On Inscribed Sling-bullets




The leaden bullets, which were thrown from slings, were called in Greek μολύβδαιναι, and in Latin glandes; the former indicating the material, “lead,” the latter, the shape, “acorns.” As an interesting and well-prepared account of the use of such missiles, in military operations, is given, in the Archæologia, vol. xxxii., by Mr. Walter Hawkins, it is unnecessary for me to discuss the subject in this aspect, especially as my object is to treat them not so much historically as epigraphically. A few preliminary remarks, however, may be useful before entering on the examination of the inscriptions. The bullets, which we are considering, were cast in a mould, and bore letters or devices, or both, on two sides or on only one. In form they were more like an almond than an acorn, but many are pointed at both ends; in size, they are generally about one inch and a half in extreme length, and under one inch in extreme breadth; and in weight they are stated[2] to vary from one and a half to three and half ounces. As slings were frequently employed in sieges,[3] by both parties, the greater number of the extant specimens have been discovered in or near towns which were besieged.

Those that bear Greek inscriptions have been found chiefly in Sicily, but also in Cephallenia and Corcyra, and at Athens, Marathon, and Corinth. The following are the principal varieties of inscription:

  1. The name of a man:
  2. The name of a place, or of a people:
    [5]ΚΑΤΑΝΑ, [6]ΕΛΛΕΝΙ.
  3. The name of a deity:
  4. The name of a man in connection with “victory.”
  5. The name of a deity in connection with “victory.”
  6. Words conveying orders, jokes, or sarcasms:

There are also different devices, as a thunderbolt, a leaf, a scorpion.

The glandes, that bear Latin inscriptions, have been found[10] chiefly at Enna, Asculum, Firmum, and Perusia. They have nearly the same varieties as those which I have already noticed.

  1. [11]L·PISO·L·F·COS, [11]Q·SAL IM
  2. [12]FIR, OPITERGIN.
  3. [13]MAR
  4. [14]C·CAESARVS

There is a peculiar class inscribed with the designation of legions, as


1. The names of men inscribed on these objects were those of the chiefs, or commanding officers, or persons who ordered the casting of the bullets. On one[17] we have the maker’s name clearly stated, scil. T. FABRICIVS FECIT.

L·PISO·L·F·COS, i. e. Lucius Piso, Lucii filius, consul, on a glans found at Enna, is Lucius Calpurnius Piso, who was consul in 133 B. C., and led an army in that year against the slaves under Eunus, in Sicily. Enna, near which this bullet was found , was not captured by him but by his successor, Rupilius. We may infer, however, from this and similar inscriptions, as Mommsen suggests, that he had attempted to take it. Q·SAL IM stand for Quintus Salvidienus [Rufus Salvius] Imperator, who had a command at Perusia, in 41 B. C. He was on his way to Spain with six legions, when he was recalled by Caius Cæsar, to take part in the siege. Eckhel, v. 299, notices a denarius having on one side the head of Cæsar, with the legend C·CÆSAR·III·VIR·R·P·C, i. e. Caius Cæsar Triumvir Reipublicæ Constituendæ: and on the other a winged thunderbolt, also found on this glans, with the legend Q·SALVIVS·IMP·COS·DESIG, i. e. Quintus Salvius Imperator Consul Designatus. The date is almost certainly determined to the year 41, for in the year following Quintus Salvius was killed, as we learn from Dio, xlviii. 33. On a glans, which is a memorial of Cæsar’s hostilities with the sons of Pompey in Spain, we have a similar inscription: CN·MAG IMP, i. e. Cneius Magnus Imperator, scil. Cneius the son of Pompey the Great. From Mommsen’s account of it, n. 681, it does not appear whether it was found at Munda, where the decisive battle was fought, or at Attegua, which was besieged during this war.

ΚΑΔΔΙΣΤΡΑΤΟΥ, on a bullet found in Corcyra, seems to be the name of the Prytanis eponymus, in whose year the missiles bearing the name were cast. See Boeckh, nn. 1865, 1866.

