The Balearic slingers, elite warriors

Did you know that Menorca had its own army of warriors? And did you know that the Carthaginians and the Romans hired them as mercenaries

 

Surely you know about the great prehistoric wealth of the island, but we will try to tell you something new. We are going to discover these curiosities little by little, a single blog entry is not enough to tell about the approximately 2,400 years of prehistory. The Talayotic culture was formed by the first inhabitants of the island, and while Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans sailed through the Mediterranean, a unique civilization evolved here.

The prehistoric warriors also known as the Balearic slingers, were very important for the defense of the island before the arrival of other Mediterranean civilizations, such as the Romans. They were a great influence for the Carthaginian army first and later for the Roman army.

When talking about the slingers, the warriors of the Gimnesias islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Corsica and Sardinia) we usually talk in terms of legend, as part of mythology, but the truth is that they were real men, with real abilities and that which is told is real. The Balearic slingers were warriors with an aim envied by the armies of other civilizations that sailed through the Mediterranean and reached our island. Their weapon, a sling made of esparto grass or pita, plants that to this day are still part of the island's landscape. Warriors strategically held the sling at its ends with their fingers. At the other end the pita was adapted to put a stone, so when spinning the slingshot and picking up speed and power, at releasing one end of the pita, the stone is shot at a speed of up to 240 kilometers per hour. Far from being child's play, the truth is that the slingers were able to kill, the Balearic slingers were very accurate and knew how to launch the "bullets" at high speed. This practice served to hunt, as well as to protect themselves from pirates and invaders.

So as the Pitiusan islands were inhabited by phoenicians, they never established themselves in Mallorca and Menorca, but there were certain commercial relations with them, with the Greeks and later with the Carthaginians. Legend has it that one winter, in the 2nd century B.C. In the post-Talayotic period, fourth and last prehistoric period, Magón Barca, brother of Haníbal Barca and sons of Amílcar Barca, spent a winter on the island, specifically in the port of Mahón, just before the Punic Wars, and that's where they discovered the great potential of the indigenous warriors. The Carthaginians were the first to take advantage of the skill of these warriors, but not the only ones.

Then the Romans arrived in Menorca in 123 B.C., and it was not easy for them to dock on the Menorcan coasts. Every time the Romans tried to access the north of the island with their boats, current Sanitja, they were greeted by a great cloud of stones that came at high speed from the sky. The Romans had to try it several times. Every time they approached the coast, the hulls of their ships were severely damaged by the impacts of the stones, over and over again, until Quinto Ceciclio Metelo, a Roman politician and military man alias "el Balear", devised to cover the ships with skins and finally get to land. When they finally managed to settle on the island, they reached an agreement with the warriors to fight among their ranks.

The Carthaginians hired some 2,000 slingers and are believed to have fought alongside the Carthaginians against the Romans in the Battle of Sicily and in the Second Punic War, and with the Romans in the Gallic War. Although it is also believed that the Balearic slingers already participated in battles since the 5th century B.C.

Not only did the slingers stand out with their aim it was also the speed with which they managed to launch the projectiles. They became specialized in such a way that the stones were polished to achieve greater speed and effectiveness and over the years they specialized and sculpted lead bullets to improve aerodynamics and effectiveness. They also had slings of three different lengths depending on the distance of the target to be shot. It is said that from a young age they were trained to develop these qualities worthy of a good warrior such as marksmanship and strength. At lunchtime, the mothers put a piece of bread on the heights, which the children had to hit with their sling if they wanted to eat it. This is how future slingers achieved precision.

Today, warriors do not exist as such, but their legacy lives on in the form of sports, such as archery, javelin throwing, and other disciplines that derive from primitive survival practices. Currently, sling launch competitions are held, with participants from all over the world. It is not surprising that in these competitions the Balearic Islands stand out and are among the top positions, you just have to keep an eye on the past.

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