For unofficial information, download the Sling Guide.
Slings are missile weapons used to loose bullets or shot, in the manner of David fighting Goliath.
Typically made of leather, they are very simple but require skill to use, and are a definitively lower status weapon. Slings were most often associated with children (especially those keeping birds away from crops) and herdsmen - not mainstream combatants. Since nobly-born boys joined an aristocratic household early in their teens, it is quite possible that the younger fosterlings might use a sling in support of their lord's shieldwall. Slingers should not engage in melee combat. If approached by an enemy warrior, they should make use of their best defense (their feet) and run away.
A wide range of information on the history and use of the sling can be found at slinging.org.
Cup, Pouch, Pocket or Cradle - the place where the shot is placed in the sling.
End - the end of the release cord furthest from the pouch.
Finger Loop - the place on the down cord where the middle finger passes through it.
Release Cord - the part of the sling from the pouch to the end.
Down Cord or Retention Cord - the part of the sling from the pouch to the finger loop.
Shot, Bullet, Rock or Stone – the missile.
A slinger hunting birds from the Bayeux Tapestry
David and Goliath, from the 1140s Winchester Psalter.
There is substantial evidence on the use and value of slings in the Viking era but little evidence on its widespread use as a weapon of war. What little evidence exists is complicated by the problems endemic to Anglo-Saxon sources, such as whether or not literary sources truly reflected the warfare of the day or relied heavily on classical imagery. There is an interesting mention of a slinger in the biography of the Anglo-Saxon Bishop Wilfrid of York (633-710). It appears in a eighth century manuscript although the event supposedly occurs in 666 AD. It describes how one of Bishop Wilfrid's companions "took a stone which had been blessed by all the peoples of God and hurled it from his sling after the manner of David" going on to describe how the stone "pierced the wizard's forehead and penetrated to his brain" here referring to a pagan priest. Although obviously the Early Christian hyperbolic nature of the text makes it difficult to accept this as a factual account it still seems likely that it indicates certain Anglo-Saxons were in the habit of carrying slings with them. Another example comes in St Aldhelm's (639-709) riddles of the Aenigmata, a book of 100 riddles in Latin. The answers tend to be objects that would be familiar to the Anglo-Saxons, so the inclusion of the sling is particularly telling. The riddle goes as follows:
" The flax plant, blooming fair in level fields And a bull's hide, gave me my origin . Two bonds of twisted cord restrain my leap And thus long since I slaughtered with a weight A mighty tyrant, when the marshaled host Was bent on cruel war; for I prefer To win my battles with a smooth round stone Rather than with hard iron headed pikes. Three fingers whirl me high about the head; I turn, and dart away into thin air. "
Nevertheless, in a time where Saxon homesteads were under threat from Viking or Norman invaders, it is not unreasonable that anything that could serve as a weapon would be used to defend your family, people and local lord. And so thus do we; we seek to understand this wonderfully versatile tool that has persisted with human society for near on 10,000 years. The sling is simple in construction, cheap to make, easy to use but a formidable challenge to master. We hope you have as much fun learning its riddle as we have.
Sling shot would be stones in the first instance, but a whole range of different sorts of bullets have been found in different periods, from spherical lumps of lead to cone shaped metal missiles, designed to spin in the air and strike point first for improved penetration. It was only when armour quality improved dramatically in the medieval period that the effectiveness of the sling declined dramatically.
Above photos by kind permission of www.slinging.org
Our shot has been designed to be used with minimum risk against live targets, given the accuracy we are capable of. To that end there are strict technical specifications that must be adhered to.
• Maximum weight 85 grams (3oz).
• The core of the shot must be malleable; dried peas are recommended but any similar substance may be used.
• Core must not be made from any geological substance such as sand or gravel.
• The core material must be contained in a bag; plastic food bags are recommended.
• The core material must not be placed in a non-malleable container such as a plastic box.
• The core material in its bag must then be wrapped in tape.
• Once constructed the core material must have some movement; the shot should be malleable. The shot should not be too malleable as a low density core will reduce the range and increase the inaccuracy. Until a better standard is available a Sling RTT will decide if a shot is too dense.
The Slinger at War
When your lord calls you to go to war it is not a welcoming place for the slinger but you are defending your homestead and people. It is thankless but skilful work, lacking the glory of the shieldwall but with many opportunities to flee when all hope of victory is lost. The sling is a lowly weapon in the Viking age, but there is plenty of fun in playing the lowly peasant. You can help to drive off the attackers but in so doing you will need:
• To harass the enemy while the army deploys.
• To harass the enemy while the units of the army redeploy.
• To harass the enemy as they advance.
• To prevent the enemy following up units, which are breaking contact with the enemy.
• To engage and drive off the enemy skirmishers.
• To engage and kill enemy leaders and commanders.