The last two inscriptions in (6) have the names of the centurions, who ordered the casting of the glandes, scil. Scæva and Lucius Mænius, of the 12th legion. Mommsen regards them both as primipili. Of the first there can be no doubt, as the letters PR·PIL prove his rank; but as the latter is designated merely by PR·, I am inclined to think that he was Princeps.

X·MILLIA , 10,000, of course, gives the number of bullets that were ordered.

In the Journal of the Archæological Institute, 1863, p. 198, we find another example of the primipilus, on a glans, (in the possession of Mr. Fortnum), which was also found at Perusia. It bears the inscription,—ATIDI·PR·PIL·LEG·VI, i. e. Atidii Primipili legionis sextæ.

2. The names of towns may have indicated the places where the bullets were made, or from which those who used them came, or in defence of which they were thrown; and the names of peoples were of those by whom or for whom they were thrown. FIR· in n. (2) is inscribed on a glans found[18] on the bank of the river Truentus.

Mr. Rich, in his “Companion to the Latin Dictionary,” under glans, observes that ‘the letters are for firmiter, “Throw steadily,” or Feri Roma (Inscript. ap. Orelli, 4932), “Strike, O Rome!”’ I much prefer Mommsen’s suggestion, that FIR· are the first three letters of FIRMO, in the sense “thrown from Firmum,” and that the allusion is to the siege of that town, whilst occupied by Cn. Pompeius Strabo, during the Social war, in 90 B. C.

The bullet bearing ΕΛΛΕΝΙ, i. e. Ἑλλήνων or Ἑλληνίκων, is said to have been found on the plains of Marathon, but its genuineness is justly doubted.[19] [20]ITAL, i. e. Italicorum, is on glandes which were thrown on the side of the Socii Italici; and those which are inscribed OPITERGIN belonged to the Opitergini, who were warm allies of Cæsar.

3. The names of deities are most probably of those gods and goddesses, whose aid was specially invoked by the combatants on either side, or to whom the missiles were consecrated, as MAR·VLT, Marti Ultori.

4. The names of men in connection with “victory,” of course indicate the wish that those who are named may succeed. The inscription ΑΘΗΝΙΩΝΟΣ ΝΙΚΗ, on μολύβδαιναι found in the campus Leontinus, shows that such bullets were thrown by the slaves in the Servile war in Sicily, 102–99 B. C., for Athenio was a leader in that insurrection. The glandes found near Perusia, which bear the words C·[21]CAESARVS·VICTORIA, were thrown by the besiegers, partisans of Octavianus.

5. The inscriptions, in which the names of deities are used in connection with “Victory,” indicate the gods or goddesses who were believed to be specially interested in favour of each side, or who had been chosen as patrons. Thus ΔΙΟΣ ΝΙΚΗ may have been on the Roman missiles, and ΝΙΚΗ ΜΗΤΕΡΩΝ (otherwise ΝΙΚΗ ΜΑΤΕΡΩΝ) on the Sicilian. That the Deæ Matres were worshipped in the island, appears from the statements of Diodorus Siculus, iv. 79, 80, and Posidonius, in Plutarch, Marcellus, c. 19, independently of the evidence supplied by this inscription. Another of these Sicilian bullets is inscribed with the words ΝΙΚΗ ΜΑΤΕΡΟΣ, from which we may derive confirmation of the statement of Cicero, Verr, iv. 44, that there was a temple of the Magna Mater amongst the Enguini.

