Thracian Weapons

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An Incan sling - sorry, there are few pictures of ancient slings available The Spartan poet, Tyrtaeus, wrote of the traditional weapons of the light-armed: stones and javelins (Tyrtaeus fr. 11, 1.25; Loeb, Greek Elegy and Iambus, v. 1, pp. 74-75)

Polyaenus (III.9.62, see below) tells how Iphicrates, campaigning in Thrace, was harassed by Odrysian archers and slingers; he discouraged them by placing bound Odrysian prisoners in his front ranks, which persuaded their compatriots to cease fire!"   Incidentally, the last passage is one of only two references to Thracian slingers I have found. Apparently the different tribes specialised in different troop­types; some tribes wouldn't have had any archers or slingers in their armies at all.  Polyaenus 10.11 says that "the sling was a longer-range weapon than the bow, for Pryaechmes with a sling won a duel with Aeschines who had a bow."  Xenophon's Anabasis agrees, as he says that a hastily organised corps of slingers was able to hold off the Persian archers.

Polyaenus Stratagems 3.9.62

In Thrace Iphicrates took many Odrysians captive.  The Odrysians pressed him fiercely with slings and javelins.  He set beside each of his men in the front rank a naked prisoner whith his hands tied behind his back with thongs.  Not wishing to hurt their relatives, the Odrysians stopped slinging stones and throwing javelins.

Appian, The Civil Wars, II, VIII, 49 (Pompey's preparations for his fight against Julius Caesar in Greece, 49 BC)

"He [Pompey] had auxiliaries also from Ionia, Macedonia, Peloponnesus, and Boeotia, Cretan archers, Thracian slingers, and Pontic javelin-throwers."

Lead sling bulletsLeft: Lead sling bullets from Greece, now in the British Museum




There is a picture of a sling at:

You can also read more about the sling in Thom Richardson's article The Ballistics of the Sling in Royal Armouries Yearbook 3, 1998

Here are some sling sites . The first in Spanish...Balearic Slingers no less....

News group messages:

A guy from Brasil:

Some practical slinging:

Slingshot articles: (available individually from the Society of Ancients or from their CD-ROM)

Russell King, The Sling as a Weapon, Slingshot 54/20-25
John Norris, Sling and Bow Ranges, Slingshot 55/27-28
Stephen O'Leary, More about the Sling, Slingshot 57/23-28

An Assyrian Sling

Evgeni Paunov & Dimitar Y. Dimitrov, New Data on the Use of War Sling in Thrace, in Archaeolgia Bulgarica 3/2000, pp 44-57



Evgeni Paunov and Dimitar Y. Dimitrov

(Sofia, Bulgaria)


More than one hundred and fifty lead sling missiles, that have recently become known, are the subject of the present work. They were discovered by chance along the valleys of the Middle Mesta, and the Upper and Middle Strouma rivers (see Map 1). The greater part of these finds dates from the Hellenistic Age. As an element of the ancient weaponry, they have not so far been thoroughly studied by Bulgarian scholars. Their location in or near some of the fortresses or settlements in the region, as well as their date, decisively testify to the great role of the sling troops in ancient Thrace.



I. Origin and spread of the war sling.

Plinius the Elder ascribed the invention of the sling to the Phoenicians (Nat. Hist. VII, 57). Strabo states that it was discovered by the inhabitants of the Balearic islands (Geogr. III, 5, 1), which points to the same origin, because of the Phoenician colonization there. He wrote in his Geographica (VIII, 3, 33) that the sling was imported in Greece by the Etolians, when they left Elis. Although the Old Greek term for sling (sfendünh) is only twice mentioned in The Iliad (Il. XIII, 599-600 and XIII, 716 sq.), it is not quite sure that these verses were not later interpolations. It was the lyric poet Archilochus from Paros, who first mentioned a sling around 700 bc, opposing it to the spear and the sword (Archil. frg 3). Its early use, however, is attested by the numerous round polished stone bullets, discovered in Troy by Schliemann (Schliemann 1890, 549, No 659 sq.), as well as by the slinger depicted on a silver vase from Mycenae. Clay missiles in great amounts have been found in the layers of Neolithic and Eneolithic tells (for example: Gulubnik, Sapareva Banya, Slatino /all Southwestern Bulgaria/, Novi Pazar, Smyadovo /Northeastern Bulgaria/, etc.).

According to Herodotus (Hist. VII, 158), the tyrant of Syracuse, Gelon sent the Hellenes 20 000 men to help against the Persians, 2000 of whom (i.e. 1/10) were slingers. Thucydides mentiones 700 Rhodean slingers together with 5 000 hoplites and 480 archers in the Syracusian expedition of the Athenians in 415 bc (Thuc. VI, 22, 25, 43). The inhabitants of the highlands of Greece were the most famous slingers in Classical time: those from Akarnania, who deranged the hoplite formation with their shooting, those from Etolia, Thessaly, Achaia and Boeotia. The slingers from the island of Rhodes were the best in the Greek world, often mentioned by Thucydides (VI, 43 sq.) and by Xenophon among the Ten Thousand who marched in Persia (Anab. III, 3, 16-1; IV,3,18; most recently Garlan 1972, 126-127).

slingercoin.jpg (14877 bytes)Left: Reverse of a silver stater of Aspendos in Pamphylia, 4th-3rd Century BC,  Evgeni Paunov & Dimitar Y. Dimitrov, New Data on the Use of War Sling in Thrace, in Archaeolgia Bulgarica 3/2000, p 47, Fig. 2.


