Classics and Religious Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



The Ancient World 43.2 (2012)


Copyright (c) 2012 The Ancient World.


When javelin throwers are told to be ready, Xenophon's phrasing appears, for instance, "He ordered the targeteers to carry javelin on strap, and the bowmen to hold arrow on string" (Anabasis 5.2, Rouse tr.). This context shows that the spear-throwers' readiness to throw, paralleling the archer with arrow nocked, was some preparation with a strap, sling, or thong. In addition to the warfare usage, Greek hunters also used a sling with their hunting spears. The hunter in Achilles Tatius 2.34 narrates, "I wound the thongs on my javelin ... " (Winkler tr.)

I owe to my former student Donald K. Arp this observation: a culture that develops an advanced throwing weapon does not develop archery: consider the aborigines of Australia with boomerang and woomera, and the South American Indians who use the atlatl. We might also ask why the Greeks developed no tradition of archery, except for Crete. In addition to the person-to-person machismo of Greek infantry combat, there may be the following reason why the Greeks never developed a tradition of archery. The Greeks did possess an advanced throwing weapon. Throwing a spear on a sling turns out to be extremely effective, accurate, and satisfying. Experimentation confirms it.

Demonstrations to my Ancient Warfare students have been in a very open, carefully chosen and monitored part of campus.