The inscriptions, classed under (6), are generally addresses to the missile or to the enemy. FERI, “strike,” is as a direction to the glans not to miss. Mommsen aptly cites, in illustration, a passage from the Marcellus of Plutarch, c. 8,—ἐν ταῖς μάχαις, ὅταν διώκωσι τοὺς πολεμίους, πυκνὸν τὸ φέῖε, παρεγγυῶσιν ἀλλήλοις. Orelli, n. 4932, on the authority of Cardinali, gives another form in which feri is used:—ROMA FERI, which he explains—“O dea Roma, feri hostem!” The reading of this inscription is doubtful: the first-letter seems to be P not R, and the final A resembles an imperfect P. As the two words are on different sides of the glans, it might appear uncertain with which we should begin. There can be little doubt, however, that feri is the commencement, as in another similar inscription, FERI PIC, i. e. feri Picentes. This consideration should lead us to prefer, with Mommsen, either Pomp[eium], scil. the general in command of the Romans in Picenum, or Roma[nos]. ΔΕΞΑΙ, “take this,” was imitated by the Latin accipe. This latter word appears on a bullet, exhibited by the Count d’Albanie, at a meeting of the Archæological Institute, in 1863. It is in reversed letters, and has but one C. The cause of the inversion in this and in other similar examples, is that the letters as cut in the mould were not inverted, as they should have been, in order that the impression might be read in the usual direction.

It is worthy of remark, that the bullet, exhibited by the Count, was “stated to have been found amongst the scoria of an extensive ancient lead-working in the kingdom of Granada. It is believed that the mine was worked by the Romans and also by the Celtiberians, and the scoria are still smelted in order to extract portions of silver.”

The letters ΦΑΙΝΕ appear on the bullet presented by Mr. Hawkins to the Society of Antiquaries of London, and described by him in the article in the Archæologia, that I have mentioned in p. 1. In that paper he gives the following account of the inscription:

It appears to exhibit on one side the characters ΦΑΙΝΩ or ΦΑΙΝΕ, commencing at the smaller or taper end, and extending to the larger, where they are slightly defaced in consequence of the forcible compression of the pellet from impact. If the word be ΦΑΙΝΟΥ, or in the Ionic dialect ΦΑΙΝΕΩ, it will mean “Appear,” or “Show yourself.”

From these remarks it appears, if I understand them correctly, that Mr. Hawkins is dissatisfied with the use of ΦΑΙΝΕ in the sense, “appear,” or “show yourself;” and thinks that if this had been the meaning, we should have had the passive or middle ΦΑΙΝΟΥ; and yet in another place, p. 105, he translates ΦΑΙΝΕ “appear.” Again, he seems to doubt whether the word was ΦΑΙΝΩ, or ΦΑΙΝΕΩ, which latter he believed to be the Ionic form of ΦΑΙΝΟΥ. On reference to the representation of the bullet in his drawing, it is plain that the word is neither ΦΑΙΝΩ nor ΦΑΙΝΟΥ, but ΦΑΙΝΕ; after which there may, perhaps, have been another letter. What that other letter was is of course doubtful, but it certainly was not Ω. ΦΑΙΝΕΟ, not ΦΑΙΝΕΩ, is another form of ΦΑΙΝΟΥ. Mr. Hawkins had, I think, some reason to be dissatisfied with the use of ΦΑΙΝΕ in the sense “appear,” “show yourself;” but the passive or middle ΦΑΙΝΟΥ, is not necessary, as φαίνω is sometimes used intransitively. My objection to either of these words in the assigned signification is, that I do not recollect having met with a similar instance, whilst I at once call to mind the the use of φάγηθι by the Tragedians; e. gr. Æschylus, Persæ, 667; Sophocles, Ajax, 697; Euripides, Phænissæ, 1748.

The true explanation of the inscription is, in my judgment, suggested by the consideration of the probable date. Mr. Hawkins judiciously remarks on this subject:

This specimen was found lodged in the Cyclopian walls of Samé in Cephalonia. The determination of its date must depend on the degree of probability which may be attached to the supposition that it was deposited there by one of the Achæan slingers from Ægium, Patræ, and Dyme, of whom there were one hundred in the army with which the Roman consul, M. Fulvius, reduced that place, after a siege of four months, B. C. 189.—(Livy, xxxviii. 20.)