II. Lay-out and Use

The simplest ancient sling consisted of a single strap, widened in the middle to bear the bullet, or of a leather pocket-like piece. It was fastened to two strings (kwla, habena), to flax strings, or to metal bands. After the placing of the bullet in the ‘pocket’, both strings had to meet in the right hand of the shooter. The ‘pocket’ was held up with the left hand till it reached the eye-level, so the aim could be visible, then the hand whirled it round and let the bullet fly with centrifugal force on loosing one of the strings. Just this moment of letting the missile fly is depicted on the obverse of the staters of the city of Aspendos in Pamphylia in the 4th-3rd century BC (SNG von Aulock 1963, IV/18, No. 4562). The Roman military tactician Vegetius advised the skilled soldiers to make instead of three whirls, just one (Vegetius, De reb. milit. II, 23; III, 14).

Slingers (sfendonhtai) fought in the light units with the so-called ‘naked’ (yiloi) together with the archers (toxotai) and the spearmen (akontistai). Both Greek and Roman military tactics assigned slingers to the auxiliary troops (auxilia) that had to prepare the attack of the heavier infantry, deranging the enemy line with their shooting. They kept throwing bullets at the enemy from different positions during the battle itself. Slingers were most effectively used for sieges when they disturbed the line of the defenders and made easier the assault of the fortress. That is why a great number of sling missiles is being discovered in and in front of besieged and taken strongholds.

There are numerous examples available, but one cannot miss such cities and battlefields as Marathon, Priene, Eleusina, Corinth, the Athenian acropolis, Pirea, and on the first place Olynthos on the Chalkis. There 500 lead bullets were discovered, 100 of which incribed with the names of king Philip II (13 items) and of his generals: Archedamos, Archias, Hypponicos, etc.,who took the city in 348 bc (Robinson 1941, 418, pl. 130-134, Nos 2176-2380). According to Robinson, one of the reasons why Philip succeeded in capturing Olynthos, was that his missiles were about 1/3 heavier than those of the Chalkide Union, or his artillery was heavier (Robinson 1941, 419 and 433). Some ten lead bullets were discovered in another city on the Chalkis, Torone, on the Hill II above the city, dating from the mid-4th century bc (Arcaia Makedonia 1988, 229, No 171).



III. Ancient sling missiles

Initially, stone pieces of different size were used as bullets. The Persians, for example, used stones of fist size in the 5th century bc according to Xenophon (Anab. III, 3, 16-17), while the Balearians - the weight of one Greek mina (436 g). Bullets were also manufactured of baked clay, like those known from the pre-historic sites in Bulgaria. The greatest progress was marked by the invention of the cast lead bullets in the 5th century BC. The Hellenes were credited with this innovation and the first such missiles are found on the battlefield near Marathon (490 bc).

The lead bullets (molubdideV, molubdainai, glandes plumbea) are of relatively small weight and of a shape most adequate to their function (Fougères 1896, col. 1608 sq.). These improved missiles gave the sling better ballistic qualities than those of the bow, the spear and even the sling with stone bullets. Beside the long flight, they had the advantage of being invisible to the soldiers who could not keep themselves out of their reach. It is worth noting that the ancient adopted immediately the shape and the size, which were re-discovered in the 19th century by modern ballistics, to give the bullets maximum dynamic force. Actually, not the sphere, but the shape of an almond, of an acorn, of a big olive, or a plum was preferred in the ancient weaponry. Xenophon’s data are instructive in this respect. The reach of the Persian archers was up to 5 pletra (=154 m) in the early 4th century bc. At the same time, the slingers from Rhodes reached with their lead bullets twice as long a distance that the stone bullets (ceiroplhqeiV liqoi) the Persian slingers achieved. Thus, the Rhodeans hit the Barbarian slingers, while they themselves remained safe. Vegetius defines a distance of 600 feet, i.e. about 177 m, for the bullet flight (Epitoma rei. milit. II, 23).

From historical point of view, there is no perceptible difference between Greek and Roman bullets as their shape was uniform and their weight similar in the ancient weaponry as a whole. The ancient had also noticed that beside serious injuries, the lead missiles, when reached the aim, suddenly heated up the armour of the hit soldier. Ancient science assumed that the quick flight of the bullet melted the lead, (Arist. De caelo II, 7) and this "miracle" was celebrated in verse by Lucretius, Vergilius and Ovid.

Discussing the striking force of the missiles, it is enough to mention that the Roman philosopher Celsius (1st century AD) wrote a treatise on the injuries caused by lead balls (Cels. VII, 5,2). The anonymous biographer of the Emperor Septimius Severus narrates that the emperor fainted, as if dead, from ictu plumbeae, i.e. hit by a lead bullet in the battle with Clodius Albinus near Lugdunum (the present-day Lyon) in 197 ad (Hist. Aug. Spartian., Vita Severi, c. II).



