Reprinted with permission from Chris
Harrison and the editor of the Bulletin
of Primitive Technology.
Chris. “The Sling in Medieval Europe.” The
Bulletin of Primitive Technology. Vol #31, Spring 2006.
Chris Harrison & Slinging.org- email@example.com
simple sling is often neglected when reviewing the long
history of ranged warfare. Scholars typically focus
on the simple thrown spear (javelin), atlatl, throwing
axe, bow, and crossbow. However, in experienced hands,
the sling was arguably the most effective personal projectile
weapon until the 15th century, surpassing the accuracy
and deadliness of the bow and even of early firearms.
weapons have played an important role in organized warfare
since its inception. Some of the earliest uses of military
formations are depicted in Neolithic cave paintings,
where archers are seen in a line (Ferrill, 1985). This
strategic grouping meant the collective firepower of
the unit was greater than the sum of its individual
parts (Ferrill, 1985). Because Neolithic clans were
small, perhaps a few hundred people at most, the use
of formations in infantry combat occurred considerably
later. It was not until the dawn of civilization, when
surplus food and goods could support armies, that infantry
numbers grew large enough to merit the use of shield
walls, columns, and other formations.
armies grew in size and complexity, units became increasingly
specialized, fulfilling a particular need on the battlefield.
Ranged units were responsible for sending showers of
missiles into enemy ranks to thin the line and break
up the opposing shield wall. This barrage caused confusion
and demoralized the enemy. Soldiers then took advantage
of any openings or weaknesses in the shield wall, punching
through, and potentially splitting the opposing force,
allowing the enemy to be flanked or encircled. (Hawkins,
1847; Korfmann, 1973; Ferrill, 1985; Grunfeld, 1996;
Underwood, 1999; Nicholson, 2004) Ranged units were
sometimes positioned on the flanks, so enemy advances
were met with a brisk hail of missile attacks. This
helped break up the advancing force into a disorganized
charge, that the solid line of defenders could more
readily defeat. (DeVries, 1956) Ranged units were also
used for a variety of secondary roles, such as cutting
off supply trains and covering retreats (Ferrill, 1985;
in medieval Europe was not that dissimilar from conflicts
of antiquity; the use of infantry, cavalry, ranged troops,
and other peripheral units persisted. Armor and tactics
also remained similar until the widespread adoption
of cannons and firearms in the 16th century. The medieval
period is of interest because this traditional style
of warfare reached its pinnacle of development. Over
the course of this martial evolution, new technologies
and military tactics began to relegate the role of the
slinger to that of an auxiliary soldier and ultimately
removed it from the battlefield of medieval Europe.
Imperialism eventually spread these innovations to the
rest of the world, sealing the sling’s fate.
order to understand the sling’s eventual demise,
it is important to consider the weapon’s contemporary
spear was a versatile weapon, intended to be thrown
or used in a thrusting manner. Its simple design made
it inexpensive and easy to produce, and little training
was needed to become proficient. It was likely to have
been the first projectile weapon, and is still used
today in many parts of the world. The Roman version,
called a pilum, remained the standard infantry weapon
for more than a thousand years, testifying to its effectiveness
(DeVries, 1956). However, because it is thrown by hand,
its range is limited. Although the maximum range is
around 45m, its effective range is considerably less,
perhaps 15m (Ferrill, 1985; Underwood, 1999). This meant
that forces had to engage at close range. The development
of the atlatl, or spear thrower, and other, more advanced
ranged weapons, was likely a direct result of this limitation.
throwing axe, like the spear, is thrown by hand and
has similar limitations. The effective range is around
12m, allowing the weapon to be used only just before
hand-to-hand combat commenced (Underwood, 1999).
bow, developed around ten thousand years ago, was a
major advance in ranged warfare (Ferrill, 1985). Early
bows were capable of achieving ranges approaching 100m,
although the effective range would have been less (Ferrill,
1985; Underwood, 1999). Later bows incorporated two
notable technological advances. The development of the
composite bow in the second millennium B.C. was perhaps
the most significant innovation. Scholars differ on
the weapon’s effective range, with estimates between
100 and 275m (Wise, 1976; Ferrill, 1985; Underwood,
1999). The second innovation, the longbow, is often
attributed to the Welsh, but archeological evidence
shows it was already in use in other parts of Europe,
mainly in the north, as early as the Dark Ages (DeVries,
1956; Underwood, 1999; Bradbury, 2004). The weapon gained
renown during the Hundred Years’ War, where English
forces scored a series of decisive victories (DeVries,
1956; Martin, 1968). There is debate about the longbow’s
capability in warfare, with a maximum ranges of 275m
- 400m, with an effective range of about 200m. An experienced
archer could fire ten to twelve un-aimed arrows a minute.
