Roman Slings And Pains…

Roman Slings And Pains

I have always been amused by the M1 cultists that post on the CMP website. After obsequiously knuckling their foreheads to the CMP staff they gloatingly post long lists and photos of surplus firearms they have purchased from the CMP starting with the Mossberg 44, working their way through the much sought after US Property marked Winchester 52s and USMC Remington 40xs, the 1917 Enfield follows, as does the various iterations of the M1903, M1 carbines, until, finally, the Holy Grail, the M1 Garand.

Having purchased their yearly limit of 12 M1s they eagerly anticipate the turn of the calendar, so they can stock up with 12 more. In my day one counted himself lucky to win a Director of Civilian Marksmanship lottery to purchase your once in a lifetime M1.

Usually following the rifle braggadocio comes a detailed inventory of the massive amounts of .30-06 ammunition they have squirreled away in their basement bunkers. They discuss in excruciating detail various types of bandoleers, ‘spam cans’, cardboard packaging, and how best to clean the corrosion from ancient delinked loose packed cartridges.

Often a photograph of the smiling owner peering over a Berlin Wall of wooden wire bound crates, filled with four M19A ammunition cans or two M2A1 cans of domestic Lake City cartridges or surplus Greek HXP, accompanies the post. The Big Red One probably used less ’06 ammunition harrying the Nazis from Omaha Beach tothe Harz Mountains than some of these basements contain. Oddly, there is rarely a mention by these miserly munition mavens of actually shooting any of the accumulated stocks of armaments.

The mention of the Berlin Wall and hoarded ammunition recalls a similar situation concerning another wall and bullets. Archeologists excavating at Burnswark Hill, hard by Hadrian’s Wall in the Dumfries region of Scotland, report that some 800 Roman lead sling bullets were recently uncovered

The Romans exclusively employed mercenaries from the Balearic Islands as slingers. Vegetius, in his work De Re Militari, wrote, “The inhabitants of the Balearic Islands are said to have been the inventors of slings, and to have managed them with surprising dexterity, owing to the manner of bringing up their children. The children were not allowed to have their food by their mothers till they had first struck it with their sling.”

The sling can lob its bullet in a high trajectory which can achieve a range exceeding 400 yards. Until the compound bow came along it was the long range weapon of choice. Conversely, a skilled slinger can whip a bullet along a flat path at speeds close to 100 miles per hour. Ask any major league baseball batter what it feels like to get struck by a bulky and comparatively soft baseball moving at that speed and one does not need much imagination to consider the damage a small stone or lead pellet might cause.

The sling bullets found at Burnswark Hill are not uniform. Cast in lead, some are acorn shaped-glansin Latin, while some are two-ounce lemon shaped projectiles. A third group of small bullets have holes carefully drilled through them so that when slung toward the enemy the air passing through the holes creates a terrifying whistling sound that is intended to panic its intended victims.

Nearly two millennia later a screaming flying object still seemed to have merit as a terror weapon.The iconic gull winged workhorse German dive bomber, the SturzkampfflugzeugJunkers Ju 87,or ‘Stuka’,mounted a wind driven propeller siren, the infamous “Jericho Trumpet”, on its fixed undercarriage’s fairings. Like the Imperial Romans before them, the Nazi Germans believed that a high pitched screaming sound would destroy enemy morale. Unfortunately, for the Germans, it was soon found that the target population quickly became inured to the siren. More importantly, the bulky sirens reduced the rather low air speed of the stodgy Stukaby about 20 miles per hours, making them sitting ducks for modern fighters and so they were removed.

But I digress. Eventually the Romans abandoned the province ofBritannia, as Rudyard Kipling noted, “Legate, I had the news last night, my cohort ordered home. By ships to Portus Itiusand thence by road to Rome.” The Romans left behindan extensive network of roads, many of which are still followed today, as well as an efficient water and sanitation system. Britannia’smajor cities, such as Londiniumand Mamuciumexist today as London and Manchester.

Like any major power withdrawing from an occupied territory they also left behind abandoned fortifications, girlfriends, offspring, and supplies of all kinds. Far to the south of Burnswark Hillover 22,000 sling bullets were found on the shores of the English Channel at Maiden Castle in Dorset. Was that it an abandoned Roman ammunition bunker or, perhaps, something more familiar?

In my mind’s eye, I imagine Marcus Helvetius Apollonarius,a time expired Roman legionnaire abiding inBritannia, laboring with pen and ink over a sheet of papyrus, placing an order with the Tribunus Ex Arma, the CMP of the time. His order for aduodecimsurplus slings and XXII chests each containing M sling bullets, “good Roman glanscast from plumbumat LacusUrbs, not the inferior Peloponnesian HXP made of stone”, was quickly filled.

Marcus carefully stored the shipment in his Dorset root cellar and later, in the fullness of his years, crossed the River Styx, never having used any of it. While Marcus roamedElysium’s fields, his weapons cache lay undisturbed for millennium. The biodegradable slings rotted but the lead bullets lay until modern archeologists unearthed them and conjectured on their source and meaning.

I suspect that the hidden caches of many a modern day Marcus may confound yet unborn archeologists, countless times over, in the far distant future.

About Hap Rocketto

Hap Rocketto is a Distinguished Rifleman with service and smallbore rifle, member of The Presidents Hundred, and the National Guard’s Chief’s 50. He is a National Smallbore Record holder, a member of the 1600 Club and the Connecticut Shooters’ Hall Of Fame. He was the 2002 Intermediate Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion, the 2012 Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion a member of the 2007 and 2012 National Four Position Indoor Championship team, coach and captain of the US Drew Cup Team, and adjutant of the United States 2009 Roberts and 2013 Pershing Teams. Rocketto is very active in coaching juniors. He is, along with his brother Steve, a cofounder of the Corporal Digby Hand Schützenverein. A historian of the shooting sports, his work appears in Shooting Sports USA, the late Precision Shooting Magazine, The Outdoor Message, the American Rifleman, the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s website, and most recently, the apogee of his literary career,
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