IV. Manufacture of the missiles and types of inscriptions

Anceint lead missiles were cast in clay or bronze moulds. Several such moulds are known. One is in the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg (Fig. 2), the second is discovered in Olynthos (Robinson 1941, 420, fig. 23), and a third, a bronze one, is known from the Paul Canellopoulos’ collection in Greece, now in Paris (Empereur 1981, 555, fig. 29). The technology of manufacture was rather simple: the lead was poured in a mould of two parts, resembling a tree with big fruits; it passed through the "trunk" and the "branches" of the "tree" to fill up the "fruits", i.e. the bullets.

Actually, the inscriptions and the symbols, made in relief on the two convex sides of the bullets, are the major source of information. Thus, they become instrumenta domestica of a significant documentary and historical value. Often there is no inscriptions or images, sometimes they are inscribed only on the one side of the missiles.

The symbols varied, such as: a palm, a horse, a bucranium, a star, an eagle with a thunderbolt, a winged thunderbolt, a trident, a dagger, a scorpio, and a snake. Sometimes they are worn out beyond recognition, or damaged by hitting other solid objects.

The most interesting, however, are the inscribed missiles (glandes plumbeae inscriptae). They are of different types, but can generally be grouped, as follows:

1. The name/monogram of the leader of the slingers - in Nominativus or Genitivus;

2. The name of the army commander, respectively, of the ruler in Genitivus;

3. An invocation to the gods for good luck (most often to the winged Nike);

4. An apostroph or an advise to the slinger, for example: ’Eu skanou ("throw accurately!");

5. A decent or menacing apostroph to the enemy - trwgalion ("/this is for a/ dessert!"), trwge ("crack your teeth!"), prosece ("hold!"), dezai, labe ("catch!"), aiscron dwron ("/this is / an unpleasant gift!"), as well as not so decent wishes. All these inscriptions demonstrate the humour and the irony of the ancient slingers (Guarducci 1969, 516-524).

The shape and the weight of the missiles also vary.



V. The State of the Studies in Bulgaria

The problems of the lead missiles and the use of the sling in ancient Thrace are poorly studied in Bulgarian scholarly literature. The state of research is unsatisfactory, although the data offered by this type of artefacts are reliable for the pre-Roman times.

The published bullets can be counted on the fingers of one hand, while there is no complete study at all. Only the short 1952 article by the late Prof. Ivan Venedikov is worth noting (Venedikov 1952, 368-370). There he studied 3 bullets bearing Greek inscriptions (2 of unknown provenance, Dr V. Avramov’s collection, acquired to the National Archaeological Museum in 1920, and 1 from the necropolis of Apollonia Pontica), as well as 3 more items, without any signs, from the region of Assenovgrad. At that time he noted that "when more sling missiles found in our lands, will be published, our knowledge about the significance of this type of weapon in Antiquity, about the centers of its production in our lands and its spread will be better" (Venedikov 1952, 370).

Forty years later, 4 more lead bullets bearing inscriptions were published in the monograph study on emporion Pistyros (the village of Vetren, region of Pazardjik), (Domaradski 1994, 66, No. 5-8; & Bouzek/Domaradski/Archibald 1997). Beside putting them into academic circulation, M. Domaradski comments on the so far scarce data on their spread in Thrace. There are already more than 20 bullets originating from this site, according to an oral communication of the same author.

There is no published sling missiles from big Thracian settlements, such as Seuthopolis, Kabyle and the fortress near Sveshtari (Dausdava?). About twenty items are discovered only in one of them: in the Hellenistic layers of Kabyle; one of them bearing an unclear inscription in Greek, now kept at the Museum of History, Yambol (according to communications of D. Draganov and K. Rabadjiev).

The lead bullets kept in the collection of the museum at Shoumen will soon be accurately published (Atanassov /Tododrov 1998, /forthcoming/). This is a group of 14 missiles, ten of which have an almond-like shape, originating from the famous Thracian site in the locality of ‘Gradishteto’, near the village of Dragoevo (Atanassov/Tododrov, Table I, 1-10); one from Branichevo, and three items of a special interest from the village of Voditsa, region of Varna. Two of these bullets bear the same inscription in Greek - [P]URBAKOU, and are dated to the 4th-3rd century bc (Atanassov /Tododrov, table I, 12-13). Besides the above mentioned missiles, a lead bullet with an inscription has recently been discovered in the sanctuary at the Babyak Mount, region of Blagoevgrad (now kept in the museum at Belitsa); one item is to be found in the museum of Vratsa, without any specific data about its provenance. It has communicated that there are some tens of bullets at the Museum of the town of Dulgopol, region of Varna (anc. Odessos). It is highly probable that there are other such items in the rest of the local museums, but their "insignificance" makes them unattractive to their owners.

Whatever the case, the fragmentary picture of their spread is obvious for the territory of the present-day Bulgaria. Bearing in mind this lacuna, it is quite natural for the analysis of the sling missiles and the conclusions reached to be hypothetical and insecure, as they are for many other monuments from the Thracian world.

This preliminary work aims at putting 169 sling lead missiles in scholarly circulation, which are certainly a small part of all items that will be found in Southwestern Bulgaria. They are, however, the greatest collection of a complete type of weapon.



VI. An Attempt for Analysis of the Spread

The new 169 sling missiles discussed here, originate from eight different sites in the Southwestern Thracian lands (map 1). These are sanctuaries, settlements and fortresses, some of them with expressed urban functions that developed during the entire period of Antiquity. The bullets originate from the Hellenistic period of these sites (late 4th - 1st century bc).

