The heirs of the Balearic planters who served under Julius Caesar and Hannibal

BarcelonaVirgil and Ovid quoted them. They were known throughout the Mediterranean. And a few years ago they raised their heads again. In 1984, a group of enthusiasts founded the Balearic Islands Rope Shooting Federation in Mallorca. His idea was to remind everyone that 2,000 years ago no one knew how to throw stones like the islanders. Diodorus de Sicilia wrote of them that “in the practice of throwing large stones with a sling they have the advantage of all other men”. They were so good at it that they were well paid as mercenaries ready to join any army willing to pay for their services. The Balearic slingers came to be like the artillery of that time, with the ability they had to send stones flying a great distance, knocking off heads, causing panic in the enemies and opening the way for the infantry. And don’t think his role was minor, no. Both Hannibal Barca and Julius Caesar had them under their command. They were an elite body.

The history of the Balearic Islands cannot be understood without its stones. Those of the talaiots and navetes, those of the marès quarries and obviously, the stones of the foundries, already mentioned in the classic texts during the fifth century before Christ, when they were enlisted as mercenaries by the Carthaginians, who had them with the Greeks for Sicily and Sardinia. In fact, the stones give the Balearic Islands their name, since when the Carthaginians tried to invade the islands, they were driven away with rocks. And with their Punic language they named the islands Balearic Islands, which would mean the islands of those who throw stones. Instead of invading them, then, they recruited them, causing those soldiers to bring back home money and goods that encouraged trade. According to the chroniclers, Hannibal would have recruited around 2,000 Balearic slingers when he decided to attack the Italian peninsula by crossing the Alps with his elephants. Hannibal held his slingers in such high regard that he placed them in the front line in such well-known battles as the one at Canes. The Romans learned their lesson, and when Julius Caesar invaded Gaul, he did so with elite troops recruited far from Rome, such as the Cretan archers and, of course, the slingers.

But as armies perfected their andromines for killing, slingers were forgotten. For some, it was child’s play, although in Mallorca and Menorca it has always been clear that the tradition was kept alive by the shepherds, great specialists in the art of shooting the bassetja, which survived as best it could in Ibiza, Mallorca or Menorca, while tourism changed the landscape. It was a chance meeting of Biel Frontera with a shepherd in the talaiot of Racons de Llubí, a town in the center of Mallorca, that changed everything. The shepherd would have complained about how the different throwing styles were disappearing, since in the Roman chronicles they cite how slingers carried three slings of different sizes, depending on the distance they wanted to reach. Frontera therefore decided to keep that legacy alive and on July 31, 1977, the first competition was held at the Llubí Football Field. Those enthusiasts created the first regulation in 1980, agreeing on the measurements of the target where the stones must hit. The central part measures just 50 centimeters. Currently, the Balearic Islands Rope Shooting Federation is made up of more than 100 people linked to 10 federated clubs that compete in four leagues each season.

Slingshot managed to be considered an indigenous sport within the sports law of the Balearic Islands of 2006, a step forward that has allowed it to be taken to many schools so that the boys and girls become the heirs of those soldiers who they fought under the orders of Julius Caesar. On the islands, the stones speak to us.


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