Extremely rare inscribed sling bullet from 2nd century BC found in Israel

It bears the Greek inscription ‘Victory of Heracles and Hauronas’, signifying the bullet’s use as both a physical and psychological weapon.

An extremely rare lead bullet dating from the Hellenistic period has been uncovered in Israel.

The 2,200-year-old artefact, which would have been used in an early sling, was found during excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority in Yavne during construction in the city.

Picasa The word ‘victory’ inscribed in Greek on the sling bullet found recently in Yavne, Israel. On the reverse are the names of gods Heracles and Hauronas, who were said to protect the city. Image: Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority

At just 4.4cm long, it bears the Greek inscription ‘Victory of Heracles and Hauronas’, signifying the bullet’s use as both a physical and psychological weapon in a fierce battle that most likely took place in Yavne, in the centre of modern-day Israel, during the 2nd century BC.

Heracles and Hauronas were the divine patrons of Yavne during the Hellenistic period. Although lead sling bullets had been known to exist in the ancient world since as far back as the 5th century BC, this find is significant because it is the first archaeological evidence of the two guardians of Yavne discovered inside the city itself. Before that, Heracles and Hauronas were known only from an inscription on the Greek island of Delos.

The pair were ‘a perfect team of victory-givers’, explained Professor Yulia Ustinova of Ben Gurion University of the Negev, who deciphered the inscription.

As Ustinova explained, the inscription was intended to unify the warriors with the aim of raising their spirits – and to magically energise the sling bullet itself.

However, the inscription’s most important role was psychological. ‘To terrorise the opponent,’ Ustinova explained, as it struck them in battle.

On the question of which battle it dates from, archaeologists state that the bullet was possibly fired in a conflict in the 2nd century BC between the Greeks and the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled Judea and the surrounding regions from 140 BC to 37 BC. Back then, Yavne, an ally of the Greek Seleucid Empire, was the subject of attacks by Hasmonean armies during the Seleucid empire’s collapse.

‘One can only imagine what that warrior who held the sling bullet 2,200 years ago thought and felt, as he held on to the hope of divine salvation,’ said Eli Eskosido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

‘The Yavne excavation is a “mega” excavation – one of the largest conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority,’ Eskosido added.
‘It has yielded fascinating discoveries that testify to a rich and varied history of 7,000 years, and we eagerly await future findings.’