infantry advances , skirmishers no longer having javelins they take a good position and sling to the enemy heavy infantry which is now in pitched battle.

i think alexander the great used skirmishers mingled with cavarly.
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Justin Swanton
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Re: Slinger formations in Antiquity
Reply #2 - Jun 5th, 2018 at 2:51pm
 
Sarosh wrote on Jun 5th, 2018 at 11:01am:
where did you get that info? i would like to do some reading.

i like the rotation of front line that's how i imagine it.

but how do they reload and carry the ammo?

some ideas are :
1) they carry their ammo during the battle and either throw w/ low power (unlikely) or lay the ammo bag(?) down and throw .
2) they carry the max amount of stones that doesn't inhibit slinging 5-20 stones (?) depending on mass.Plus they have reloaders on the rear lines whose job is to carry a heavier load of stones where slingers can fill their small packs and return to the front.

another tactic would be to have javelins in front of heavy infantry and sling at will while the enemy advances, when in javelin range throw the javelins and retreat to the sides or through the ranks of heavy infantry. heavy infantry advances , skirmishers no longer having javelins they take a good position and sling to the enemy heavy infantry which is now in pitched battle.

i think alexander the great used skirmishers mingled with cavarly.


I've based most of this on the manuals (Asklepiodotus, Aelian and Arrian) plus Polybius and Vegetius. Slingers AFAIK could carry their ammo in their cloaks or in a pouch, possibly adding to their store from missiles at the back of the line from time to time. So yes, reloaders do make sense. If an infantry line is advancing toward them and they commence firing at 200m in a massed volley, then shoot from the front ranks after that they will need a lot of bullets. Presuming the enemy advance at 2km/h whilst under fire, the slingers will have about 6 minutes shooting time before the enemy reach them. If the two front ranks shoot every 3 seconds then every slinger will use up 120 bullets. If a bullet weight around 250g he is carting 30kg around with him - not likely.

I had forgotten Balearic slingers having 3 slings making them capable of 3 massed volleys.

But how much on the money is the extreme-range-most-accurate-range hypothesis for experienced slingers on this forum?
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NooneOfConsequence
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Re: Slinger formations in Antiquity
Reply #3 - Jun 5th, 2018 at 8:19pm
 
You have some great intuitions JS, and that’s a really great summary. Please keep us posted on the book!

As far as your 6 minute estimate, that’s only true if the enemy doesn’t have ranged weapons also, so it’s unlikely they could hurl 120 glandes before needing to retreat from spears and arrows.

As far as questions of “typical “ range and accuracy... good luck!  This forum has been debating those two topics incessantly for 15 years Grin
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Re: Slinger formations in Antiquity
Reply #4 - Jun 5th, 2018 at 8:24pm
 
I do completely agree with your counterintuitive assessment that it’s possible to be more accurate at extreme ranges. That’s a rather brilliant insight. As long as all the slingers are sufficiently strong, extra power is lost in nonlinear wind resistance and everyone’s range is about the same for a given size and shape of glande... yet another thing I need to experiment with when Roboslinger is up and running.  Hopefully some day we can back up claims like this with hard data!
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Justin Swanton
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Re: Slinger formations in Antiquity
Reply #5 - Jun 6th, 2018 at 1:14pm
 
NooneOfConsequence wrote on Jun 5th, 2018 at 8:24pm:
I do completely agree with your counterintuitive assessment that it’s possible to be more accurate at extreme ranges. That’s a rather brilliant insight. As long as all the slingers are sufficiently strong, extra power is lost in nonlinear wind resistance and everyone’s range is about the same for a given size and shape of glande... yet another thing I need to experiment with when Roboslinger is up and running.  Hopefully some day we can back up claims like this with hard data!


I came across this arrow trajectory calculator. I used it to set a bow at a maximum range of about 230 yards: speed of arrow 180fps, mass of arrow 400g, arrow drag coefficient 1.95, angle 42 degrees (optimum for max range). Setting the resultant arrow trajectory as a baseline curve I then started playing around with elevations above and below 42 degrees. Distance arrow covered: 230 yards

Get this: at 37 degrees elevation the arrow travelled 226 yards. At 47 degrees the arrow travelled 228.5 yards. That's a range difference of 4 yards for an elevation difference of 10 degrees. This difference in elevation:

...

