Leaden sling-bullets were widely used in the
Greek and Roman world. For a given mass, lead, being very dense, offers the
minimum size and therefore minimum air resistance. In addition, leaden
sling-bullets are small and difficult to see in flight.
In some cases, the lead would be cast in a simple open mould made by pushing a
finger or thumb into sand and pouring molten metal into the hole. However,
sling-bullets were more frequently cast in two part moulds. Such sling-bullets
come in a number of shapes including an ellipsoidal form closely resembling an
acorn - this could be the origin of the Latin word for a leaden sling-bullet:
glandes plumbeae (literally leaden acorns) or simply glandes (meaning acorns,
Other shapes include spherical and, by far the
most common, resembling the shape of the shell of an almond nut - like an
American football that has been squashed so that it has an elliptical rather
than circular section. This shape is sometimes referred to as biconical,
although this really fails to convey the subtlety of the shape.
The ancients do not seem to have taken advantage of the manufacturing process to
produce consistent results; leaden sling-bullets vary significantly. The reason
why the almond shape was favored is not clear: it is possible that there is some
aerodynamic advantage, but it seems equally likely that there is some more
prosaic reason such as the shape being easy to extract from a mould or that it
will rest in a sling cradle with little danger of rolling out.
Almond shaped leaden sling-bullets were typically about 35 mm (1 3/8 in) long
and about 20 mm (3/4 in) wide weighing approximately 28 g (1 oz). Very often,
symbols or writings were molded into lead sling-bullets.
The sling-bullet in my collection was used in
the Augustic campaign against the Alpine tribes in 16 and 15 BC. The
Alpine regions consisted of Raetia and Noricum (modern Switzerland, Bavaria,