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A researcher from the University of Leicester has identified what looks to be the oldest archaeological evidence for chemical warfare -- from Roman times.
At the meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, University of Leicester archaeologist Simon James presented CSI-style arguments that about twenty Roman soldiers, found in a siege-mine at the city of Dura-Europos, Syria, met their deaths not as a result of sword or spear, but through asphyxiation."
A later snippet explains:
"Finds from the Roman tunnel revealed that the Persians used bitumen and sulphur crystals to get it burning. These provided the vital clue. When ignited, such materials give off dense clouds of choking gases.
“The Persians will have heard the Romans tunnelling,” says James, “and prepared a nasty surprise for them. I think the Sasanians placed braziers and bellows in their gallery, and when the Romans broke through, added the chemicals and pumped choking clouds into the Roman tunnel.
The Roman assault party were unconscious in seconds, dead in minutes. Use of such smoke generators in siege-mines is actually mentioned in classical texts, and it is clear from the archaeological evidence at Dura that the Sasanian Persians were as knowledgeable in siege warfare as the Romans; they surely knew of this grim tactic.”
Ironically, this Persian mine failed to bring the walls down, but it is clear that the Sasanians somehow broke into the city. James recently excavated a ‘machine-gun belt’, a row of catapult bolts, ready to use by the wall of the Roman camp inside the city, representing the last stand of the garrison during the final street fighting. The defenders and inhabitants were slaughtered or deported to Persia, the city abandoned forever, leaving its gruesome secrets undisturbed until modern archaeological research began to reveal them.
The besieged closed up the tunnel in one place by stretching a screen of goats' hair across and improvising barricades, and they adopted a novel device against the enemy which was small but effective. A hole was bored through the bottom of a cask in which an iron pipe was inserted. and an iron cover perforated with several holes was prepared to fit the other end. The cask was then filled with light feathers, the cover fastened on, and through the holes some long spears--the so-called 'sarissae'--were inserted to keep off the enemy. The cask was now placed with its head towards the tunnel and a light was placed amongst the feathers which were blown into a blaze by a pair of smith's bellows inserted in the pipe. The tunnel was soon filled with a dense smoke, rendered all the more pungent from the horrid smell of the burning feathers, and hardly a man could endure it"
Originally posted by warrenb Re Use of such smoke generators in siege-mines is actually mentioned in classical texts
Anyone got any references?