35 of the bullets bear 7 types of symbols and inscriptions in Greek and Latin, which assign them a special historical value. It can only be assumed about the symbols and inscriptions on the items from the village of Dubnitsa (Cat. No. 1) that they marked the different units of the slingers, while the inscriptions are probably the names of their commanders.

The sling missile from the village of Sestrimo, region of Petrich (Cat. No. 3), bears an inscription in Latin. This is probably the earliest written archaeological evidence for the Roman military presence in the Thracian lands. It could be related to the numerous campaigns of the governors of the province of Macedonia in the neighbouring strategy Medike, waged to supress the warlike Thracians in the 1st century bc - 1st century ad (Fol 1975, 69-71).

A satisfactory explanation of the Greek inscription on a bullet from the village of Ilindentsi, region of Blagoevgrad, could so far be offered Cat. No. 6). The word odunh means ‘throes of childbirth’ in Old Greek, but also a pain in general, that from a strike included. Probably it is just the latter that was implied in the bullet inscription.

The two bigger and quite identical missiles from the locality of hill Kojuh, near the village of Muletarovo (Cat. No 2) find their closest parallels in Macedonian lands. If the location of ancient Petra at that site is correct, then these would have belonged to Macedonian military units. The attestations of their presence along the Middle Strouma valley are numerous for the entire 3rd century bc untill 167 bc when Macedonia became a province. They are most telling for 181 bc, when king Philip V launched his campaign against the Medae and captured the same city of Petra (Liv., XLII, 21).

Despite their plain outlook, the bullets from the locality of Gradishte on the Goumno Mount, near the village of Noevtsi, region of Pernik, are the most important ones according to us (Cat. No 7). They originate from an area whose Thracian belonging is archaeologically well demonstrated.Our hypothesis is that they could be related, though cautiously, with the Agrianes, attested in the ancient texts. This Thracian tribe has long been studied exhaustvely in modern literature, but its location is still under discussion. (cf. Gerov 1961, 231-235; Fol 1975, 65-69). According to some passages by Arrian in his Alexander’s Anabasis (Arr. Anab. IV, 30, 6 sqq. et passim), 2000 light infantrymen (...AgrianeV touV yilouV...), most of whom archers and slingers, took part in the Persian expedition. They kept being mercenaries in the Hellenistic armies (Leuney 1949, 405-406) untill mid-2nd century bc, when they finally disappear from the literary texts (Gerov 1961, 234-235). Actually this is the only indirect evidence from the ancient sources, testying to the use of the war sling in Thrace. It is highly probable, according to us, that the sling missiles from a Thracian fortified sanctuary, such as that near the village of Noevtsi, belonged to units of Agrianian slingers in the Hellenistic Age. Their place of finding - the hill slopes and outside the walls of the fortified Hellenistic sanctuary (?) - shows that they might be an evidence for a siege and slingering of the fortification.

The last bullet comes from a recently discovered Thracian sanctuary from the Late Hellenistic and the Roman times near the village of Vranya Stena, municipality of Zemen, region of Pernik (Cat. No 8). This is the most westernly discovered lead sling missile so far.

The above record should be supplemented by one item originating from the lands of Republic of Macedonia. It was discovered in the embankment of a monumental tomb at Brazda, near Skopie, and bears a Hellenic name - KLEOMACO[U]. It has been assigned generally to the 5th-4th century bc according to the tomb itself, but the pottery found there can specify the date: 400-350 BC (Mikulchich / Sokolovska 1990, 79, fig. 11).



VII. Conclusion

The one hundred and fifty new lead sling missiles published here, originating from the lands along the Middle Mesta, Upper and Middle Strouma rivers, were an important element of the ancient weaponry. As their provenance and the palaeographic peculiarities of their inscriptions show, they date most probably from the Hellenistic Age (late 4th-1st century bc) and mark a significant contribution to the study of ancient sling bullets in Bulgaria, which are still underestimated by the scholars.

Their finding place inside or in the closest vicinity of several fortresses and settlements in the Southwestern Thracian lands of the above date testify to the great importance of the slinger units in ancient Thrace. The new data provided by these bullets supplement our knowledge about their spread, and their number exceeds several times the missiles so far known. Their unbiassed interpretation offers new suggestions, conclusions and statements on the political history of this Thracian-Macedonian border region in the Hellenistic times. Besides, they furnish a new perspective on the important role of the sling in ancient warfare in Thrace.





Sofia, 6 February 1999.





of the lead sling missiles

from Southwestern Thrace



1. Village of Dubnitsa, region of Gotse Delchev.

Finding place: 1.5 km to the north of the village, in the locality of ‘St. Archangel’, in a small area (about 200-300 m2), now a ploughed land, in the southern feet of a Thracian, Late Roman and a medieval fortress.


Bibliography for the site: Dremsizova-Nelchinova 1987, 69, nos. 35-36, fig. 121.

Chance finds, from a private collection, deposited completely at the District Museum of History in Pernik in January 1999, Archaeology Department.