The siege of Same took place, as is well known, at the end of the Ætolian war, in which Phæneas, ΦΑΙΝΕΑΣ, took a prominent part, as Prætor of the Ætolians. (See Livy, xxxii. 32; xxxiii. 3; xxxvi. 28; Polybius, xvii. 1; xviii. 20; xx. 9.) In this year, B. C. 189, he, in conjunction with Damoteles, had obtained peace from M. Fulvius, from which, however, the Romans specially excluded Cephallenia. (See Livy, xxxviii. 8; Polybius, xxii. 12.) It appears, then, that if there was a letter after ΦΑΙΝΕ, it probably was Α, i. e. φαινέα for φαινέου. The inscription of his name seems to indicate that the bullet was Ætolian, cast whilst he was Prætor (see p. 4), or it may have been so stamped to signify to the besieged that Phæneas was then on the Roman side.

ΕΥΣΚΑΝΟΥ is on a glans made of brass. Vischer explains it as standing for εὖ σκήνου, an ironical address to the person struck by it, “be lodged well,” “take good quarters.” The view of Curtius, that it was an address to the missile to place itself well in the head of the enemy, seems to me preferable. ΤΡΩΓΑΛΙΟΝ, i. e. τρωγάλιον, is on a bullet preserved at Argos. It means “a sweet-meat,” or “fruit for dessert,” and is used here in the sense—‘Here’s a sugar plum for you.’ On the original the inscription stands thus:


whence Goettling proposed the strange reading Τρῶγε Ἅλιον, in the sense, I presume, “Bite it in vain,” like our “This is a hard nut to crack.” Curtius explains the Ε as a numeral denoting the number of bullets thus inscribed. To me this explanation seems unsatisfactory, and I am inclined to suggest that it was intended that τρωγ should be taken twice, scil. τρῶγε τρωγάλιον, “eat a sugar plum.”

ESVREIS ET ME CELAS, i. e. esuris et me celas, “you are starving, and hide[22] it from me,” refers to the famine in Perusia, during the siege, and the extraordinary care with which L. Antonius endeavoured to conceal it from the besiegers. See Appian, v. 35. On the same glans, which bears C·CAESARVS VICTORIA, we have also


i. e. L. Antoni calve peristi, “Lucius Antonius, you bald-pate, you are undone.” There is no historical testimony as to the baldness of Lucius Antonius, but De Minicis believes that he has found evidence of it on a denarius bearing a representation of his head.

Some expressions in inscriptions of this class are, as might be expected, very coarse. Thus we have on one, belonging to the be sieged, [24]PET CVLVM OCTAVIA, i. e. pete culum Octaviani; and another, thrown by the besiegers, bears [25]LA CALVE FVLVIA CVLVM PAN, i. e. Luci Antoni calve, Fulvia, culum pandite.

6. The legionary inscriptions appear on glandes found in Picenum and also in Perusia, such as LEG·XX, L·XV, Legio vicesima, Legio quinta decima, L·V·M P·FEL, Legio quinta Macedonicæ pia felix. It is especially worthy of observation, that amongst this class are noticed some bearing epithets, which were certainly not used before the time of the Emperors—e. gr.,


Legio duodecima fulminata, and


Legio tricesima Ulpia victrix. Suspicions are at once excited as to the genuineness of glandes of this class, especially those regarding which Mommsen observes, “non reperiri apud scriptores antiquiores, eas que nuper demum emersisse omnes et maxime insinuasse se in museum Minicianum.” And yet there are some, regarding which there can be no reasonable doubt.

From the foregoing pages it appears that many of the inscriptions on the Greek and Latin sling-bullets may be read and explained without much difficulty. There are a few, however, particularly those consisting of merely initial letters, of which no probable interpretation can be offered. Of those, which are doubtful, the most remarkable is one that has frequently been found at Perusia. It is given by Mommsen, n. 657, as LVFVIASIA, or, rather, LVFVLASIA; but on comparing Ritschl’s, Pl. ix. nn. 40, 41, 42, 43, 40b, and 42b, it seems certain that the true letters are LVFINASIA, as they are clearly written in n. 41. From a reading of the portion after LV as INEMASA, De Minicis ingeniously suggested sine maza, with reference to the want of provisions in Perusia. This is, however, undoubtedly incorrect. Mommsen can offer no other explanation than that LV stands for Lucius, scil. Lucius Antonius, and FVL for Fulvia, whilst ASIA indicates Marcus Antonius, who was at the time in Asia. The use of LV for Lucius, although a solœcism, may, he thinks, be excused “tali plebei hominis scriptione.” There are, I think, but few who will accept this view. And yet in this case, as in many others, it is far easier to tell what interpretation should be rejected than it is to propose one which should be adopted.

