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Just in Time for Hanukkah—2,200-Year-Old “Bullet” from Hanukkah Wars Discovered

On Wednesday, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the discovery of a sling “bullet” thought to have been used by a Greek soldier in the battles that later became part of the Hanukkah story.

The sling bullet was unearthed in Yavne (in central Israel) last year and has been studied since then by the IAA team. The researchers believe that the projectile was most likely used during the battles fought between the Greeks and the Jewish Hasmonean troops.

The bullet had an inscription on it, most likely a bit of psychological warfare intended as a morale-defeating message for the Jews in rebellion against the Greek empire. Embedded on the sides of the smooth bullet are the words in Greek, “Victory for Heracles and Hauron”—a pair of Greek gods.

The sling bullet is almost 2 inches long (4.4 centimeters) and dates back 2,200 years to the time when the Seleucid army was trying to stamp out the Jewish Hasmonean revolt against the attempted Hellenization of Israel.

While there’s nothing to definitely tie the sling bullet to a Greek soldier, the researchers think it’s a good guess.

“It seems that we will not be able to know for sure if the sling bullet belonged to a Greek soldier, but it is not impossible that it is related to the conflict between the Greeks and the Hasmoneans,” said the directors of the excavation in a statement released this week. “The tiny lead sling bullets, announcing the imminent victory of the gods of pagan Yavne, is tangible evidence of a fierce battle that took place in Yavne at that time.”

Yulia Ustinova, a professor at Ben Gurion University, deciphered the inscription. “The pair of gods Hauron and Heracles were considered the divine patrons of Yavne during the Hellenistic period. The inscription on a sling bullet is the first archaeological evidence of the two guardians of Yavne, discovered inside Yavne itself. Until today, the pair was only known from an inscription on the Greek island of Delos.”

“Lead sling bullets are known in the ancient world, beginning in the 5th century BCE, but few individual sling bullets with inscriptions have been found in Israel. The inscriptions convey a message of 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 in addition, to unite the warriors and raise their spirits.”

(Photo credit: Wikipedia, Public Domain)

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