Number: 44 items - lead. 33 of them with legends and 11 without images.

a) 11 items bearing the image of a scorpio turned to the left. On the back sides of some of the bullets: traces of small Greek letters in low relief. (see Vischer 1878, taf. 14, no. 59 - from Rhode).

b) 9 items with the image of a bee turned to the right. Inscriptions in ancient Greek letters that are hard to read: (S)PARWPA and F....ADA are to be found on the back sides of most of them.

c) 3 items with spearhead to the right (see Vischer 1878, taf. 14, no. 26 inscribed AMUNQAS, spearhead to the left, very similar in shape, weight: 28. 2 g).

d) 3 items with the image of a coiled snake, to the right (see Vischer 1878, taf. 13, 19). The same inscription in relief: SPARWDA is read on the back side of 2 of them. The third one is damaged by a strike and only the last two letters can be discerned: .......DA.

e) 2 items with a winged thunderbolt. On their back sides: traces of relief inscriptions, possibly the same as the above, but in a quadrangular frame (see Vischer 1878, taf. 13, 4, 5 & 7).

f) 3 items with unclear depictions.

g) 12 items without any images, the same size.


Average dimensions: length: 28-30 mm, max. width: 21 mm, thickness: 13 mm.


Average weight: 30-33 g.

All of the 44 sling bullets from the village of Dubnitsa were cast in double moulds, as can be judged from the ridges formed after joining the halves. They have almond-like shape and almost identical dimensions and bodies.


Date: 4th-2nd century bc according to the accompanying material: bronze coins of the Macedonian kings Philip II, Alexander III, Perseus and of the city of Amphipolis from the period 356-148 bc. The way of writing some of the letters, such as S, W and P, supports the above date.



2. Village of Muletarovo, region of Petrich.

Finding place: 3 km east of the village, in the locality of hill ‘Kojuh’ (the Rupite), on the hills and at the feet of an ancient city (Petra / Petra ? - according to Prof. G. Kazarow and Prof. D. Detschew, most recently in A. Milchev 1981).


Bibliography: Dremsizova-Nelchinova 1987, 91, Fig. 68 & no. 202. From a private collection, now in the District Museum of History in Pernik.


Number: 2 items - lead. Without any inscriptions or symbols. Cast in one mould. Clear almon-like shape with 4 sides, rhomboid section with rounded outwards walls. Good cast, perfectly smoothed surface. The ends are slightly cut and flattened. It resembles a modern rugby ball.


Average dimensions: length: 46-48 mm, max. width: 23 mm, thickness: 20 mm.


Weight: 102 and 104 g respectively.

Date: Probably 3rd-2nd century bc according to the accompanying material: bronze coins of the Macedonian kings Antigon Gonatas and Antigon Doson from the period 298-229 bc.



3. Village of Sestrino, region of Petrich.

Finding place: At about 1 km south of the village, to the right of the highway and south of the ruins of the St. Iliya’s Chapel. Originates from a fortress and a settlement around it.


Bibliography for the site: Dremsizova-Nelchinova 1987, 115, no. 291. From a private collection, now in the District Museum of History in Pernik.


Number: 1 item - lead. Cast, in the shape of an almond with flattened ends. An inscription in relief can be seen on one of the ridges: IIII CR. The inscription could possibly be interpreted as an abbreviation of c(oho)r(tis) IV = /the bullet belongs to/ the fourth cohort. This must obviously be a designation of the military unit which used the missile. No parallels so far.


Date: 2nd century bc - 1st century ad according to the found bronze coins of Philippi, Thessaloniki, Pela of the same time, and the silver denarii of Caesar, M. Antonius, and Augustus, as well as according to the palaeographic peculiarities of the Latin inscription.


Dimensions: length: 39 mm, diam. 16-20 mm, height of letters - 4/5 mm.


Weight: 74 g.



4. Village of Laskarevo, municipality of Sandanski

Finding place: On the slopes of the ‘St. Spas’ plateau on the top of which the St. Spas Church is situated, west of the last houses of the village.


Bibliography for site: Dremsizova-Nelchinova 1987, 82-83, nos. 171 and 172, Fig. 56. From a private collection, now in the District Museum of History in Pernik.


Number: 9 items - lead. In the shape of a spindle with cut ends, one of which flattened by numerous hits.


Date: 4th-1st century bc according to the accompanying material: bronze coins of the Macedonian kings Philip V and Perseus, as well as of Amphipolis, Pela, and Thessaloniki, dated to the period 221-168 bc, and silver Republican denarii from the 1st century bc, and pottery from the entire period.


Average dimensions: length 38-45 mm, diam. 11-22 mm.


Weight: 21 g, 43, 44; two of 45 each; three of 49, and of 59 g.



5. Village of Palat, region of Blagoevgrad.

Finding place: About 2.5 km west of the highway, in the locality of ‘Igralishte’ or ‘Todorov Den’, about 4 km west of the Strouma river. From a private collection, now in the District Museum of History in Pernik.


Bibliography for the site: Dremsizova-Nelchinova 1987, 96, no. 220.


Number: 2 items - lead.

1. Bi-conical almond-like shape. Dimensions: length 35 mm; max. width: 18 mm, thickness: 14 mm. Weight: 39 g.

2. Almond-like shape with elongated ends. Dimensions: length 32 mm, width: 15 mm, thickness: 17 mm. Weight: 38 g.


Date: 4th century bc according to the bronze coins of the Macedonian kings Philip II and Alexander III the Great (posthumous) from the period 340-300 bc, that were discovered together with the bullets.