Of the various expansions, that have presented themselves to my mind, there is not one which I regard as sufficiently probable to induce me to propose it.

In addition to leaden glandes, there have also been found in Sicily[26] objects of a similar form, made of clay, argilla. I have never seen one, but they are described as being of the size of an egg of our domestic fowl, and having on one side a figure, indistinct, but said to resemble Hercules, a man with a sword, a man with a helmet in one hand and a shield in the other, or a man binding shoes on his feet. The inscriptions on them generally consist of the following abbreviations: ΠΡΩ ΦΥΛ, i. e. πρώτα φυλά; ΔΕΥ ΦΥΛ, i. e. δευτέρα φυλά; ΤΡΙ ΦΥΑ, i. e. τρίτα φυλά, followed first by ΦΑ, which seems to stand for φρατρία, then by ΠΑΕ, ΛΑΚΥΝ, and other letters, probably the commencement of the names of places, and finally by names of men, supposed to be of magistrates, as ΦΙΛΟΞΕΝΟΣ ΑΡΚΕΣΙΛΑ, i. e. Φιλόξενος Ἀρκεσίλα. Franz, n. 5468, remarks: “Cui usui inservierint non constat. Ratione habita figurarum impressarum haud scio an pertineant ad milites.” I am inclined to think that these objects are similar to those described by Cæsar, Bell. Gall. v. 43: ferventes fusili ex argilla glandes fundis et fervefacta jacula in casas, quæ more Gallico stramentis erant tectæ, jacere cœperunt. This use of φυλή and φρατρία calls to mind the Homeric: Ὢς φρήτρῃφιν ἀρίήγῃ, φῦλα δὲ φύλοις; and the words appear to denote divisions and sub-divisions of an army. See Thucydides, vi. 98. Hence we may conjecture that these missiles were made for the bodies named thereon, and that the names of places and of men are used in the senses already noticed in pages 4, 5.

Inscribed sling-bullets were also used for the purpose of communicating information to the besieged or the besiegers; and, in addition to them, were similar, but apparently different objects, thrown from slings, called by Appian, Mithridat, 31, πεσσοὶ ἒκ μολύβδου. Mr. Hawkins, l. c., notices “many leaden bullets for slings, found among the ruins of Eryx,” [in Sicily], “some of which are inscribed with imprecations. (See Captain Smyth’s ‘Sicily and its Islands,’ p. 242.)” He gives as an instance “one of these inscriptions, which is translated: Your heart for Cerberus.”

No sling-bullets have, so far as I am aware, been discovered in Great Britain. There are, however, peculiar leaden objects, bearing devices and inscriptions, which have been found at Felix-Stowe, in Suffolk, and at Brough-upon-Stanmore, in Westmoreland. It is not clear to what age they belong, or for what purpose they were intended. See Mr. C. R. Smith’s Collectanea Antiqua, iii. p. 197, and Journal of Archæological Institute, 1863, p. 181. Mr. Smith appears to regard them as “Roman seals fastened to merchandize of some kind,” but observes that “their general character seems to bespeak a Phœnician origin.”

I do not see sufficient grounds for either of these opinions.

P. S.—Since the foregoing article was in type, I have noticed a report, in the Gentleman’s Magazine for June, 1863, of the proceedings at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries of London, on May 7th.