Learning the Basic Sling
The sling is a weapon that is quick to learn but difficult to master. Here is advice from one of our finest on how to pick up the basics with the sling to prepare you for taking our basic proficiency assessment, which you need to use it on the battlefield.
1. Swinging the stone - The stone only needs to be swung through a complete circle once; spinning the stone is pointless except to keep the stone in place while moving with the weapon ready to use or as a threat to the target.
2. Release technique - The release technique is much as for bowling under arm to a child, swing the stone round in a single circle and let go of the release knot/bead when the hand is in the centre of the body and below waist height. The stone will then describe an arc to the target as it rises from the slinger and descends on the target.
3. Underarm technique - If the correct action is made when using the underarm (UA) technique the release cord will swing back over the slingers throwing shoulder and while the slinger may over or under shoot they are very likely to have good line, which is the shot is going straight towards the target. If the release cord goes over the loading shoulder then there is some horizontal swing and the shot may go wide.
Throwing stones underarm at a target will help develop the underarm technique and train the eye to the target.
4. Furling - If the sling is twisted you will get a poor release, you can hear a ripping sound as the down cord and release cord unravel, this is called “furling”. The amount of twist in the cords and other factors make the direction of flight of the stone unpredictable and in some cases the stone can land behind the slinger! Always check the sling for twists before loosing though this is no guarantee that a twist won’t occur. Windy conditions affect the sling a good deal and make twisting more likely. The slinger can reduce the chance of furling if they become familiar with their sling, if possible always use the same sling, each sling is different even when constructed out of the same materials so take note of what tendencies it has to twist. Drawing the sling through the left hand helps straighten out twist in some slings and adds them to others!
5. Stance - The stance for a slinger using the underarm technique recommended for Basic Sling is similar to that of an archer but the feet and body are offset 30 degrees to the target. With the feet and body straight to the target stones tend to go right or the slinger fouls his sling in his seax. Other techniques have different stances.
6. Moving? - A novice slinger should not move their feet when shooting, all they need do is swing their arm. Once they have successfully taken the Basic Sling Assessment they may consider moving their feet as they shoot but it is recommended that they wait until they are training for their Specialist Assessment.
7. How to aim - Taking time to aim serves no purpose as other than staring at the target you can’t aim a sling! Fit a stone to the sling, look at the target and shoot! Note where the stone goes and adjust stance and or release point accordingly, an early release will flatten the arc and make a bounce shot more likely, a late release will make the arc of the stone higher and either hit without a bounce, miss high or if a very late release the stone will drop short. When practicing the slinger should always adopt the same stance and shoot from the same point, the slinger should make a mark on the ground where they will place the toes of their loading foot, adjustments to the stance should then be made by moving their throwing leg left or right which will change the line the missiles take. It should be noted that very small adjustments can make a big difference. If your stance is 60 cm wide the circumference of the circle you could describe with your feet is 377 cm; move your back foot 3 cm and at 20 m, assuming you do exactly what you did before, the shift in point of impact is 1 meter!
Some people do find taking aim useful by pointing at the target in the following way: Hold the stone and cup in the left hand (loading hand) and extend the left arm (loading arm) towards the target at shoulder height, hold the right hand (throwing hand) with the loop and release knot at the same height and pull the down and release cords tight. Once ready to shoot let the cup and stone fall and swing your throwing hand back prior to bring it forward again to shoot in the usual manner.
9. Rate of loosing - The rate of loosing with the sling is a little less than can be achieved with a bow, a slinger must have a bag of stones and as soon as they have mastered the basic technique of shooting with a sling they must practice rapid shooting if they are to be able to achieve a useful volume of missiles. Trials have shown that accuracy increases the quicker a shot is made provide the slinger doesn’t rush! Placing the stone in the cup, looking at the target and immediately loosing with a single swing of the stone produces the best results. It is possible for a slinger using the UA technique to achieve ten shots per minute or even a little more.
Standing Underarm, Left Hand Load
Standing Underarm, Right Hand Load
Standing Underarm Toss, Left Hand Load
Standing Underarm Toss, Right Hand Load
Standing Figure of Eight, Left Hand Load
Standing Figure of Eight, Right Hand Load
Stepping Underarm, Left Hand Load
Stepping Underarm, Right Hand Load
Stepping Underarm Toss, Left Hand Load
Stepping Underarm Toss, Right Hand Load
Stepping Figure of Eight, Left Hand Load
Stepping Figure of Eight, Right Hand Load
The Combat Slinger
Combat Sling - Short Sling
Combat Sling - Medium Sling
Combat Sling - Long Sling
An important part of being a slinger is to work as part of a small team to harass and frustrate the enemy units. And it’s great fun. However to keep you alive (and safe) on the battlefield it will help to learn the orders given to slingers by their unit commander. Here are the orders to practise sequentially
Advance – The slingers advance towards the target keeping close to the unit commander and paying attention to issued orders.
