From Caesar’s Last Battle

This small 2.6 once (73.7 g) football-shaped lead object was picked up in southern Spain at the probable site of the Battle of Munda which was fought on 17 March, 45 BC. It is, in fact, a Roman sling bullet used in that the final battle of Julius Caesar’s Spanish War which fought between Caesar and the forces of the sons of his late rival Pompey the Great.

Sling Bullet

Above: Two views of the same Roman sling bullet found at the suspected site of the Battle of Munda. The 45 BC battle was Julius Caesar’s last victory prior to his assassination less than a year later on the Ides of March, 44 BC. The heavy lead bullet measures about 2 inches (5cm) from end to end. c. 45 BC. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia.

Pompey was already dead by this time having been murdered in Egypt after fleeing his defeat by Caesar at Pharsalus in 48 BC. The Pompeian forces of about 70,000 at Munda were commanded by Pompey two sons Sextus and Gnaeus and one of Caesar’s former officers Titus Labienus. Caesar was in personal command of his 40,000 men aided his young nephew Gaius Octavius (the future emperor Augustus) and Marcus Agrippa. Caesar won a lopsided victory losing about 7000 men to his adversaries 30,000. In spite of the vast differences in casualties, the battle was actually a close fought thing, with Caesar having to join the ranks of his legionnaires at a critical moment in the fighting. Most of the Pompeian casualties were the result of the slaughter following the rout on the field.  Caesar describes the battle in his Commentary on the Spanish War. Munda would be Caesar’s final battle and he would fall to assassin’s daggers in Rome less than a year later on 15 March 44 BC.

This lead sling bullet seems to have been crudely inscribed twice with the Roman numeral “V” which would indicate it having come from a slinger attached to Caesar’s V Legion – Legio quinta alaudae. The V Legion was the first Roman legion raised from non-citizens. Made up primarily of Gauls, the legion was first raised by Caesar in 52 BC during his Gallic Wars. It soldiered on long after Caesar’s death until it was destroyed at the Battle of Tapae, in the Dacian War of 86 AD.

Sling Bullet Incised

Above: The same sling bullet with the apparent Roman numeral “V” incised twice in opposite directions (so it could be read regardless of which end was flying towards the enemy?) Marking sling bullets in some manner was a very common military practice in the Classical World. c. 45 BC. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia.

That the bullet may have been inscribed by the legion is not all that surprising. There was a long tradition of doing so in the Classical World. Sometimes the bullets were made with insults or curses cast into them. One Greek bullet was found bearing the terse statement “Take that”. Another later bullet from one of Caesar’s earlier battles against Pompey boasted that is was intended “For Pompey’s Arse”.

The slingers used by Caesar at Munda, probably from the Balearic Islands, were lightly armed and unarmored auxiliary troops attached to his legions. They were generally deployed as skirmishers on the wings of a legion or in front of it and were often the first element of an army to engage the enemy. Sling bullets such as these could out range arrows of the time and created wounds very much like that of musket balls of later eras.

Balearic_slinger_Sarmiz

Above: A modern-day reenactor in Romania depicting a Balearic Islander slinger of the type often employed by the Romans. Although this reenactment depicts the Dacian Wars fought by the emperor Trajan in the early 2nd Century AD, this slinger would much resemble those who fought at Munda some 150 years earlier. He wears no armor and his only protection is a light round shield. His only defensive weapon is a short sword or dagger. He wears an extra sling wrapped around his head. Photo: Kamy Photography.

Slingers Trajan

Above: A Roman slinger as depicted on Trajan’s Column in Roman. The column’s spiral frieze records Trajan’s campaign in Dacia (101-106 AD). Wearing only a short tunic and cloak, he carries his sling stones in a fold of the cloak. No pockets in those days. His only other weapon is a dagger.

The ovoid football shape of the bullet was probably intended to give the projectile better ballistic qualities. With a proper spin imparted on it – like that on a modern American football – the bullet’s range and accuracy would have been greatly increased. Modern studies have estimated that lead sling bullets had the hitting power of a modern .44 Magnum revolver round.

The precise location of the Munda battle site is not known but it is believed to have taken place near La Lantejuela, Seville, about halfway between Osuna and Écija. It is at this location that a large number of lead sling bullets – this example included – have been found.

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