(DeVries, 1956; Wise, 1976)
bow had several disadvantages when compared to the sling,
the foremost being its complexity. The composite bow
was made from layers of wood or horn, carefully glued
together, to make a pliable but strong material (Ferrill,
1985). The bend in a longbow stave required the bowyer
to select a piece of wood such that the back of the
bow was sapwood while the belly was heartwood (Underwood,
1999; Bradbury, 2004). The elastic sapwood and hard
heartwood acted as a natural composite. These two bow
varieties required skilled craftsmanship and time to
produce (Snodgrass, 1967). Armies that equipped their
soldiers with bows did so at considerable expense.
a vast improvement over spears and throwing axes, the
bow still had a limited effective range. Arrows, with
their flight vanes (feathers), experienced considerable
air resistance during flight. At a range of 50m, an
arrow’s penetration power was 75% of that at 10m.
Although estimates vary, some scholars argue that at
120m, arrows would be mostly ineffective, especially
against armored troops (Underwood, 1999). However, others
note the longbow was effective up to 200m, and sometimes
capable of piecing mail armor at this range (DeVries
1956; Wise, 1976).
crossbow started to become commonplace in European forces
during the early 13th century (DeVries, 1956; Martin,
1968). The weapon originated in China sometime during
the 5th century and diffused westward to the Roman Empire,
appearing most frequently in a larger form known as
the ballista (Bradbury, 2004; Nicholson, 2004). The
crossbow underwent several developments, borrowing advances
from the bow, as the high medieval period began. At
first, the bow stave was made from wood, which allowed
the weapon to be cocked by hand (Bradbury, 2004). However,
a more powerful, composite material started to replace
wood by the 13th century (DeVries, 1956; Wise, 1976;
Bradbury, 2004). The additional stave strength also
meant the weapon required enormous strength to arm.
The problem worsened when composite staves were replaced
by steel versions in the early 15th century (Wise, 1976;
Bradbury, 2004). As a result, crossbows now required
mechanical components to aid in cocking the bowstring.
Even the simplest of these devices required significant
time to operate (DeVries, 1956; Wise, 1976; Bradbury,
complexity of the later cocking mechanisms meant manufacturing
costs were high (Wise, 1976). However, the biggest drawback
was the slow reloading time; sometimes less than two
bolts a minute could be fired, depending on the version
(Devries, 1956; Wise, 1976). However, the sluggishness,
when compared to the bow, was seen as an acceptable
tradeoff for the power gained (DeVries, 1956; Nicholson,
2004). Crossbows, especially when firing special armor-
piercing rounds, could easily penetrate mail and lamellar
armor at ranges of 100m, and even plate armor with a
lucky shot (DeVries, 1956; Wise, 1976; Nicholson, 2004).
