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Secret Roman weapon has been discovered

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Spartan slinger
Spartan slinger | Photo: Shumate

Archaeologists have discovered numerous lead missiles that the ancient Romans used to fight the barbarians in Scotland. Due to their construction, the shells made a whistling sound during the flight, which was supposed to scare the enemy.

The missiles were discovered at Burnswark Hill in southwest Scotland, according to an article in LiveScience. The items were found in a field where a massive attack by the Roman army in the 2nd century CE was to take place. It was probably part of the military campaign of Emperor Antoninus Pius to conquer what is now Scotland. Finally, after about 20 years, in the middle of the 2nd century CE, the Romans gave up the conquest of the northern lands.

Burnswark Hill, Scotland

The excavation work is carried out by John Reid’s team. Each bullet weighs approximately 30 grams and has a 5 mm hole. According to the researchers, the hole in the missiles was supposed to cause a sharp and wheezing noise during flight.

About 20 per cent of the discovered missiles had these cavities. These objects are also smaller than regular missiles, which scientists believe indicates that they could be used several in one shot. The heaviest bullets are lemon-shaped and weigh about 60 grams.

According to researchers, such finds are typical of the Roman army throughout Europe. In addition to the Romans, the Greeks also used them on the battlefields. The Greek spheres, however, had holes for poisons.

Lead bullets were used en masse in the Roman and Greek armies. They were fired with a slingshot and had an unusually long range. The balls were smelted either in moulds or simply in holes in the sand into which molten lead was poured. The Romans, like the Greeks, made inscriptions on the missiles: the name of the commander of the slingers’ division, the army commander, the guardian deity or simply ridiculed the opponent (eg, “Have you?”).

Burnswark Hill lead bullets.
John Reid | Trimontium Trust

The bullets had a much farther range than the arrows and did more damage. Lead is an extremely heavy metal. Most often, small bullets were smelted that were heavy enough to break a limb, but also small ones that were not visible in time. According to Current Archeology, 50-gram missiles could fly a distance of at least 200 meters and reach a speed of 160 km/h. This means that a Roman projectile fired from a slingshot had a slightly lower kinetic energy than a projectile fired from Magnum 44.

In the Roman army, slingers belonged to the unit auxiliary and came mainly from the Balearic Islands, an archipelago near Spain in the western Mediterranean. They were recruited, among others on the expedition of Julius Caesar to Britain in 55-54 BCE.


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