Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.
The Staff Sling - Portable Implement of Destruction
The Staff Sling, Fustibal, Fustibalis, or Fustibalus was a medieval weapon equivalent of the Bazooka, a nice portable ballistic weapon that caused a lot of damage. It was lightweight, ammunition can be found lying on the ground, takes little training to become relatively proficient at it. In short it was the ultimate artillery weapon for a movable army.
Sure the bow and arrow was lighter and more accurate for the most part. Arrows however had to be carted, ammo for the fustibal is rocks. The bow required infinitely more training, whereas the fustibal could be demonstrated once and a person would get the gist, spend a few hours and accuracy greatly improves. The fustibal could also hurl a larger payload longer distances so the chance of killing an enemy greatly increases.
image is part of a 13th century document Staff Slingers are shown behind the bowmen on the tower of the boat
What is a Fustibal
A fustibal or fustibalus is a staff sling, which is basically a sling on the end of a staff. It works similar to a Trebuchet throwing large rocks further than one could possibly do by hand. The picture shown is the fustibal I made to test the range and accuracy of these weapons.
While it is not amongst the most well known weapons from the middle ages, it is one that was used for siege warfare by many different cultures for perhaps thousands of years. With a staff sling a grenadier could lob a grenade without having t actually hold it, thus lower the chance of the bomb going off in his hand, a distinct advantage I'd say.
Because it has never really been seen as a weapon of note much of the history of the staff sling has been used. It is known that Roman's used both the hand (shepherd) sling and the fustibal in battle. The greatest advantages of this weapon is its ease of construction and use. A man could make a fustibal while marching towards the next battle, pick up ammo on the way, and learn during combat. It really is one of the easiest weapons to use.
Range and Accuracy
The fustibals main advantage is its range, it has been reported (historically) that a staff slinger could throw a rock 600 meters, somehow I doubt the veracity of this claim, but I know it is deadly. Using my staff sling I could easily hurl a rock the size of my two fists 100 yards with almost no practice.
While at an archery practice I took out my staff sling and demonstrated it to my SCA group. One of our members had some softballs, much lighter than a rock, granted, but we lobbed a few, and while sometimes it missfired, I got to the point where I cleared the field we were practicing in (it was 100yards to the other end of the field) and often it would roll and bounce quite deep into the next field.
At a later attempt I managed to lob a number of good sized rocks (from size of my fist up to three times the size) regularly clear across a pond which measured out to 110yards, by the end of that practice I could regularly hit a tree on the other side of the pond.
I believe that these attempts demonstrate the accuracy and range they are capable of, and have no doubt that with practice I can improve both.
How to Make a Fustibal Staff Sling
Its popularity in the medieval times is more than just simply its power and ease of use. Its ease of construction was perhaps its greatest advantage, seconded only by its affordability. In most medieval armies the soldiers were responsible for their own weapons, many of the foot soldiers were peasants and couldn't afford much in the way of weapons and relied on the spoils of war to furnish them with new better weapons, but they had to start somewhere, a staff sling was the perfect starter weapon.
Since it is literally just a sling tied to the end of a staff, making one was relatively easy. Slinging in general was still very popular so a sling could be made simply, but since slinging is not so well known, a sling is simply a pouch with a string leading off from either end, one end of the string is held firm, the other released when the projectile is launched. For a staff sling, one end is firmly attached to the staff, the other is set to easily release from the staff.
There are two popular methods for release. The loop and hook is simply a loop is tied on the end of the release cord then slipped over the end of the staff, a hook can be fashioned on the end of the staff to control the exact release point. Slot and knot method is a little simpler, simply cut a notch out of the end of the staff large enough for the sling cord and tie a knot that won't fit through said notch on release end of the cord, slip the release cord into the notch and allow the knot to catch holding it in place until swung (the picture shown is my staff sling that uses this method).
Using a Fustibal
A staff sling is simple to use, but it can misfire, always practice extensively in a safe place where there is no danger of harming others. Always watch the the stone upon release and be aware that if handled incorrectly it may fire straight up into the air, in which case run the other way to avoid head injuries. Once you have mastered the technique there is very little danger of misfire.
One of the most important things to learn about using a staff sling is "let physics do the heavy lifting", don't overthrow, nice gentle toss and step up the power in small increments as you get better. This will avoid dangerous misfires. I have found the harder you attempt to launch the rock the greater the chance of misfire, start out rather gentle and increase power when you can reliably launch the rock reliably.
The basic technique is simple, put a rock in the pouch grasp the staff with two hands with throwing end behind you, whip the staff overhand above your head and towards your target. Don't worry about release, physics takes care of that for you.
Making My Next Fustibal
I recently moved from Ontario to Alberta, in attempts to reduce the amount of clutter we brought with us I gave my prized staff sling to a good SCA friend who really loved slinging during my demos at archery practice (I really hope she's making good use of it). This means its time to build a new one (or two). I will be taking detailed photo's of every step of the process and hopefully some videos as well. Keep an eye out here for more great staff slinging fun.
© 2012 Jeff Johnston
Susanna Duffy from Melbourne Australia on July 28, 2013:
Fascinating stuff (I like the history of weaponry) but I don't think I'll be running out to try a fustibalis of my own
Jeff Johnston (author) from Alberta Canada on May 30, 2012:
@flycatcherrr: Thank you :D.... as for not being day to day application, I use my staff sling regularly ;)
flycatcherrr on May 30, 2012:
Once again, I've learned something from you that's absolutely fascinating, even if perhaps not of day-to-day application ;)
Jeff Johnston (author) from Alberta Canada on May 29, 2012:
@LiteraryMind: Its an often forgotten weapon even though it was used well into the gunpowder age, even after the catapult and its big brother the trebuchet were long put aside. Great for lobbing grenades when it was dangerous business being a grenadier.
Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on May 28, 2012:
Interesting. I have heard Trebuchets and Catapults -- never heard of fustibalis
Edutopia on February 14, 2012:
Awesome. Nothing tops medieval bazookas!