Ancient Greek and Roman soldiers were real jerks. As if commanding massive empires, and forcing things like toga parties and trigonometry on the rest of the world wasn’t bad enough, Greeks and Romans liked to insult their enemies by writing sarcastic jokes on their lead bullets. Here’s the story.
Back when slingshots were a weapon of choice, Greeks and Romans molded football-shaped ammunition out of lead. These bullets were often as big as an egg, and sometimes as big as a fist, but the reason for the strange shape isn’t clear. Some historians think soldiers preferred the football shape because the pointy sides helped to keep projectiles from slipping out of the slings. Others think the bullet’s shape helped soldiers to fling perfect spirals at their targets. But whatever the case, sometimes shooting a giant bullet at your enemy isn’t enough. So the troops improvised. Sometimes armies heated up their ammunition to set fires to thatched roofs. Sometimes they etched the things with the name of a deity, to ensure the bullet would stay true and hit its mark (What Would Ares Do?). And sometimes they doodled intimidating pictures on the ammunition: things like scorpions and snakes.
But the most hurtful bullets of all had to be the ones inscribed with sarcasm. Here’s a short sample of the real things archaeologists have found written on ancient lead bullets:
“For Pompey’s Backside!”
“Be lodged well!”
“Fruit for Dessert!”
“This is a Hard Nut to Crack!”
And my personal favorite: “Here’s a sugar plum for you!”
Brutal. I added the exclamation points (I’m pretty sure the Romans and Greeks wouldn’t mind), but you can find more on the subject in John McCaul’s 1864 book On Inscribed Sling-bullets. So much for the old "Sticks and stones may break my bones" saying. If your sarcastic words are attached to a lead projectile, they’re probably going to sting.
h/t The Ragbag