Would have made pinpoint extreme range shooting a piece of cake.
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Bill Skinner
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Re: Slinger formations in Antiquity
Reply #6 - Jun 6th, 2018 at 5:36pm
 
I think your formation is moving on the very slow side.  Standard marching cadence is one hundred to one hundred and twenty paces per minute, length of pace varies from country to country but the rate has remained pretty steady over the centuries.  That's the beat for most military music, the beat set the pace count so the formation stayed together.

So, if one side starts from 300 meters out, or even 400, which is outside of most archery ranges, you can expect the formation to cover that distance in about 4 minutes at a marching pace.  Half that if the force goes to double time, or a jogging run.  They aren't going to move slowly and let slingers, archers and javeliners get their shots off if they can help it.

And the slingers will be spending a certain amount of that time getting out of the way, they don't want to be trapped between the two shield lines.  And the defending line would not take a chance on opening their formation to let the slingers in when the enemy is charging towards them, so all your missile guys are going to running towards the flanks of the lines.

So, a pouch of 25-50g projectiles will be plenty for the lead up to the battle.  The resupply should be on the flanks of the main force. 

Skirmisher's duties were to keep the enemy's reconasiance forces back to keep the enemy from seeing exactly how your force was arranged and whether or not you had any nasty surprises waiting.  His skirmishers are trying to do the same to yours, too.  If you could inflict any damage to his main force, that was a bonus.
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Justin Swanton
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Re: Slinger formations in Antiquity
Reply #7 - Jun 7th, 2018 at 4:14am
 
Bill Skinner wrote on Jun 6th, 2018 at 5:36pm:
I think your formation is moving on the very slow side.  Standard marching cadence is one hundred to one hundred and twenty paces per minute, length of pace varies from country to country but the rate has remained pretty steady over the centuries.  That's the beat for most military music, the beat set the pace count so the formation stayed together.

So, if one side starts from 300 meters out, or even 400, which is outside of most archery ranges, you can expect the formation to cover that distance in about 4 minutes at a marching pace.  Half that if the force goes to double time, or a jogging run.  They aren't going to move slowly and let slingers, archers and javeliners get their shots off if they can help it.

And the slingers will be spending a certain amount of that time getting out of the way, they don't want to be trapped between the two shield lines.  And the defending line would not take a chance on opening their formation to let the slingers in when the enemy is charging towards them, so all your missile guys are going to running towards the flanks of the lines.

So, a pouch of 25-50g projectiles will be plenty for the lead up to the battle.  The resupply should be on the flanks of the main force. 

Skirmisher's duties were to keep the enemy's reconasiance forces back to keep the enemy from seeing exactly how your force was arranged and whether or not you had any nasty surprises waiting.  His skirmishers are trying to do the same to yours, too.  If you could inflict any damage to his main force, that was a bonus.


Fair enough. The only question is how fast an infantryman could move whilst covering himself with his shield against incoming projectiles. I'm not sure about a jog but a fast march is certainly feasible.

The heavies behind the skirmisher line would be in open order, with gaps between the files. It would be a question of timing the retirement of the skirmishers through the heavies then having heavies' files double to intermediate order (shields touching) and be ready for the arrival of the enemy foot.

It would be trickier for a Macedonian phalanx: the files would have to start in open order, double to intermediate order once the lights have passed through, then double again to close order and lower pikes ready to receive the enemy. That would take a little time.
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Re: Slinger formations in Antiquity
Reply #8 - Jun 8th, 2018 at 7:46am
 
weird I definitely posted here last week.
Right, I pretty much disagree on all your points (you'll find this isn't unusual when I'm explaining things to historians Smiley )

Okay.
Lets start with what should be blindingly obvious, but is usually overlooked.
Slingers are NOT archers.

We have only one thing in common with archers - both 'fire' projectiles.
That's it, that is the ONLY thing we have in common.

