I may have mentioned this before, but – gas warfare in the third century AD??

Many of you may well be aware of the discovery (60 odd years ago) at the fortress of Dura Europos in modern day Syria of more than 20 Roman soldiers who’d been buried underground during the siege in AD 256. You might also know that just two years ago, using modern forensic techniques, archaeologists pieced together what had happened to the legionaries. Incredibly, it seems that they were gassed by the men besieging the fortress, the Sassanians. Read a fascinating article about it here, and if you want an excellent dramatisation of it, look no further than Harry Sidebottom’s first book, Fire in the East.

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6 Comments

  1. John Salter
    Posted 26 August 2011 at 19:04 | Permalink

    Ben, its a fascinating story and it makes you wonder what went through the legionaries heads when they were in the tunnels. Training for chemical warfare is a nasty experience never mind experiencing the real thing. I spent many a happy hour (not) in CS gas chambers where we had to take our respirators off, carry out various limited tasks whilst holding our breath, eyes shut and then with stinging skin, try and put your respirators back on. Many never made it and would end up getting hauled out in a not too healthy condition.

    It was always a good place for people to discover they had health problems though after they spent time in the medical centre, epilepsy and asthma were two oddly. Three hundred metre ranges were the best though, because after a good beasting up and down the ranges, we’d have to hit a small grouping on a target, while gasping for breath, with your eye pieces steaming up, great fun! 😉

  2. benkane
    Posted 27 August 2011 at 16:30 | Permalink

    @John: my gods, that sounds horrendous. Absolutely horrendous. I’m very glad not to have experienced that…

  3. John Salter
    Posted 27 August 2011 at 18:24 | Permalink

    Ben, it was okay and great fun at times as long as you got the drills right, very painful if not so I tried my best to do what I was told and never ended up getting dragged out of CS chambers by my collar, like some.

  4. Posted 28 August 2011 at 20:33 | Permalink

    I did the fire training course a long time ago John and had to spend time in the smoke chamber… taking the face mask off in the was pure horror… same as going through the smoke house with no mask it was like being blind and not being able to breathe.

    @ Ben: i watched a prog about biowar some time back which taked about how much of a novel approach the chinese had with bio weapons, but it also went on to show that many nations had used it, eg sythians with poison arrows, Spartans with wells etc.. this link has some intersting stuff, and you might be interested in the bit about Hannibal?? http://www.aarc.org/resources/biological/history.asp

    “Most people remember Hannibal as the great leader of the Cathagian Army. His employment of war elephants that crossed the Alps to attack Rome is an example of leadership, logistics and strategic generalship. Very few even know that he fought naval engagements. However in 190 B.C., he demonstrated both naval leadership and effective bio-warfare. In that year he won a great naval battle over Eumenes II of Pergomon using bio-warfare. Hannibal had earthen jars filled with venomous snakes, covered and taken on board his ships. When the enemy ships came within range, the earthen jars with the snakes were hurled at the enemy vessels where they broke discharging their terrifying occupants among the enemy sailors. The resulting chaos was effective and Hannibal won easily.4

    One may debate whether or not even Hannibal’s use of war elephants constituted bio-warfare. The Romans had horses that may have been made skittish by the size, smell and trumpeting noise of Hannibal’s elephants. Hannibal may have heard how the Persian king Cyrus defeated the cavalry of King Croesus in 548 B.C. by placing a rank of camels in front of his infantry. Croesus’s cavalry horses were panicked by the smell and sight of the unfamiliar animal.5 “

  5. benkane
    Posted 29 August 2011 at 09:25 | Permalink

    @Parmenion: thanks for that link. I’d read about Hannibal’s use of venomous snakes in pots before, yes. Incredible, eh? An interesting article, thanks!

  6. annis
    Posted 6 September 2011 at 06:30 | Permalink

    Some time ago Heritage Key did an entertaining piece on bio-and chemical warfare in ancient times
    http://heritage-key.com/blogs/ann/biological-weapons-and-chemical-warfare-ancient-world

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