6. Village of Ilindentsi, region of Sandanski.

Finding place: 3 km east of the Strouma river, in the locality of ‘Igrishteto’, immediately to the west of the village.

From a private collection, now in the District Museum of History in Pernik.


Number: 3 items - lead.

a. Almond-like shape with a round section. Traces of striking against a sharp instrument - a knife (?). Dimensions: length 46 mm, diam.: 25 mm. Weight: 144 g.

b. Almond-like shape with lightly expressed 4 sides. The same traces of strikes with a sharp instrument. Flattened ends. Dimensions: length 45 mm, max. width: 29 mm, thickness: 27 mm. Weight: 150 g.

c. Almond-like shape with 4-sided section. A two-line relief inscription in Greek letters around a convex center on one side: ODUNH

P(WS ?)

Dimensions: length 36 mm, width: 17 mm, thickness: 15 mm. Weight: 39 g.


Date: Most probably from the 3rd-1st century bc according to the accompanying material: bronze coins of the Macedonian kings Philip V and Perseus (221-168 bc). The palaeographic analysis of the bullet Cat. No. 6c supports the proposed above date, although its shape resembles Roman war missiles with sharp edges and ends.



7. Village of Noevtsi, region of Pernik.


Finding place: In the municipality of Breznik, locality of ‘Gradishte’, 1 km south of the village, on the slopes below the fortress/fortified settlement? on the ‘Goumnoto’ hill.


Bibliography for the site: Mitova-Jonova 1983, 118-119. From a private collection, now in the District Museum of History in Pernik. 12 new items, completely identical, were discovered during a field survey and investigation of the site by a team from the District Museum of History in Pernik under Dr V. Vladimirova-Paunova in May 1997 (unpublished).


Number: total of 104 items - lead. General shape of an almond or acorn. The casts are very rough, as if unfinished, with numerous flaws, metal scraps at the ends, and other manufacture defects. Some of them had been burnt, while a small piece of slag can be seen inside the lead of one item. Without any symbols or inscriptions. The number of moulds used could not be identified.

A bigger lead ingot is of a special interest, that was found at the same place, bands of which were cut for the production of bullets in moulds. It is rather heavier: over 200 g. Obviously it was thrown as a missile in defficiency of bullets, when there was no time for their casting in the thick of the battle.


Average dimensions: length 33-37 mm, diam. 11-19 mm.


Weight: Varied: from 23-27 g up to 49-51 g maximum, but the average is about 35-45 g.


Date: Probably from the 2nd-1st century bc according to the materials discovered together with the bullets: silver tetradrachms of the First Macedonian District, tetrobols of Histiaeia on the island of Euboea, Roman Republican denarii from the 1st century bc and Macedonian bronze coins of the cities of Pela, Amphipolis and Thessaloniki from the same time.




8. Village of Vranya Stena, region of Pernik.

Finding place: In the municipality of Zemen, 1 km north of the village center, in the locality of ‘Golemiya Kamak’, on the northern slope along and below the natural rock range, where a Thracian sanctuary evidently existed. Discovered during a field survey of a new-found site by a team from the District Museum of History in Pernik under V. Vladimirova-Paunova in May/June 1997.

Now in the District Museum of History in Pernik (unpublished).


Number: 1 item - lead. An almond-like shape with a round section. A careful cast, only with two flaws and a trace from a stroke with a sharp instrument. Without any symbols and inscriptions.


Dimensions: length 32 mm, thickness 17 mm.


Weight: 40,4 g.


Date: Probably from the 2nd-1st century bc according to the materials discovered together with the bullets: Thracian and Roman provincial pottery, a silver tetraobol of Histieia on the island of Euboea, Roman bronze Imperial and colonial coins from the 2nd till late 4th century ad, a lead mirror plaque with a votive inscription from the 2nd-3rd century ad, and other small objects.






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ABSTRACT: One of the most fearsome auxiliary troops of the Greek and Roman armies was the corps of slingers. These "gunners" of Antiquity, most often from Crete, would range along the sidelines of a battle and subject the enemy to a deadly hail of lead bullets. A well trained slinger could throw the bullet to a distance of 200-300 m and could pierce the heaviest bronze armor worn by a soldier. The used lead bolts often would be marked with a symbol showing the unit slinger belonged to, or sometimes a short phrase, something as simple "take that!", "eat it!", "this is a candy!" or "this is a bad gift!", and many others. The most historically interested pieces can be related to a specific war or even a known battle. These battlefields were littered with the arms and armor of the defeated, and artifacts such as lead sling bolts have been harvested the in the vicinity for centuries.

This paper is an outline of the use of sling as a weapon and the distribution of the cast lead sling-bullets found in the present-day Bulgarian lands. The group published here, now kept in the District Museum of History, Pernik, is the largest published collection of ancient lead bulets for sling all arround the Northern Balkans.

Herewith are published for the first time 169 lead bullets accidentally found in eight Thracian sites in Southwestern Bulgaria along the upper and middle reaches of rivers Struma (ancient Strymon) and Mesta (Nestos). They are dated to the late 4th-1st centuries BC, when southern parts of these regions were included in the Macedonian state (Map 1).

