Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have been big news in recent times. America and some of its western allies supported theories about former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s WMD and its potential.
Both Iran and North Korea have been accused of wanting to make nuclear weapons. World War I and World War II both had documented cases of chemical weapons use, such as nerve gas.
There is also the growing fear that terrorists may use a radiological dispersal device (RDD), the so called ‘dirty bomb’ against western countries.
It has been long discussed that maybe modern wars are not the only wars to have been fought using chemical weapons. Recent findings and some biblical texts suggest that chemicals were used in more ancient times too try and gain the upper hand in warfare.
It seems that the Middle East has not only recently been subject to speculation over WMD, but so too has its past. A recent study into the ancient city of Dura-Europos, Syria proved the theory.
The study also showed that Dura-Europos at that point in time was occupied by the Romans who had built a large garrison around the city.
Featured on the ‘Science Daily’ Website. One of the study’s focal points was around a siege-mine at the city of Dura-Europos. Where about twenty Roman soldiers had met there deaths. The study also was particularly interested in what happened in AD 256 When the city was under a violent and savage siege attack, by the then powerful new Sasanian Persian empire.
The evidence that has been gathered has come from excavations, as there has been no ancient texts relating to the siege found. It was the more recent excavations that had the gruesome findings. After the excavations of the site in the 1920’sm and 1930’s.
Sasanian’s had used a vast amount of siege methods to try and break the garrison defenses, and ultimately break into the city. One such technique was to use the industrious method mining under the walls of the city.
The Romans also tried to counter attack these mines, by digging mines of there own, to try and surprise there attackers.
It was in one of these mine, where a pile of bodies had been found. These where Roman soldiers who had died in one such mine battle. But the feat of killing Roman soldiers in a small enclosed location underground in one go, has been described as superhuman if at all possible.
Speaking about the discovery Dr James, Reader in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, said: “It is evident that, when mine and counter mine met, the Romans lost the ensuing struggle. Careful analysis of the disposition of the corpses shows they had been stacked at the mouth of the countermine by the Persians, using their victims to create a wall of bodies and shields, keeping Roman counterattack at bay while they set fire to the counter mine, collapsing it, allowing the Persians to resume sapping the walls. This explains why the bodies were where they were found. But how did they die? For the Persians to kill twenty men in a space less than 2m high or wide, and about 11m long, required superhuman combat powers,or something more insidious.”
It has been revealed from the findings from the tunnel, that the Persians used bitumen and sulphur crystals to get it burning. When the bitumen and sulphur crystals where lit, they gave off a choking and toxic gas.
Dr. James went on to describe the events saying. “The Persians will have heard the Romans tunneling, 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.”
This actual mine failed in breaking into the city. But eventually the city did fall to the Sasanian’s. The final days of the cities resident ended in the streets of the city where they were slaughtered. The remaining survivors where taken to Persia.
So it is ironic to find that the ancients of the Middle East also used WMD in there fights. Suggesting that times have not changed much when it comes to warfare. Only the technology and borders have changed.
It’s interesting to note that Iran was known as Persia until 1935, and has such as history with WMD back in ancient times. But on the face of it, without the old Persia in history. We probably would have a different world than we do today. I doubt that this finding relating to WMD, will be the last finding that ancients used chemicals during conflicts. But interesting nevertheless.
Source: Science Daily