From this report it appears that the inscription on the glans exhibited by the Count d’Albanie was deciphered by Mr. Franks, who was “of opinion that the βουστροφηδόν character of the inscription was due to Phœnician influence,—the bullet having been found in a lead-mine in Granada.” In this opinion of the learned Director I cannot concur: the inversion of the letters in this instance, as in Mommsen’s n. 646, seems to me to be merely the result of a blunder of an unskilled or careless workman, who had not inverted the letters on the mould so as to give an impression that could be read in the usual direction. There are examples, however, of another kind of inversion, whereby the letters are turned upside down, which seems to have been intentional and not due to accident or mistake. See Mommsen’s nn. 682, 694.

  1. Mommsen, Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, i. Berlin, 1863.
    Ritschl, Prisc. Lat. Mon. Epig. ad archetyporum fidem exemplis lithographis repræsentata, Berlin, 1862.
    Boeckh, Corpus Inscriptionum Græcarum, ii. Berlin, 1833.
    Boeckh,Franz, Corpus Inscriptionum Græcarum, iii. Berlin, 1853.
    Boeckh,Curtius, Corpus Inscriptionum Græcarum, iV. Berlin, 1856.
    De Minicis, ‘Sulle antiche ghiande missili e sulle loro iscrizioni,’ Atti della Pontef. Accad. d’Archeol. xi. Rome, 1844.
    Hawkins, Archæologia, xxxii. London, 1847.
  2. Archæologia, xxxii. p. 104.
  3. Livy, xxxviii. 29; Sallust, Jugurtha, 57; Appian, de bello Mithridat., 32, 33; Tacitus, Annals, xiii. 39.
  4. Boeckh, Corp. Inscrip. Græc. n. 1866.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Boeckh,Franz, Corp. Inscrip. Græc. nn. 5570, 5687.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Curtius, n. 8530d.
  7. Franz, nn. 5570, 5748.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Curtius, nn. 8530a, 8530b.
  9. Curtius, n. 8529.
  10. Mr. Hawkins, Archæol. p. 105, observes: “Specimens of sling-bullets with Roman characters, are far more scarce than those with the Greek letters. The largest number have been found at Florence, where (as conjectured) there was formerly a Roman arsenal.” I am not aware of the authority on which these statements have been made. A considerable number have been found in Tuscany, at il Castellare, not far from Pisa. See Targioni Tozzetti, viaggi in Toscana, i. p. 352.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Mommsen, Corp. Inscrip. Latin, nn. 642, 689.
  12. nn. 652, 710.
  13. n. 686.
  14. n. 685.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 nn. 647, 649, 692.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 nn. 695, 700, 701.
  17. Mommsen, n. 711.
  18. Mr. Rich states that this bullet was “found at the ancient Labicum.” This is a mistake, probably derived from Ficoroni, who makes the same statement. See Mommsen, n. 652.
  19. Some, however, have been found there, which seem to be unimpeachable. See Dodwell’s Tour, ii. 161. Those found at Athens were probably thrown during the siege by Sylla.
  20. Ritschl, Pl. viii. nn. 20, 21.
  21. In Cæsarus we have the archaic termination of the genitive of the third declension. Thus Cererus, in n. 566, hominus, in n. 200, patrus, in n. 1469, &c.
  22. This use of celare with the accusative is not uncommon. Thus in Cicero, Phil. ii. Eteuim vereor, ne aut celatum me ab ipsis illis non honestum, &c. The meaning of celatum me is not “that I was concealed,” but “that I was kept in the dark,” “that it was concealed from me.” See Epist. ad fam. vii. 20.
  23. The second I is effaced, II standing as usual for E; or the horizontal lines of E have disappeared.
  24. Mommsen, nn. 682, 684. It is extremely difficult to decipher this inscription. The reading given above is believed to have been suggested by the accomplished epigraphist, Borghesi.
  25. See Kellerman, Virgil. Rom. n. 249.
  26. See Franz, Corp. Græc. Inscrip. iii. nn. 5468, 5587, 5820, 5686, 5743; also the authorities cited by him:—Alessi, “‘Littera sulle ghiande di piombo iscritte, trovate nell’ antica citta di Enna,’ Palermo, 1815;” and Mommsen, Zeitschrift. f. Altreth. 1846, n. 98, p. 784.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.