All bullets presented here were thrown with hand sling (see fig. 1). They were casted in bronze (fig. 2) or wooden mouldinds. The common shape of the sling-bullets is like an olive or a hazelnut. The weights of the bullets varying between 20 and 50 g, the heaviest are ca. 150 g. Most of them have no symbols, but some of them bear legends (scorpion, spear head, serpent, winged strike and bee), or inscriptions in Old Greek and Latin. They may refer to personal names - the military commanders (SPARWDA, ....DA - cat. no. 1 from a fortress near Dubnitsa, Gotse Delchev region, fig. 3) and others. An interesting small bullet from Ilindentsi, Blagoevgrad region, (cat. no. 6, fig. 5) is inscribed: odunh p[wS]. That means pregnant pain, and all kind of pain. Perhaps this is the sense of text, a way of expression of kind wish to the enemies.

The article is a contribution to the study of one of the less known elements of warfare in Thrace in late Hellenistic times, as well as a publication of a group of historically important artifacts.



Figure Captions:

Figure 1. A Greek slinger on a red figured amphora from Nola, 5th c. bc


Figure 2. Bronze matrice for lead sling bullets from collection Paul Canellopoulos (Paris), with retrograde inscription: TimwnoV (="/The sling belongs/ to Timon"). Possibly 4-3 c. bc


Figure 3 (a-b-c-d-e). Lead sling bullets from the village of Dubnitsa, possibly 4th-2nd c. bc (Photo: K. Geogriev)


Figure 4. Lead sling bullets from the village of Palat, Blagoevgrad district. 4th c. bc (Photo: K. Geogriev)


Figure 5. Lead sling bullets from the village of Ilindentsi, munic. Sandanski. III-II c. bc (Photo: K. Geogriev)


Figure 6. Lead sling bullets from the village of Muletarovo, Blagoevgrad district. Possibly 3rd c. bc (Photo: K. Geogriev)


Figure 7. Lead sling bullet from the village of Sestrino, munic. Sandanski. 2nd-1st c. bc. (Photo: K. Geogriev)


Figure 8. Lead sling bullets from the village of Laskarevo, munic. Sandanski. 3rd-2nd c. bc (Photo: K. Geogriev)


Figure 9. Lead sling bullets from the village of Noevtsi, munic. Breznik, Pernik district. Probably of 4th-2nd c. bc (Photo: K. Geogriev)


Figure 10. Lead sling bullets from the village of Vranya stena, munic. Zemen, Pernik district. Possibly 2nd-1st c. bc (Photo: K. Geogriev)


Contact Addresses:

Mr Evgeni I. Paunov, ma


44 Aleko Konstantinov Street, Floor 1,

BG-1505 Sofia, Bulgaria

phone: (+359-2)-47-69-63 and -"-76)-2 20 57,

E-mail: <> or



Mr Dimiter Y. Dimitrov

60 Dospat Street, Floor 1,

BG-1000 Sofia, Bulgaria

phone: (+359-489)-54 394.


Table I. Hellenistic lead sling bolts from Southwestern Thrace

Geographical area - the reach of river:


Finding Site

Types of shapes with legends and inscriptions



I. Middle Mesta



loc. ‘St. Arhangel’


12 11 9 3 3 2 3


4-2 c.


II. Middle Strouma









Muletarovo, loc. ‘Kojuh’



loc. ‘St. Spas’



loc. ‘Igrishteto’











3-2 c. bc

3-1 c. bc

3-1 c. bc

4 c. bc

3-1 c. bc

III. Upper Strouma



loc. ‘Gradishte’



3-1 c. bc



Vranya stena,

loc.‘Golemijyat kamak’



2-1 c. bc

Southwestern Thrace


Total number:









Fig. 1: Map of the distribution of lead sling bullets in Thrace (4th-1st c. BC)


¢ ¢ ¨ p ¤ Sofia


(Noevtsi) ¢ ¨ p

(Palat) ¢ ¨ p

¢ ¨ p

(Dubnitsa) ¢ ¨ p

(Laskarevo) ¢ ¨ p

(Vranya stena) ¢ ¨ p


Skaptopara (Kocherinovo)


Neinae (Ilindentsi) ¢ ¨ p

Petra ¢ ¨ p


Heraclea Syntica


Kabyle ¢ ¨ p

Pistyros ¢ ¨ p



(Brazda, Skopie)

Strymon Strymon

Nestos Nestos

Oescus/Oskios Oescus

Hebros Hebros






Notes about Evgeni's article (not yet included as it is infected with a virus):

Sofia, 13th February 1999, 11:59 AM EET

Dear Chris,

Thank you very much for your today’s message of 19:20 AM - here is just


Many thanks for all your corrections, ideas and amendments to my modest paper. First, I will try to put and quote the relevant passages of Polyaenus and Appian, as you suggested, ommitted by me. I do thank you warmly. In fact I saw few years ago a sling bullet of the same Pompey’s campaign in Greece (inscribed CN POMP). Highly interesting, isn’t it? I think I still have a photo (from an US sale antiquities catalogue) and it would be interesting to include. I am very glad to read your notice about the Trallians. But I am fully convinced they were Thracians. Two years ago I’ve investigated in deep, when published a Roman military diploma of AD 114. The retired recipient-veteranus, served under Trajan, was a Thracian, notes as "TRALLI" (Dativus = Tralles). Also we have a Greek inscription from mid-Strouma river, close to Blagoevgrad-Sandanski area /in fact the same as discussed in my article!/.