Advance Double Time – The slingers advance at speed towards the target keeping close pace with the unit commander and paying attention to issued orders.
One Rank – Slingers form a line to the right of the commander facing the target.
Volley - Warning order
Load - Place stone in cup
Ready - Spin up sling (if that is the style adopted by the candidate)
Loose - Release stone towards target in volley (following Coaching Tip 18)
Loose At Will - Release stone towards target at own pace whenever it is safe to do so.
Halt or stop - When the command is shouted at any point the slinger must halt and not continue until ordered to do so. Halt is reserved for the command to stop because of a risk. Stop is used to stop a volley release so a new order can be issued without a safety concern arising.
Run Away - Run to a designated safe area, usually located behind the Saxon shield wall.
Rally – Slingers should immediately run to their designated unit commander giving the order and await further instructions.
When a unit of slingers is volleying it is important that they use the same throwing technique for there to be any chance of them loosing at the same time. The recommended technique is as follows.
The slinger, having loaded, stands with the loading hand extended towards the target at shoulder height holding the cup and stone. The throwing hand, with loop and release knot held ready to shoot, is held at the same height as the loading hand, pulling the down cord and release cord tight.
On the command “loose” the slinger lets go of the cup and stone allowing it to swing down and back. As the cup and stone swing back, the slinger adjusts his throwing hand ready to start an underhand sling.
As a faster alternative, throw the bullet upwards from the ready position rather than letting it drop down. This will make for a more rapid rate of release and is preferred if you are working with a unit of archers.
How to make a simple sling
1. Thanks to Malik Lund and www.slinging.org. You will need a piece of string approx. 5mm thick, I find an ideal length is equal to your out stretched arms plus the distance from your finger tips to your shoulder of one arm, once complete this length give you a sling fitted to you.
2. The following instructions and illustrations are for a right-handed person. Fold the string in half and hold it in your left hand with a loop at the top approximately the width of your thumb.
3. With the outside half of the string make a similar loop at the bottom.
4. Place the outside strand over the top loop.
5. Bring the strand around and under the top loop.
6. Now bring the strand up between the outside and centre strands.
7. Then pass the strand down through the top loop.
8. Pull the strand upwards to tighten the knot, no need to pull very tight as we will be tightening the knots after making the next one.
9. Turn the whole thing round so that the bottom loop is at the top and the loose strand is on the outside.
10. Place the outside strand over the top loop.
11. Bring the strand around and under the top loop.
12. Now bring the strand up between the outside and centre strands.
13. Then pass the strand down through the top loop.
14. Tighten the new knot then take hold of the upper strand either side of the cup you have created and pull the whole thing tight.
15. If you haven’t already, tie a knot at either end of the string, this isn’t absolutely necessary but will stop the string from unravelling.
16. You will find that one of the strand is longer and tie a loop in it. A slip knot is good as you can fit that firmly to your hand which reduced the chance of you throwing the sling after the stone at the enemy! Pass the loose end over the strand.
17. Bring the end round the back of the strand.
18. Tighten the knot and adjust to size. Note the end of the string is pointing down, this will be more comfortable.
19. On one of these finished examples I have sewn a piece of cloth to make a closed cup but a three strand open cup works well.
20. Now watch the video.
How to make sling ammunition
After much trial and error the following ammunition is recommended, the criteria were that the ammunition should not cause damage to the target warrior and have sufficient weight to fly properly.
1. Materials required are some dried peas, plastic sandwich bags and some grey/silver gaffer tape. The finished missile must have some give in it, it must not be so tightly packed that the peas do not move. Do not be tempted to use a plastic container of the type used to hold small toys in some confectionaries, a missile made of such a container will hurt the target warrior and is unacceptable as a safe missile.
2. Take a handful of peas, approximately 60 grams. (Shooting consistencey will be improved if all your ammunition is the same weight so you may wish to weigh the peas.)
3. Place the peas in the bag and twist the bag closed.
4. Wrap the rest of the bag round the peas.
5. Tear of a strip of gaffer tape approximately 20cm long. Typical colours for the tape include grey, black and brown in order for it to look reasonably realistic on the battlefield. (Shooting consistencey will be improved if all your ammunition is the same weight so you may wish to measure the tape.)
6. Wrap the gaffer tape round the bag but not too tightly.
7. Wrap a second piece of gaffer tape round the bag to cover the open sides.
8. Wrap a third piece of gaffer tape round the bag to cover any remaining signs of the plastic bag. Each of the three pieces of gaffer tape should be wrapped round the bag of peas in a different direction. You’re done, go and shoot your friends!
