In today’s warfare, no one would really bring a slingshot during the war, at least not that we are aware of. During ancient times, this weapon was widely used by many ancient armies. Its invention revolutionized how the military from all over the globe fought. Even when it is now crude in today’s standard, it was once a weapon of choice of many nations, and for reasons.

Sling Weaponry

Before anything else, we have to understand first how the mere and humble sling was used as a weapon. As we know, it works by launching projectiles across distances. A properly positioned sling between one’s fingers could act as an extension of the arm that would allow for a more precise and greater range compared to other weapons at that time.

Slings at that time were made from animal hide and other various grasses and were hunting weapons. The projectiles were usually stones that could easily be found in local waterways, but they could also be from ceramic, lead, and other dense materials. The ancient people would sometimes put unique engravings on these projectiles to recover them later on mass hunts of slingers pursuing herd animals.

The ancient people took their slinging seriously, as training would usually start during childhood to make sure that it would be easy for them to make the projectiles hit the intended target by the time that they were using the weapon during combat. This crude weapon, when properly utilized, was capable of causing blunt force trauma that could cause serious injuries from damaged organs, shattered bones, and sometimes even death.

The Weapon of Choice of Different Nations

The earliest use of sling weaponry could be traced far back to 10,000 B.C., believed to have been made by the Upper Palaeolithic people like the spears and the bow and arrow. People used the slings for hunting purposes until their use spread around the world. Whether it was a result of cultural diffusion or independent invention was still up for debate. A sling was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen, who died in 1325 BC. This was the oldest surviving sling from the Old World.

Reconstruction of a slingshot from the Balearic Islands (Els Foners Balears) Base material fibre, agaves. (Juan Costa, selbst hergestellt und aufgenommen.CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Hebrew warriors’ weapon of choice was also the sling, and their use helped spread its use to other cultures. Artistic representations, like the one from Catalhoyuk, usually depict the use of slingshots, too. In Ancient Greece, sling weaponry also appeared in the writing of Homer, with characters killing their enemies by hurling stones at them. The Acarnanians and others living on the northern coast of the Peloponnese were also experts with the weapon.

The Boeotians recruited slingers from the Malian Gulf to help them during the Battle of Delium. During the Peloponnesian War, the Greeks utilized not only their partial heavy infantry but also their mercenary slingers that they recruited from Rhodes, Acarnania, and Achaea.

Perhaps the considered most famous Greek mercenary group to use slings was “The Ten Thousand.” The group was made of Greek mercenaries who heavily relied on the weapon to defeat their enemies. They were once considered more effective than the Persians slingers because their lead ammunition traveled at longer distances.

The Romans also employed Slingers as light-armed auxiliary troops that would form a skirmish line in advance of the Legion’s line of battle to pelt an adversary on the approach. They would then quickly retreat behind the Legionaire heavy infantry and continue to shower enemy ranks with stones and even lead slugs.

Slings of Today

Even when a lot of weapons had been invented and developed, sling weaponry still surprisingly prevailed. In the Middle Ages, the handheld slingshots were upgraded in a way that they could launch larger projectiles. A version called staff slings was easier to operate and was more reliable in terms of launching grenades over fortifications. In close-combat situations, they could also double as a staff weapon.

Slings were basically booted out when the longbow was invented, and then the gunpowder. Even so, they still saw combat during naval warfare, as its simple design was less susceptible to moisture damage compared to bowstrings.

Sling weaponry made it until the Spanish Civil War, when brigades used slings to launch grenades into the enemy territory. It also made an appearance during the Winter War, as the Finnish used the weapon to launch Molotov cocktails toward Soviet tanks.

Nowadays, we don’t see much of slings being used, although some protestors, like in the Middle East, sometimes use them to hurl projectiles against military personnel during riots and protests. Meanwhile, Arab nomads, Bedouins, and wilderness enthusiasts use slings to shoo off wild animals.

A south American sling made of alpaca hair in the town of Lampa, Peru, in the South Andean mountains. (Taken by Neal Grout and released into the public domain.)

In South America, the Andes still use slings as accessories during mock battles and ceremonial dances.