Their maximum range approached an impressive 350-500m
(DeVries, 1956; Wise, 1976; Bradbury, 2004). Accuracy
was superior to that of the bow because the solider
could cock the weapon, and then use the stock to aim
with no physical exertion (DeVries, 1956). The speed
of the bolt meant the soldier had to worry less about
gravity, allowing most shots to be fired directly at
developed by the Chinese in the 8th or 9th century,
began to be used for military applications in the early
1400s. Manuscripts recovered in Ghent, Belgium indicate
that primitive forms of ordnance were being used as
early as 1313. By the 1320s, simple cannons were used
in both sieges and city defense (Wise, 1976; Bradbury,
2004; Nicholson, 2004). At first, cannons were cast
with extraordinarily thick walls to withstand the explosive
forces in the chamber (Wise, 1976). This made the cannons
heavy and unwieldy. By the 1370s, advances in gunpowder,
metallurgy, engineering and logistics meant cannons
were favored over than the best of the old siege engines,
such as the trebuchet (Nicholson, 2004). By the late
1500s, cannons could reach ranges of 320 - 450m, and
fire about four rounds an hour. However, it is important
to note that the payload was sometimes one hundred kilograms
or more. (Wise, 1976)
first appeared in the mid 1300s, but were little more
than miniature cannons (Wise, 1976). The weight and
recoil meant the weapon had to be braced on the ground
and aimed in a high trajectory. The loading time was
considerable and the accuracy poor (Wise 1976). However,
continued development soon produced less cumbersome
versions, including the venerable musket. By the 15th
century, the handgun was an established weapon and wreaking
havoc on medieval battlefields (DeVries 1956; Wise,
1976; Carman, 1999; Bradbury, 2004). Maximum range of
15th century firearms was around 400m, with an effective
range of about 200m. The weapon was exceedingly slow
to reload at first; a good gunner could load and fire
about eight rounds an hour.1 These early
handguns had the penetration power equal to that of
the longbow, but were essentially useless at ranges
of more than 50m, due to their poor accuracy. However,
in close- range volleys, the weapon was formidable (Wise,
1976; Nicholson, 2004). By the close of the medieval
period, the handgun had become the supreme ranged weapon,
as it easily penetrated the once invulnerable plate
armor of the High Middle Ages.
For reference, muskets in the 1800s took about 20 seconds
to reload. (Ferrill, 1985)
sling was one of the first projectile weapons, developed
as early as 10,000 B.C. (Korfmann, 1973; Ferrill, 1985;
Grunfeld, 1996). Slingers played an important part in
the Persian, Greek, Roman, and various Mesopotamian
armies, and were considered to be equal to or better
than bowmen (Hawkins, 1847; Korfmann, 1973). Although
used most extensively in Europe and the Near East, evidence
of its usage can be found throughout the world, with
the notable exception of Australia (Korfmann, 1973).
There are several Pacific Island, Andean, and Mediterranean
cultures which maintain strong slinging traditions to
this day through contests and historical recreations.
weapon was inexpensive and easy to make. Sinew, plant
fibers, animal hide, hair, and many other materials
could be used for the cords and pouch. Unlike a bow,
which required specialist skill to produce, a sling
could be made by anyone. The sling of the late Paleolithic
is basically identical to the modern sling because the
design is so simple. The major focus of innovation was
the sling’s payload. Stones from riverbeds were
popular as their polished, smooth exterior caused less
air resistance than angular rocks, which improved accuracy
and range. However, no matter how selectively these
were collected, the shape of natural stones varied.
This meant the slinger had to compensate for changing
projectile weights, reducing overall accuracy. Near
Eastern armies began supplying their slingers with uniform
projectiles, made from baked-clay or carved stone, by
the end of the 7th millennium B.C.. At first, these
were spherical, but by 3000 B.C., biconical or ovoid
projectiles were discovered to be superior. The latter
two types would orient point first and spin through
the air like a bullet or American football. (Hawkins,
1847; Korfmann, 1973; Ferrill, 1985; Carman, 1999) This
improvement increased range dramatically, much as barrel
rifling did for firearms. The point first orientation
also increased penetration ability. By Hellenistic times,
projectiles were being cast in lead, increasing the
density more than eight times (Walker, 2004). Since
the projectile was roughly the same size, air resistance
remained the same. However the increased mass meant
it suffered less from the effects of drag. These lead
projectiles were also far cheaper than arrows or bolts,
making slings cost effective (Wise, 1976). A good slinger
could fire more than twelve rounds a minute.
(and crossbow bolts) have great penetration potential
because the entire mass of the projectile is concentrated
in a thin cylinder directly behind a sharp point, which
has a small impact area of about 0.08cm. In contrast,
early sling projectiles were roughly spherical, with
no defined tip. The impact area was much larger, about
1.9cm, severely reducing the projectile’s ability
to penetrate flesh or armor. (Gabriel, 1991) These projectiles
typically weighed about the same as arrows, so the sling
had no advantage in payload mass (Korfmann, 1973; Gabriel,
1991; Richardson, 1998a; Skobelev, 2000). However, it
should be noted that projectiles as large as a fist,
perhaps half a kilogram or more in mass were sometimes
used in slings (Hawkins, 1847; Korfmann, 1973; Wise,
1976; Ferrill, 1985; Xenophon, Anabasis, 3.3.16).
with simple ammunition, the sling was surprisingly effective.