9. You may want to mark the ammunition as yours, coloured electrical tape works well.
10. Now make some more ammunition, you will need enough to last the battle if possible. As an archer I usually take thirty arrows with me but I can use the arrows that are shot at us by the other side too, as a slinger you can’t, you are on the home team and the invader has left his slingers working in his fields! With practise you can match the shooting speed of an archer, I can shoot thirteen arrows per minute and have now matched that rate with a sling. As you will have very little opportunity to recover your missiles you need to carry as many as you can if you want to be able to shoot for the whole battle, the total weight of you missiles will therefore be a deciding factor. If you have 40 gram missiles you can carry twice as many as 80 gram missiles. My recommendation is 40 gram as they are heavy enough to feel as you swing the sling and large enough to be seen by the targets, four kilograms is not an onerous load to carry and gives me 100 shots.
11. Now watch a video clip.
How to make an ammunition bag
You will need a bag to hold your ammunition, especially if you are taking thirty to fifty stones on the field. The bag can be of any design you like but the following points should be taken into account:
• The bag can be worn over either shoulder as the sling can be loaded with either hand, be careful not to foul with your seax as this might cause the sling to become entangled with it when shooting.
• The shoulder strap should be wide as this will be more comfortable when the bag is full.
• When empty your loading hand should be able to touch the bottom of the bag, this will ensure you can reach the last stone!
• It need not have a flap or cover, if it does it should be possible to fold this back out of the way so as not to make getting a stone more difficult. This is particularly important for the Specialist and Advanced Slingers as they wear gloves.
• Either a waist belt has to be passed over the bag strap or when collecting ammunition tie your sling round your waist over the bag strap, you will find it easier and more comfortable when bending over to pick up stones.
The number of stones you carry is up to you and how much weight you are prepared to put up with. A hundred stones of sixty grams each means carrying six kilograms, fifty gram stones are as effective and cuts the weight by one kilogram!
If you want to make the bag bigger to hold more stones don’t make it deeper, make it wider, remember you have to be able to reach every part of the bag without leaning into it.
How to make a simple ammunition bag
1. To make a simple ammunition bag quickly you will need a piece of cloth approximately 60” by 40” and a piece of string approximately 60” long.
2. Gather the cloth together at one end and tie a knot in it, do the same for the other end.
3. Tie the string behind each knot to make a strap. Alternatively use a second thinner strip of cloth.
4. Hang the bag from your shoulder and fill with missiles.
5. Now watch a video clip.
Slings in the Sagas
The extract below cannot be used as proof that the Vikings used slings in battle, it’s a story about one man and gives one example of his use of the sling. To add to the problem when looking for examples of anything in the sagas is the fact that most of us only read the sagas in English, we reply on the translator to get thing right. An example of this is the atgeirr, a 2002 Old Norse/English dictionary translated the word at “thrusting spear”, earlier translators translated it as “halberd” which appears in the Penguin Classic Njal’s Saga that many of us are familiar with.
Búi Andríðsson never carried a weapon other than his sling, which he tied around himself. He used the sling with lethal results on many occasions.
Búi was travelling to a ship with a few companions when he saw an ambushing party coming up on him led by the brothers Helgi and Vakur. Búi told his companions to wait and see to the horses while he dismounted and climbed a nearby hill.
He climbed the hill and carried some stones up with him. All his weapons were good and he was wearing the shirt which his foster-mother had given him. The brothers soon arrived. They jumped from their horses and launched a fierce attack on Bui. Bui defended himself manfully. At first, he let fly with stones. By the time he had used up his stones, four of the attackers lay dead. Then he took up his sword and shield. The brothers attacked with great force, since they were both courageous men. Two more of their band were killed. The brothers and all their men were wounded. Bui was still not wounded then, but he was extremely battle-weary.
Kjalnesinga saga, ch. 11 translation: Robert Cook and John Porter, The Complete Sagas of Icelanders, Leifur Eiriksson Publishing (1997).
It is hard to believe that Bui could kill four of his attackers and keep the rest at bay if he threw the stones by hand, his foes would have been able to close on him too quickly. The small hill just across the road in this photo is Battle Hill where Bui’s fight took place. The road and fence posts gives some scale.
An early evolution of the sling was the staff sling - a sling on the end of a pole. This created a much longer throwing arm (rather like a small traction trebuchet), allowing larger missiles to be thrown for greater distances. Staff slings are particularly associated with siege warfare and may well have been used in the Carolingian and Ottonian worlds. Given our limited knowledge of the way England's fortified boroughs were defended, it is quite possible that a few staff slings were used. Further information on staff slings is available here .
For more information, download the Sling Guide.
Sling Missile Colours
Below are the colours that have been adopted by qualified slingers in The Vikings. No names can be attached because of data protection regulations but the information is available in the Slingers Hand Book.