Ancient Chemical Warfare In Roman Times

The Romans created a great garrison in early AD after conquering the Dura-Europos.  This garrison was massive, and was created to withstand a siege attack.  Around 256 AD, the Sasanian Persians attacked the Roman garrison.  There was no written ancient texts about this siege, but was uncovered after excavating the site in the 1920’s, and then again renewed recently.  In the excavation they discovered a pile of twenty Roman soldiers, that were in a peculiar position, which aroused curiosity to how the Roman Soldiers came to their demise.

When the Persians attacked and sieged the garrison, they used many tactics including mining which the Roman’s attempted to “counter-mine” and in one of these small dwellings was where the Roman’s bodies were discovered.  In these dwellings is where the archaeologists discovered that the Romans were clearly losing the struggle, by which the Persians used the pile of bodies to block the countermine, and set fire to them to collapse the walls and to make wall sapping easier for the Persians.  After surveying the tunnel, they discovered traces of bitumen and sulpher crystals, which were ignited.  When these components were ignited, they created a toxic gas, which choked its victims.  This is how the archaeologist concluded the death of the 20 Romans, and discovered the first use of chemical warfare.

After reading this article, I was very intrigued.  I looked at the use chemical warfare, and would only think about modern times, and would believe that the first use of chemical warfare would be mustard gas which was introduced in World War 1.  I was stunned to learn that it was actually first used over eighteen hundred years before that.  It really speaks volumes to how well developed the Persian Empire was.  Not only that, but the way that they were able to apply the use of it in battle was very pro founding because of how strategical it was used.  Maybe they were able to use this strategy in other ways that we have not yet discovered, which I’m very excited to hear about if any new news come out.  We can’t just look at these ancient armies as just sword slashing, catapult shooting cultures anymore, but those that also applied science to their strategies and warfare.  The dominance of the Persian army may have even been supported by such modern uses as this one, which would explain a lot about how they were able to conquered almost the entire world.

If you want to check out more information, heres the article that I got this from!

1 thought on “Ancient Chemical Warfare In Roman Times

  1. After Reading this post and viewing some others that were focused on studies of the bubonic plague in Europe, I thought that it would be interesting to talk about some of the instances in the past where biological warfare was used for the first time. In many ancient accounts (be them from the Hittites, Greeks, Romans, etc.) there are stories of the utilization of a variety of different poisons in battle. For example, the Athenians have been noted to have used a toxic plant called hellebore to poison the wells of enemy Greek city states. During the Carthaginian slave Hannibal’s war on the Romans, there was a naval battle in which Hannibal commanded his men to throw clay pots filled with venomous snakes onto the enemy ships. Many ancient armies also would smear human blood, feces, or poison on their arrow tips in order to spread infectious disease among the enemy. Still, what is probably one of the more interesting accounts of the early use of biological warfare in my opinion would have to be the ones concerning the Tartar siege of the Crimean city of Kafa in 1346. During this siege, the Mongol (Tartar) invaders were losing many of their troops to bubonic plague. The Mongol leader, Jani Beg, decided to use the infected cadavers of his army as catapult ammunition. In doing this, it later became theorized that Italian merchants from Genoa who fled Kafa at the time of the Mongol attack caught the plague and, subsequently, introduced the Black Death into Italy and the rest of Europe (Further research has suggested this not to be the case. The main route of the plague was probably brought in via trading ships from the Mongol trade routes in infected rats and fleas).

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