In an earlier post, I noted the enormous walls around Uruk and suggested threats existed outside those walls, threats large enough to justify the enormous expense of building them. The Lamentation of Ur spells out one of those threats: an apocalyptic storm sent by the god, Enlil. The more frequent threat was an invader. Since a city wouldn’t survive long without a stout active defense (walls are passive defenses), I am now going to begin adding occasional posts addressing weapons and tactics generally used 5203 years ago in Mesopotamia, the setting for my Raising up Pharaoh series of novels. You will never understand that period unless you understand how those people took steps to protect themselves from predators, mainly human.They couldn’t prevent a seismic, meteorological, pest, or plague catastrophe; but they could protect themselves from human depredations, limited only by their will to prepare and arm their cities to repel raiders and attackers.
But, first, I want to recommend a useful book in our Bibliography: ““Walled up to Heaven”: The Evolution of Middle Bronze Age Fortification Strategies in the Levant.” If you want to thoroughly understand ancient weapons, military strategy, and fortifications, reading this book will answer many of your questions on this issue of individual and communal defense. As an author of fiction at the dawn of literacy and history (coincident with the end of the Chalcolithic Age and beginning of the Early Bronze Age in the Fertile Crescent), I feel free to extrapolate that book’s Middle Bronze Age analysis back to 5,203 years ago. Full disclosure: Aaron is my eldest son, inherited my love for archaeology while on a family tour of Greece, the Aegean, and the Anatolian coast, studied and now excels in the field, and inspired me to research and write Raising Up Pharaoh–which is my best effort to put living flesh back on the dry bones of the long-dead Middle East. You can use the Archaeology/Archaeologists list to check him out via the link there, or use this shortcut.
We will start today with my favorite ancient weapon: the sling and ball. Years ago, my eyes were opened to this intriguing weapon while visiting Aaron at the University of Chicago. He took me into the Oriental Institute museum and asked the curator to retrieve from the vaults a stone sling ball. She came back with a granite projectile weighing about a pound. The “ball” was not spherical, but a short cylinder with conical ends. The cylinder had grooves carved around it. I was amazed its makers had put so much work into one projectile, and then stunned to hear that athletic ancient slingers hurled such “balls” up to 500 feet. They could sling them from city walls at attackers, and attackers could sling them at the defenders on the wall and the city dwellers behind the wall. Two massed armies could exchange barrages of sling balls to weaken each other (much like artillery) before engaging with shorter range weapons (arrows, javelins, thrown rocks, spears, swords, and finally, maces. An ambush of an army going through a narrow ravine comes to mind. It was obvious that being hit by that one pound projectile on any trajectory would take me out of the fight, and probably kill or cripple me for life. Table III in this paper compares the knock-down power of various weights of slung projectiles to various caliber pistols, and explains many ballistic and technical issues regarding the weapon.
Sketch of a Balearic Slinger of a much later date, early Roman times, but with the same equipment: a sling and a ball. This slinger carries a short sling wrapped (stowed) around his head, a long sling wrapped (stowed) around his waist, and a loaded medium sling in his hands. Slingers from today’s Balearic Islands are still considered the best in the world. Credit.
Slinging stones requires skill. Anybody can throw a baseball, but not everybody can throw it fast over the plate at the right height from the pitcher’s mound. As with today’s baseball and cricket pitchers, genetics gives a distinct athletic advantage, but champion-level skill comes from long, hard workouts and target practice. Here are some videos introducing the sling, the slinging motion, marksmanship, and people who once did or still use similar slings today. Introduction: The Rock or Shepherd Sling. The motion: frontal view, side and back, slinging technique. Marksmanship: target shooting, Balearic slinging competition, Balearic Slingers “World Series.” Historic and shepherds slinging: David and Goliath, Afghan Shepherd Boys.
In my novels, a young Cypriot orphan boy named Akwar attracts dozens of Bedouin boys to a competition with slings, and subsequently forms a military company of Young Slinger defenders. What you have just seen in the modern videos was already an ancient skill 5,203 years ago. But, in my books, the role of massed slingers as a military force is fleshed out and put into action.
Thanks for visiting. Next week, we’ll return to Maritime issues, specifically: how to maneuver a lateen rigged boat, and nautical design issues regarding leeway and seaworthiness 5,203 years ago.