You remind me to send you few off-prints of my published papers (sorry, most in German). Fortunately, this one is in English, published in ZPE 119, (Bonn 1997), will send you a copy next week.

[QUOTE from ZPE: The Tralles (TrÜleiV, TrÜll(i)oi -[Symbol!]) are mentioned by Plutarch in the biography of Agesilaus of Sparta. He wrote that in 395/4 BC, returning from Asia Minor on a road from the Hellespont to Thessaly, he passed by some places inhabited and ruled by a Thracian tribe with this name. There are various readings of Plutarch’s original text - TrwcálesV, TrÜlleiV, TrwdeiV. On the other hand Titus Livius wrote that Tralles are only an Illyrian tribe.

Stephanus Byzantinus has given us the name of a town of the Tralles in Illyria: BülouroV, püliV tvn en EIllurku TrÜllewn. A village with similar name BÝllouroV, is mentioned by Procopius as being in the area of the Rhodopes mountains. Mercenaries of Tralles participated in the eastern anabasis of Alexander the Great and they founded a town named Tralleis in Caria, in Asia Minor. The Tralles are also mentioned in a late second century AD Greek inscription on a votive stone recently found at the ancient town of Neinae, between Skaptopara and Petra, on the left bank of the middle reaches of the Strymon (Struma)].

Sure, Aetolia is right way.

Of course, I am attaching 2 drawings on the lay-out of the sling, there could be seen the strings. And a map too.

‘Bucranium’ means a Graeco-Roman decorative design of bull’s head and festoons - remember the antableman of Ionic architectural order.

Excuses, perhaps a profesional term.

Okay, I will change "apostrophe" with "exhortation".

I also know the effect of ‘HESH’ anti-tank shells, I was infantry soldier and now officer in the BG army last year. Will keep in mind that idea.

No, ‘Petra’ was the capital town of the Maedians, now near Petrich, just

north of Belassitsa mountain (anc. Orbellos). It was captured in 181 BC

by Philip V, when he launched his campaign against the ‘Medae’ (Liv.,

XLII, 21). In old Greek it means just a rocky, hilly place, as you

certainly know.

Did you like the passage on the Agrianes?


Yours very truly,



Mr. Evgeni I. PAUNOV, MA

44 Aleko Konstantinov Street,

BG-1505 Sofia, BULGARIA,

home phone: (+359-2) 476 963 and -76) 22057

GSM: (+49-179)-49 78 320

e-mail: <>


Christopher Webber wrote:

> Hello, Evgeni, sorry I took a while to reply. I have been sick,

> depressed, or too busy to do much else other than go to work over the past few days. I like your article very much- it is really a first class effort! My suggestions are attached. I put words requiring correction or deletion in red, and the correction next to them in yellow. This really is a very interesting article, because I have only read about Thracian slingers twice:

> "Polyaenus (III.9.62) tells how Iphicrates, campaigning in Thrace, was

> harassed by Odrysian archers and slingers; he discouraged them by placing

> bound Odrysian prisoners in his front ranks, which persuaded their

> compatriots to cease fire!" (I have been unable to check this reference,

> which comes from a Slingshot article - I do not have access to Polyaenus,

> unless it’s on the Web somewhere)

> Appian, The Civil Wars, II, VIII, 49 (Pompey’s preparations for his fight

> against Julius Caesar in Greece, 49 BC)

> "He [Pompey] had auxiliaries also from Ionia, Macedonia, Peloponnesus, and

> Boeotia, Cretan archers, Thracian slingers, and Pontic javelin-throwers."

> In addition, Herodotus mentions Trallian slingers in the Persian army, but

> I don’t think the Trallians were Thracian.

> Some notes on my corrections:

> Etolia - I have always seen this spelt Aetolia, assuming we are talking

> about the same area!

> Deranged - a word only used for insane people - I suggest "disorganised" or

> "broke up" instead.

> "It was fastened to two strings (????, habena), to flax strings, or to

> metal bands" I wasn’t sure what this meant; I think a drawing would help.

> Does it mean that there were two strings, which could be made of string,

> flax or metal?

> "The ancient had also noticed that beside serious injuries, the lead

> missiles, when reached the aim, suddenly heated up the armour of the hit

> soldier." The following paragraph seems to contradict this interesting

> statement - did the ancients believe it was the armour or the lead that

> heated up? Did they believe that the lead penetrated the armour by melting

> through it? In most cases, sling projectiles did not have to penetrate

> armour, since they caused concussive damage - they battered whatever lay

> behind the armour. The modern equivalent is a HESH (High Explosive Squash

> Head) anti-tank shell. This doesn’t penetrate the tank’s armour, but

> squashes on impact and causes a piece of armour on the other side to fly

> off, killing the crew inside.

> Sorry, what is a bucranium, is this a numismatic term for a horse’s head?

> I could not find this word in my largest dictionary.

> "Apostroph" - this should be "apostrophe", or "exhortation" to the

> slinger, and "message" to the enemy. Now you are teaching me English - I

> did not know "apostrophe" could be used this way until now! 99% of your

> readers will also not understand the use of "apostrophe" in this context -

> although it does have two meanings, it is only used to mean a punctuation

> mark.

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