To start with a slinger can carry a lot more ammunition and - more importantly - a number of slings suited for different purposes.
Archers tend to just have the one bow. Which limits them in both range and power.

Balearic slingers were known for carrying at least three slings of different lengths.

So in their case the maximum slinging range could be adjusted simply by changing to a shorter or longer sling. 
Such a change takes seconds.
The slings usually worn on the body.

Also as long as you have a spotter it is easy to hit a target you can't actually see (been there. done that). There would be no problem with experienced slingers walking their shots into an advancing army from behing the main army.

And even the in-experienced slingers could adjust range simply be changing to a longer or shorter sling and using the exact same throw style and power.

Slingers are much more versatile then archers - it's the main reason we persisted so long into the bow era.
Other reasons include the psychological impact of slinging on an enemy.
Sling bullets are traditionally small and light, but dense. You cannot see a sling bullet coming - but by god you can hear it !

Due a to a communications error, I have stood directly in line with an incoming lead glande, thrown by larry bray. landed about 6 feet directly in front of me. I think we were using lead fishing weights. Even as round a glande as that made a noise like a whole swarm of bees.
So you get the noise, then the significant impact, but unlike an arrow you never see the missile in flight.

Because ammo is light, whether using stones, lead or clay - a slinger can carry a significant volume and number of missiles.
50gm lead glandes.  20 to a kilo, 200 in an easy to carry 10kg bag.
If you were to sling at a conservative 5 shots a minute you could keep that up for 40 minutes.
And for max distance - and you need to start thinking 300 metres plus here (another difference to archers, slingers have a LOT more range).
You do need a windup.

Once you cut the distance down to the 200 metre mark you can, change slings and speed up to - again - an easy to maintain 10-12 shots a minute.
So 20 minutes per 10kg lead glandes.

At the 100 metre mark, you can again switch slings and fire at will (never name your son 'will' if he's going to be a soldier).

At the 100 metre mark you could use the alternate rank system (enfilade ?). A good slinger can throw 100 metres with a very flat trajectory. So at point blank range (100 metres or less) alternating ranks would work quite well.

But you need to stop thinking that slingers and archers are comparable. They are not. 

Slingers were invariably specialist mercenaries. It takes years to make a really good slinger.
A competent archer can be trained in a week or 2.
He has a point and shoot weapon that uses stored energy.

Slingers have nothing but muscle memory and experience. The argument that a good slinger is born not made, has merit
Without natural hand eye coordination - you will never be a good slinger.
But you could be an adequate archer.

I've seen people who have been slinging for years, who are lucky if the stone goes even in the vague direction they were aiming for (naming no names).

Another advantage slingers have over archers is the weather.
Slingers are not adversely effected by wet weather. Okay heavy rain will cut down your maximum distance. But wet slings work just as well as dry ones. Wet bowstrings - particular ones traditionally made from gut - do not work well in wet weather.    

Ammunition. Making and fletching a good arrow is a skilled business and not a short job.

Sling ammunition on the other hand can be picked up from the ground in the right terrain.
Or made from clay, rolled by hand and dried by a campfire.
Even casting lead glandes is a much much faster and easier process that making arrows and can be done by almost anyone with a little practice.

So while most slingers could easily make or find their own ammo - archers generally need skilled fletchers.

An advantage that archers have over slingers is the simple fact that they can see their ammo all the way to it's target.
A sling bullet tends to go out of sight at around the 100-150 metre mark.
So it is hard to gauge just where, beyond that range your missile is landing. Hence the need a for good spotters.

So while it's fairly easy to drop a missile on a distanr spot - if it's big enough, you can't actually see it land. Which is again where experience comes into the game.

And that's basically why sling troops died out. It just takes too long to train and acquire that experience.

So as far as the disposition and usage of sling troops goes. They can engage at ranges much further than archers.
Easily keep the enemy engaged right up to the point where spears become practical.
Fire faster and in more prolonged sessions than archers.
And have nore than one maximum range - depending on the length of sling they use.   
At short range, they can also switch to heavier ammo to do more damage.
They could also adjust range by using different size and weight missiles as well as different length slings.