Slingers could achieve faster “muzzle” velocities
than archers, and their projectiles suffered less air
resistance during flight than arrows, conserving more
kinetic energy until impact. An experienced slinger
could throw projectiles at speeds over 90m/s, while
the longbow could fire arrows upwards of 60m/s (Gabriel,
1991; Richardson, 1998a). When projectile masses were
equal, the 50% speed advantage of the sling equates
to a 125% increase in kinetic energy (because the velocity
value is squared). Despite this, the penetration of
an arrow was still greater because the tip is roughly
24 times smaller than the side of a typical, spherical
sling projectile. The impact force of a sling projectile
was applied to a larger area during contact, making
it unlikely to penetrate flesh, though the collision
could cause internal bleeding and even crush bones (Ferrill,
1985; Grunfeld, 1996). Historical demonstrations of
this power have crept into literature, providing unique,
first-hand accounts of professional slingers in action.
For example, during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec
empire in the 15th century, an observer recorded that
an Andean slinger could shatter Spanish swords or kill
a horse in a single hit (Kormann, 1973; Wise, 1980).
Vegetius, a Roman writer in the late 4th century, observed
in his famous Epitoma Rei Militaris:
despite their defensive armor, are often more aggravated
by the round stones from the sling than by all the
arrows of the enemy. Stones kill without mangling
the body, and the contusion is mortal without loss
quote from Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian from
the 1st century A.D. is also revealing:
when Hamilcar saw that his men were being overpowered
and that the Greeks in constantly increasing number
were making their way into the camp, he brought
up his slingers, who came from the Balearic Islands
and numbered at least a thousand. By hurling a shower
of great stones, they wounded many and even killed
not a few of those who were attacking, and they
shattered the defensive armour of most of them.
For these men, who are accustomed to sling stones
weighing a mina [~0.6kg], contribute a great deal
toward victory in battle [...] In this way they
drove the Greeks from the camp and defeated them.
(Book XIX. 109)
more modern, biconical lead projectiles would impact
point first, like an arrow, reducing their impact area
to around 0.3cm. Although still larger than the tip
of an arrow, this was a significant improvement over
the previous spherical design. Penetration ability was
increased tremendously, allowing sling projectiles to
penetrate flesh more readily. (Grunfeld, 1996)
figures confirm this, including Celsus, a Roman medical
writer from the 1st century B.C.. He describes in his
De Medicina that:
is a third type of [projectile] that sometimes needs
to be removed, a leaden bullet or rock or something
similar, which breaking through the skin lodges
inside in one piece. In all of these cases, the
wound needs to be opened a bit wider, and what is
inside must be extracted with pincers along the
same pathway by which it entered.
of estimated range of the sling varies in recent literature.
This may stem from the inability of historians to find
individuals who can properly demonstrate the sling.
The bow, crossbow and firearm, if operated correctly,
will produce the same effect the weapon had hundreds
of years ago. However, the sling requires tremendous
skill, and only people who have had extensive training
can claim to match the ability of ancient slingers.
Existing literature quotes ranges as little as 150m
to as much as 500m (Demmin, 1964; Hogg, 1968; Korfmann,
1973; Wise, 1976; Connolly, 1981; Ferrill, 1985; Richardson,
1998b). Larry Bray set the Guinness World Record for
a stone cast with a sling in 1981, achieving an impressive
range of 437m (Norris, 1985). In retrospect, Mr. Bray
believes he could have surpassed 600m mark with a better
sling and lead projectiles (Bray, Personal Communication,
March 21st, 2004). Presumably, professional slingers
of antiquity who trained from childhood and relied on
the weapon in battle could achieve even greater distances,
perhaps approaching 700m.
accuracy of slingers was also remarkable. In Livy’s
History of Rome, which was completed in 9 A.D., he states,
hundred slingers were recruited from Aegium and
Patrae and Dymae. These peoples were trained from
boyhood [...] Having been trained to shoot through
rings of moderate circumference from long distances,
they would wound not merely the heads of their enemies
but any part of the face at which they might have
a Roman historian born in 64 B.C. commented on the famed
training in the use of slings used to be such, from
childhood up, that [parents] would not so much as
give bread to their children unless they first hit
it with the sling.
