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Bill Thayer

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Article on pp553‑554 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

[image ALT: An engraving of a bearded man about 35 years old dressed in a tunic gathered at the waist, preparing to hurl a stone with a sling. He holds a shield in his left hand, but a sling in his right, with the stone in it; the upper part of his tunic makes a deep fold in which a dozen more roughly spherical stones can be seen. It is an illustration of a Greek or Roman military slinger.]

FUNDA (σφενδόνη), a sling. The light troops of the Greek and Roman armies consisted in great part of slingers (funditores, σφενδονήται). In the earliest times, however, the sling appears not to have been used by the Greeks. It is not mentioned in the Iliad; for in the only passage (Il. XIII.599) in which the word σφενδόνη occurs, it is used in its original signification of a bandage.a But in the times of the Persian wars slingers had come into use; for among the other troops which Gelon offered to send to the assistance of the Greeks against Xerxes, mention is made of 2000 slingers (Herod. VII.158); and that the sling was then known among the Greeks is also evident from the allusion to it by Aeschylus (Agam. 982). At the same time it must be stated that we rarely read of slingers in these wars. Among the Greeks the Acarnanians in early times attained to the greatest expertness in the use of this weapon (Thuc. II.81); and at a later time the Achaeans, especially the inhabitants of Agium, Patrae, and Dymae, were celebrated as expert slingers. The slings of these Achaeans were made of three thongs of leather, and not of one only, like those of other nations (Liv. XXXVIII.29). The people, however, who enjoyed the greatest celebrity as slingers were the natives of the Balearic islands. Their skill in the use of this weapon is said to have arisen from the circumstance, that, when they were children, their mothers obliged them to obtain their food by striking it with a sling (Veget. p554de Re Mil. I.16; Strab. III. p168). Most slings were made of leather, but the Balearic ones were manufactured out of a kind of rush (Strab. l.c.). The manner in which the sling was wielded may be seen in the annexed figure (Bartoli, Col. Traj. t. 46) of a soldier with a provision of stones in the sinus of his pallium, and with his arm extended in order to whirl the sling about his head (Virg. Aen. IX.587, 588, XI.579). Besides stones, plummets, called glandes (μολυβδίδες), of a form between acorns and almonds, were cast in moulds to be thrown with slings (Lucret. VI.176; Ovid, Met. II.729, VII.778, XIV.825, 826). They have been found on the plain of Marathon, and in other parts of Greece, and are remarkable for the inscriptions and devices which they exhibit, such as thunderbolts, the names of persons, and the word ΔΕΞΑΙ, meaning "Take this." (Dodwell's Tour, vol. II, pp159‑161; Böckh, Corp. Ins. vol. I. p311; Mommsen, in Zeitschrift für die Alterthumswissenschaft, 1846, p782.) [J. Y.]

While the sling was a very efficacious and important instrument of ancient warfare, stones thrown with the hand alone were also much in use both among the Romans (Veget. I.16, II.23) and with other nations (οἰ πετροβόλοι, Xen. Hellen. II.4 §12). The Libyans carried no other arms than three spears and a bag full of stones (Diod. Sic. III.49).

Thayer's Note:

a Strabo, however, ascribes the invention of the sling to the Aetolians in mythical or near-mythical times (VIII.3.33).

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Page updated: 30 Apr 08