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Roman ‘Singing Bullets’ discovered in Scottish countryside

Ian Harvey

Psychological warfare is the part and parcel of the modern combatants; however the origin of this aspect of wars is older than one might think. Ancients adhered to psychological warfare to gain an upper edge on the opponents, or to counter enemy’s combating superiority.

Recent archaeological works done in the Scottish countryside have revealed the evidence of Roman legions deploying psychological techniques; once thought to be an integral part of modern warfare. Roman soldiers used ‘singing bullets’; a unique invention of the time that certainly gave Romans an edge over primitive local tribes. On a hill in Scotland archaeologists have discovered singing bullets used by the Romans some 1800 years ago.

 

A collection of bullets used 1,800 years ago by the Romans to incite fear into their enemies has been found on a hill in Scotland.Source: John Reid/ The Trimotium Trust

A collection of bullets used 1,800 years ago by the Romans to incite fear into their enemies has been found on a hill in Scotland.Source: John Reid/ The Trimontium Trust

The ancient singing bullets had a very tiny hole carved in the middle. These bullets while travelling through air produced a disturbingly screeching noise; causing panic in the enemy ranks. In this way a bullet not only hit one target, it only disturbed the others; hence killing two birds with one stone or one bullet in this case.

In the 2nd century AD a group of Roman Legions came across a warrior Scottish tribe; who knew the terrain far better than the invaders. Though fully trained and adequately equipped, Romans feared the warrior tribes, who if given the chance could easily overwhelm Roman war expertise. However Romans had one surprise up their sleeves; the devil bullets created panic in the tribes with their excruciatingly mind numbing sounds.

Among the finds are ammunition from Roman artillery weapons, such as this stone ball.Source: John Reid/ The Trimotium Trust

Among the finds are ammunition from Roman artillery weapons, such as this stone ball.Source: John Reid/ The Trimontium Trust

 

The research and the archaeological work on the site is led by Dr Jon Reid, Chairman of Timonium Trust; a Scottish historical society. Dr Reid refers to the Roman singing bullets as a ‘terror weapon’ from the antiquity; a weapon that supposedly played a crucial role in the battle between Scottish tribes and the Romans in 2AD. He added that the analysis of the war mechanics at the time reveals that these bullets mark the height of ingenuity and innovation that Romans deployed in their weaponry.

The initial idea behind the singing bullets according to the experts was to keep the enemies under a cloud of constant uncertainty and keeping them from advancing. This terror weapon proved to be a very decisive factor especially while facing warrior tribes who pride themselves in their expert shot archers. The noises of the bullets distracted the archers hence preventing them from firing a barrage of arrows towards Roman legions trying to cut through their ranks. Explaining the nature of the sound produced by the Roman bullets, Dr Reid gave the example of an annoying wasp on steroids.

Burnswark Hill.Source: John Reid/ The Trimotium Trust

Burnswark Hill.Source: John Reid/ The Trimontium Trust

 

The bullets normally weighed 30 grams with a 0.2 inch hole through them; cast in the shape of lemons, these bullets were not completely spherical. The actual bullet hit did not do much damage due to their small size and if target was at a greater distance these bullets did not even hit the target; however the sound certainly contributed a great deal in damaging the local tribesmen’s morale.

The idea of singing weaponry did travel across the world; Mongolians are believed to have used similar technology in their arrows, carved in a way to produce a swishing sound while dropping down on enemies. Most recent use of the mechanism was seen in the Second World War by the Nazis. Londoners who lived through the ‘Blitz’ (German word for lightning) period in which German bombers bombed the city from September 7, 1940 to May 10, 1941; remembered the buzzing sound produced by the V1 bombers. V1 bombers’ motors produced the buzzing sound while aiming at the target, once locked to the target the buzzing would stop; indicating that the devastation was seconds away.