Florus, and other classical writers confirm this Balearic
tradition and their remarkable proficiency. The Bible
also mentions another legendary group, the Benjamites,
noting, “every one could sling stones at an hair
breadth, and not miss.” (Judges 20.16)
handgun is considered the greatest ranged weapon to
have emerged during medieval times. However, the weapon
did not eclipse the sling immediately. Handgun accuracy
remained poor until the introduction of barrel rifling
in the 1800s. This allowed the sling to continue to
be used by some cultures effectively against firearm-equipped
troops almost until modern times. One writer noted that
the power of the sling in the hands of an Aztec warrior
was “only slightly less than that [of a Spanish
firearm]” (Korfmann, 1973). A scholar writing
about the Tanala tribe of Madagascar explained “at
50 yards slings are as dangerous as firearms in native
hands.” Also, an observer on a French archeological
expedition in the 1900s recorded the details of a conflict
with natives in Iran, noting that they had “poor-quality
muskets, pistols, lances, and far more dangerous slings.”
sling was not limited to firing stones and man-made
clay or lead projectiles. Indeed, anything that could
be thrown by hand could be cast with a sling to much
greater ranges. The sling would have been popular for
early grenades.2 For example, bottles of
quicklime were used in an early form of chemical warfare,
as they created a cloud of choking and blinding dust
upon impact. Pots with combustible liquids, like the
infamous Greek Fire, were likely exchanged in naval
and siege warfare with slings.3 (Wise, 1976)
Another variety of sling, called a kestrosphendone,
could fire arrows (Hawkins, 1847; Richardson, 1998b).
The staff-sling, which was little more than a sling
on a pole, became an increasingly popular grenade launcher
in medieval times. However, before the staff-sling,
the traditional sling would have fulfilled this role
equally well. The staff-sling’s simpler operation
meant it was the favored weapon by medieval armies.
It continued to be used well into the 17th century (Korfmann,
It seems the sling continued to be used in a naval role
far longer than in land combat. Some suggest that the
salty spray at sea made bows troublesome, as their strings
would fail. The sling did not suffer from this problem
(Hawkins, 1847; DeVries, 1956; Wise, 1976; Ferrill,
1985). There is also some debate about whether the sling’s
gyroscopic properties gave it an edge in accuracy on
the pitching deck of a ship.
sling’s unique combination of power, range, accuracy
and versatility made it an exceptional weapon. So why
is it that other weapons, inferior in many respects,
would supercede it in popularity within a relatively
short period? A number of factors are likely culprits,
including changes in military and social organization,
an evolving style of warfare, and advances in armor.
antiquity, armies would recruit soldiers from particular
regions which offered unique skills. Soldiers from Rhodes,
the Balearic Islands, and several other areas were proficient
in the sling from extensive childhood training. These
were assimilated into the military and frequently kept
together as slinging units. However, increased cultural
diffusion and urbanization in the Middle Ages meant
local cultural traditions, such as slinging, were weakened.
Instead, European culture was homogenizing. By Medieval
times, there were few pockets of experienced slingers
left, certainly not enough to be organized successfully.
This is probably the primary reason why the sling rarely
appeared on the medieval battlefield: the lack of skillful
looking at the evolution of ranged weapons, there is
a trend towards increasingly simple operation. The sling
requires enormous skill, one that can generally only
be obtained with training from childhood (Hawkins, 1847;
Korfmann, 1973; Wise, 1976; Ferrill, 1985). Without
this mastery, a person armed with the weapon would be
practically useless. The sling is exceptionally difficult
to aim because it is being rotated when fired. It is
common for people to fire projectiles backwards when
they are first learning, meaning a high degree of proficiency
is needed before they can be safely placed in a battlefield
situation. On the other hand, the bow could be taught
at any point in life, and be deadly with minimal experience.
The bow does not suffer from the sling’s accuracy
problems because of its ability to be drawn and then
aimed. However, archers did have to be strong, which
increased the required training time (Wise, 1976). The
development of the crossbow with a mechanical device
to cock the weapon enabled anyone to use it and have
the ability to kill even an armored soldier at distance.
The crossbow was the first true ‘point-and-shoot’
weapon, as it could be cocked and then easily aimed
using the large stock. Although much slower to reload
than bows, it was seen as an acceptable tradeoff for
the ease-of-use gained. The shift to firearms was similar.
