I direct an online project called Inscriptions of Israel/Palestine (IIP). The purpose of this project is to make accessible and searchable the many published inscriptions from this region that date from the sixth century BCE to the seventh century CE, in all languages and religions. We have just entered an exciting and intensive phase of the project, which over the next couple of years will expand and further develop the site.
I find these inscriptions endlessly fascinating and I will begin here, in a somewhat irregular fashion, to share some of these inscriptions (you are welcome, of course, to browse the database on your own and to share with me your own favorites!).
Today’s featured inscription is a lead sling bullet that comes from Dor, a coastal city located in northern Israel. It was originally published in 1982, but then reinterpreted by Dov Gera, “Tryphon’s Sling Bullet from Dor,” Israel Exploration Journal 35 (1985): 153-163 (the record in IIP can be seen here). It is inscribed in (mainly) Greek on two sides. One side reads:
For the victory of Tryphon.
The other side reads:
Dor. Year 5. Of the city of the Dorians. Have a taste of sumac.
The bullet was made by forces loyal to Tryphon, a Seleucid ruler who was locked in a civil war with his rival, Antiochus VII. Antiochus VII forces killed Tryphon, probably around the time the bullet was made, in 138/137 BCE. The city of Dor was apparently loyal to Tryphon right to the end.
The bullet has a return address. This is not uncommon in antiquity; often projectiles in particular had inscriptions on them. Know – the bullet seems to say – who just wounded you.
The kicker, though, is the phrase, “Have a taste of sumac.” The phrase is enigmatic, but since sumac can refer to a sweet, dried fruit, the bullet seems to gloat: “So how do you like that sweet pain? Would like more from where that came from?”
Hardly the utilitarian and antiseptic way in which we practice warfare today.
The photo comes from the Tel Dor project site. It is a sling bullet, but I’m unsure if it is the one I’ve discussed here.