Slings and slingers, Bible archaeology


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David and Goliath


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Lachish destroyed

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Different types of armour in the ancient lands of the Bible: archaeology


Different types of shields used in ancient warfare: Bible archaeology


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Bow & arrow

Slings in ancient warfare: David and Goliath: what archaeology tells us about the Bible story

Slings in warfare

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Slings and slingers

Bible Study Resource

The sling, devised by ancient shepherds to scare predatory animals from attacking their flocks, gradually made its appearance on the battlefield as a weapon of war. For it enabled a missile to be thrown a considerable distance - or at least considerable for those days - in any terrain, hilly as well as flat. Its capacity to fire up a slope, where it could  direct high-angled fire, gave it some importance in assaults on fortified cities.

  • The sling had the supreme advantage of being easy to make, and its ammunition, slingstones, was provided by nature. This was important to the Israelite tribesmen, because the Middle Eastern boy with slingPhoenicians and Canaanites, into whose land they intruded, forbade them the use of smelting and iron-mongery. This meant that they could not produce metal weapons, a vastly limiting factor when facing an enemy with metal swords, shields and armor.

  • Its principal disadvantage was that considerable training and experience were required to operate it with effective accuracy. It is one thing to shoot off a stone from a sling, but quite another to hit a small target at a distance - as David had to do when he faced Goliath. 

What did it look like?

Correct position to hold a slingThe early sling looked rather like a large eye-patch. It consisted of a small piece of leather or cloth with two cords attached to opposite edges. The stone missile was placed on the material and the cords pulled taut so that the material became a kind of bag containing the stone.The bag was held by the left hand and the ends of the two cords held together by the right. The bag was then swung round and round several times above the head until it gained the required momentum, at which point one of the cords would be released, shooting the missile far forward. 

The function of the sling was often complementary to that of the bow. Whenever they were used in battle, the slingmen always served close to the archery units.

They were particularly useful in an attack on a fortified city, because they could direct high-angle fire up a steep slope. 

This wall painting from the tomb of Khety shows a variety of Egyptian warriors attacking a city.

This wall painting from the tomb of Khety shows a variety of Egyptian warriors attacking a city. 
The red-helmeted soldiers in the top right of the mural are the slingers.

Tell Halaf slingman

Tell Halaf slingman. The sling was made up of a pad, usually of leather, attached to two thongs. After placing the slingstone in the pad, the thongs were pulled taut, converting the pad into a bag. The slinger held this bag in his left hand and the ends of the taut thongs in his right, above his head. He then whirled the sling with his right hand round and round to give it momentum, and at the crucial moment he released the end of one thong, freeing the stone.

The Assyrians use slings

The use of the sling came comparatively late to the Assyrian army, making its appearance on the monuments only in the 8th century BC, in the time of Tiglath-pileser III. Perhaps it seemed at first too primitive for sophisticated Assyrian tacticians, and was over-looked. A good illustration of the non-Assyrian slingman in action in the 10th and 9th centuries appears in the reliefs from Tel Halaf (364) whose caption describes the weapon and operation in detail

Assyrian slingers. These are offensive rather than defensive warriors, since their armor is designed to protect them against long-range weapons rather than swords and clubs.

Assyrian slingers. These are offensive rather than defensive fighters, since their armor is designed 
to protect them from long-range weapons rather than swords and clubs.

A reconstruction of the Assyrian attack on the Israelite city of Lachish. The slingers are at the bottom of the ramp built for battering rams. They are aiming at the defenders on the walls of the unfortunate city, soon to be overrun and destroyed.


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Slings and slingmen in ancient warfare: the weapon David used to defeat Goliath

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Copyright 2006 Elizabeth Fletcher