They were even slower than the already sluggish crossbow,
at least at first. However, the operation was simple
and there was no physical strength needed to load the
weapon. Also, its ‘point-and-shoot’ nature
made someone with almost no experience immediately useful
on the battlefield, and very deadly. This evolution
occurred primarily because of changes in military and
governmental organization. In feudal times, lords could
recruit their serf population as soldiers (Wise, 1976).
Many of these men were already proficient with the bow
or sling, which were used for hunting game. However,
by the High Middle Ages, nations and cities had developed
large standing armies, which were recruited, sustained,
and equipped by the government (Martin, 1968). An increasing
number of these recruits were from urban populations
which had far less exposure to ranged weapons. These
units had to be trained from scratch and there was a
high turnover. This led to the increased use of weapons
that were deadlier with less training. The sling was
perhaps the least effective choice of ranged weapon
in this role.
style of warfare in medieval times changed as well.
There was a progressively better military organization
and leadership structure, causing the direction and
deployment of troops to be much tighter and more integrated.
Compact groups of homogenous units became increasingly
prevalent during the medieval period (Ferrill, 1985).
Because of the rotational action required to cast a
projectile, the sling required considerable space to
operate effectively. Armies of antiquity, like the Greeks,
used slingers as highly mobile and loosely structured
skirmishers. It would have been troublesome to pack
multiple rows of slingers into a typical medieval assemblage,
where each soldier would fire over the row in front
of them. Even a slight misfire, launched in front but
too low, could cause friendly casualties. Archers could
simply point upwards, over their fellow soldiers’
heads, and could be formed into relatively dense formations.
Soldiers equipped with crossbows or firearms could also
be closely grouped.
attacks work especially well in volleys, as the concentrated
firepower is likely to wound more people simultaneously,
causing confusion and fear, and making it harder to
regroup. A group of archers could draw their bows and
fire simultaneously. Crossbows and firearms could do
this even better. The sling was much harder to coordinate
as the arming, aiming, and firing of the weapon was
a single motion. People with different length arms and
casting styles would fire at different moments, even
if starting at the same time.
cohesive and robust economies in later medieval times
lead to a surge in castle and fortification building.
This meant that armies were increasingly placed in siege
situations instead of face-to-face on a battlefield.
The sling was an important siege weapon in antiquity.
Its high rate of fire, accuracy, arching trajectory,
and versatile payload made it extremely effective. (Wise,
1974; Ferrill, 1985; Grunfeld, 1996; Bradbury, 2004)
However, as the style of siege warfare matured, so did
the architecture of the fortifications. Bombardment
by slings became less and less effective because units
were garrisoned in fortified positions. The premier
armaments in these battles were heavy weapons, like
trebuchets and cannons, which were able to pulverize
defenses so infantry could attack. Also, newer fortifications
sported special slits for ranged units (bows, crossbows,
firearms), allowing them to fire from protected sniping
positions (DeVries, 1956). Soldiers could draw or cock
their weapon in safety, and poke the tip out of the
opening. Even an experienced slinger would have great
trouble firing through a thin slit or hole in a cramped
chamber, let alone hit an enemy. Firing from the castle
ramparts would be an equally dangerous affair for a
slinger. A crossbowman or rifleman could fire from a
crouched, leaning or prone position, exposing very little
to the enemy’s ranged units. However, a slinger
must stand, and have room to get a powerful and accurate
shot. This made slingers considerably more vulnerable.
Furthermore, castles had limited room on their ramparts,
towers, and other defensive structures. It was vital
to pack as many ranged defenders into this area as possible
to repel the enemy. Since slingers required more room
to operate than other ranged troops, they were rarely
used in defense.
in armor design were perhaps the sling’s biggest
obstacle. In the early middle ages, it was common for
infantry to carry a shield but wear little or no armor
at all (DeVries, 1956; Martin, 1968; Nicholson, 2004).
The sling would have been effective against these troops.
However, by the High Middle Ages, advances in metallurgy
and production meant more advanced armor was being used
by knights and in greater quantity (Bradbury, 2004;
Nicholson, 2004). These improvements trickled down to
the common foot soldier. The formation of national or
city militias meant that taxes could fund troop equipment,
drastically raising the average level of armor in European
armies (Martin, 1968). Plate armor became increasingly
prevalent during the 1300s. By the 15th century, entire
suits of plate mail were used by knights. (Blair, 1958;
Nicholson, 2004) While a sling projectile has considerable
impact energy, plate armor was often designed to deflect
hits, reducing and redirecting the force. In addition,
soldiers would wear gambesons and other padded clothes
underneath their armor to diffuse the force of an impact.
