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Dec. 08, 2022

During excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority in Yavne, a rare lead sling bullet was discovered - possibly belonging to a Greek soldier, bearing a magic inscription for victory

On the sling bullet was the Greek inscription “Victory of Heracles and Hauronas" * “The inscriptions were part of psychological warfare, the main purpose of which was to terrorize the opponent and to unite the warriors and raise their spirits," says Prof. Yulia Ustinova ​of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev * Was the projectile used for warfare against the Hasmoneans? The story of the sling bullet, which was discovered at excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority, will be presented at the study evening 'Yavne and its Secrets' on 13.12.2022, to be held at the Yavne Cultural Hall.  

Above: The word "Victory" on one side of the sling bullet, and the names of the gods Heracles and Hauronas on the reverse side. Photo credit: Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority

New research has revealed a lead sling bullet from the Hellenistic period, a rare find in Israel, with an inscription in Greek intended to ensure victory in battle. The 2,200-year-old sling bullet, which bears the inscription - "Victory of Heracles and Hauronas", was uncovered in excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in Yavne as part of the Israel Lands Authority's initiative to expand the city, in cooperation with the Yavne Municipality. The length of the bullet is 4.4 cm, and it was intended to be used in an early sling. 

"The pair of gods Hauron and Heracles were considered the divine patrons of Yavne during the Hellenistic period," says BGU's Prof. Yulia Ustinova, who deciphered the inscription. "Actually, the inscription on the sling bullet is the first archaeological evidence of the two guardians of Yavne discovered inside the city itself. Until today, the pair were only known from an inscription on the Greek island of Delos." 

As a couple, the gods Heracles and Hauron were a perfect team of victory givers. "The announcement of the future victory of Heracles and Hauron was not a call addressed to the deity, but a threat directed towards adversaries," says Prof. Ustinova. "Lead sling bullets were known in the ancient world beginning in the 5th century BCE, but in Israel few individual sling bullets were found with inscriptions. The inscriptions convey a message unifying the warriors with the aim of raising their spirits, scaring the enemy, or a call intended to magically energize the sling bullet itself. These inscriptions were part of psychological warfare, the main purpose of which is to terrorize the opponent, and to unite the warriors and raise their spirits."

"It seems we will not be able to know for sure if the sling bullet belonged to a Greek soldier," say Pablo Betzer and Dr. Daniel Varga, the directors of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "but it is not inconceivable that it is related to the conflict between the Greeks and the Hasmoneans. In the 2nd century BCE, pagan Yavne - which was an ally of the Seleucids (the Greeks who ruled Eretz-Israel), were subject to attacks by the Hasmonean armies. The Hasmoneans sought to subjugate the other nations and create a homogeneous and 'pure state' from a religious-ritualistic point of view. The tiny lead sling bullets, announcing the imminent victory of the gods of pagan Yavne, are tangible evidence of a fierce battle that took place in Yavne at that time." 
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Above: The archaeological excavations in Yavne
Photo credit: Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

"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," says Eli Escusido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "The Yavne excavation is a 'mega' excavation - one of the largest conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority, and has yielded fascinating discoveries that testify to a rich and varied history of 7,000 years, and we eagerly await future findings." 

The story of the sling bullet will be presented on Tuesday, 13th December, in a lecture evening titled "Yavne and its Secrets" which will be held at the Yavne Culture Hall, which will be open to the public free of charge.  

Media Coverage:
The Times of Israel​