In short, no matter where you put them slingers can engage the enemy at every point in the battle from over 300 metres down to hand to hand combat range.
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Re: Slinger formations in Antiquity
Reply #9 - Jun 8th, 2018 at 8:57am
 
C_A  Good points.

I have one quibble, you can teach someone to shoot a bow in a week, yes, but it takes about a minimum of six months to work up to a decent power bow and about a year to work up to a war bow level. 

You are pushing with one arm and pulling with the other, the only thing that exercises your body like that is a bow.  And it takes time to build those muscles.  Even with regular practice.

One thing you didn't mention is that arrows are a weight forward, air resistance rear, that slows down a great deal the further the range.  That's why the English shot those extremely heavy arrows and the horse archers shot super light arrows with tiny fletchs, so they would still have enough velocity to penetrate at long range.
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Re: Slinger formations in Antiquity
Reply #10 - Jun 8th, 2018 at 9:27am
 
what arrows do you think ancient armies used?
on the web i can't find mass of arrows only quantity roughly...
Quote:
Quivers containing sixty arrows were strapped to the backs of the cavalrymen and to their horses. Mongol archers typically carried 2 to 3 bows (one heavier and intended for dismounted use, the other lighter and used from horseback) that were accompanied by multiple quivers and files for sharpening their arrowheads.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongol_military_tactics_and_organization#Mongol_bo...
maybe mongols were too advanced for roman era archers Tongue 

@Curious Aardvark although arrows are harder to be made they might be lighter than the stones a slinger would use.
an archer can shoot his bow while having a quiver on him a slinger has to move around so the more he carries the worse he performs
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Justin Swanton
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Re: Slinger formations in Antiquity
Reply #11 - Jun 8th, 2018 at 10:51am
 
@Curious Aardvark: many thanks for the long and informative post. This is just what I was looking for.

A couple of questions:

1. For a slinger range is about muscle memory and experience, i.e. the slinger acquires the feel for when to loose at different ranges by having shot many times at those different ranges. For ranges beyond 100 - 150 yards he needs a spotter to tell him his bullet has hit the mark or not. An experienced slinger then can shoot blind at many ranges or even any different range. My question: in terms of range how accurate could a slinger be when shooting blind like this? At a sling's extreme range less accuracy is required as the parabolic flight varies less with different angles of release. But I suspect at shorter ranges it will be more difficult since a slight difference of angle translates into a significant difference of range. Can a slinger in fact land a bullet within a few yards of 100 yards, 150 yards, 200 yards, 250 yards and 300 yards?

2. At shorter ranges where the trajectory is flattened, is it dangerous for a slinger to shoot over the heads of his colleagues in front of him if all are shooting at the same time? In other words is there risk his bullet will hit the whirling sling of the chaps in front?
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Re: Slinger formations in Antiquity
Reply #12 - Jun 9th, 2018 at 8:46pm
 
That's one of the draw backs of slings, you have to have space to sling.  Using shorter slings with less wind up and throwing in unison can negate part of that.

Shorter slings usually mean less range, though.

You haven't mentioned staff slings yet.
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Justin Swanton
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Re: Slinger formations in Antiquity
Reply #13 - Jun 10th, 2018 at 8:44am
 
Bill Skinner wrote on Jun 9th, 2018 at 8:46pm:
That's one of the draw backs of slings, you have to have space to sling.  Using shorter slings with less wind up and throwing in unison can negate part of that.

Shorter slings usually mean less range, though.

You haven't mentioned staff slings yet.


Following Vegetius each slinger has about 2 yards depth and one yard width, which should be enough space to wield a good-sized sling. I passed over staff slings since they're not in the period of my book - Fertile Crescent armies to Roman Republic.
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Re: Slinger formations in Antiquity
Reply #14 - Jun 10th, 2018 at 8:51am
 
My (very uneducated) understanding of staff slings is that their weren't specific units of staff slingers and was more a weapon used during sieges and just handed out to anyone that was on the walls.
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