These new innovations made the sling ineffective. Although
tipped projectiles were better suited at penetration,
even archers and crossbowmen had difficulty with plate
armor, which ultimately lead to the widespread adoption
sling enjoyed more than 10,000 years as humanity’s
premier ranged weapon. Its remarkable simplicity meant
that by Hellenistic times, it had reached its pinnacle
of development; there was simply nothing left to improve
in its design. However, other weapons continued to develop,
which eventually surpassed the sling in effectiveness.
Better armor and tactical changes further reduced its
value. This transition was slow, taking place over the
last two millennia. However, it was during medieval
times that an experienced slinger would find, for the
first time in history, that he was simply outmatched.
legacy of this great weapon did not end in medieval
times however. While nearly disappearing in Europe,
the sling continued to be used in the New World and
Near East well into the 1700s. Although the sling is
still being used on a small scale today, it is no longer
employed by any militaries. The last recorded martial
use of a sling was during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
gratefully acknowledge all of the members of www.slinging.org’s
forum for their input and continued enthusiasm for the
sport. I thank Professor Paul Gans for the opportunity
to pursue this research subject. I also thank Stacey
Kuznetsov, Judy Feng, and Kevin Haas for their discerning
eyes during reviews.
Claude (1958). European Armor, circa 1066 to circa 1700.
London: B.T. Batsford Ltd.
Jim (2004). The Routledge Companion to Medieval Warfare.
London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.
John & Harding, Anthony (1999). Ancient Warfare,
Archeological Perspectives. Gloucestershire, UK: Tempus
Peter (1981). Greece and Rome at War. London: Macdonald.
Auguste (1964) Die Kriegswaffen im ihren Geschichtlichen
Entwickelungen von den Ältesten Zeiten bis auf
den Gegenwart. (Weapons of War and their Historica Developments
from the Past to the Present) Leipzig: Gg Olms.
Kelly (1956). Medieval Military Technology. Lewiston,
NY: Broadview Press Ltd.
Arther (1985). The Origins of War, From the Stone Age
to Alexander the Great. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Richard & Metz, Karen (1991). From Sumer to Rome:
The Military Capabilities of Ancient Armies. Westport,
CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Foster (1996). The Unsung Sling. Military History Quarterly,
V9 #1. p. 51-55.
Walter (1847). Observations on the Use of the Sling,
as a Warlike Weapon Among the Ancients. London: J.B.
Nichols and Son.
O.F.G. (1968). Clubs to Cannon: Warfare and Weapons
Before the Introduction of Gunpowder. London: Gerald
and Company, Ltd.
K.G. (1940). The Sling, Especially in Africa. Stockholm:
Staten Etnografsika Museum.
Manfred (1973). The Sling as a weapon. Scientific American,
October 229(4), p. 35-42.
Paul (1968). Arms and Armor, From the 9th to the 17th
Century. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc.
Nicholson, Helen (2004). Medieval Warfare, Theory and
Practice of War in Europe 300-1550. New York: Palgrave
McWhirter, ed. (1985). The Guinness Book of World Records,
23rd US edition. New York: Sterling Publishing Co.,
Thom (1998a). Ballistic Testing of Historical Weapons.
Royal Armouries Yearbook 3, p. 50-52.
Thom (1998b). Ballistic Testing of the Sling. Royal
Armouries Yearbook 3, p. 44-49.
D. A. (2000). Sling: Projectiles and the Methods of
Throwing in the Antiquity (title translated from Russian).
Para Bellvm. March 23, 2005. http://www.xlegio.ru/pubs/
A. M. (1967). Arms and Armor of The Greeks. Ithaca,
New York: Cornell University Press.
Richard (1999). Anglo-Saxon Weapons and Warfare. Gloucestershire,
UK: Tempus Publishing Limited. The Sling in Medieval
R. (2004). Density of Materials: Bulk Materials. March
3rd, 2005. http://www.simetric.co.uk/ si_materials.htm
Terence (1976). Medieval Warfare. New York: Hastings
Terence (1980). The Conquistadores. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.