Sunday, September 6, 2015


AMIDST the worst refugee crisis in Syria and Europe since World War II comes a report that toxic gas was first used in Syria against the Ancient Romans ... 1,700 years ago.

Rival forces in Syria have accused each other of using poison gas in the current conflict, sending hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing for their lives.

But poison gas was used in Syria in the 3rd Century AD when a Roman fort at Dura-Europos became the site of a violent siege by the powerful Sasanian Persian empire, according to University of Leicester archaeologist Simon James.

No historical record exists of the battle, which occurred around 256 A.D., but archaeological remains, unearthed by major excavations in 1920-1937 by teams from France and Yale University, and after 1986 by French-Syrian teams, helped James piece together the action.

Trying to enter the city, the Sasanians dug tunnels underneath its walls. Intending to hold their ground at all costs, Roman defenders responded with counter-mines.

In the 1930s, archaeologists unearthed dramatic evidence of the fight. In one of the tunnels, a pile of bodies, still completely fitted with their weapons and armour, testified to the horrors of the battle.

At the time, the researchers believed the trapped Roman soldiers had died after the tunnel collapsed. But according to James, residue of pitch (a resinous substance) and yellow sulfur crystals found in a jar lying near the bodies indicated a much more gruesome reality.

Indeed, the Sasanians placed fire pits strategically throughout the tunnel, and when the Romans broke through, they gassed them by adding sulfur crystals and bitumen to the fire.

"Defining what constitutes a chemical weapon in antiquity is complex, but this is certainly one of the earliest archaeological finds of the addition of chemical accelerants to a fire to produce toxic fumes," Adrienne Mayor, a research scholar in classics and history of science at Stanford University, told DISCOVERY NEWS.

Mayor described the skirmish in the tunnel and the presence of burnt residue as an early example of archaeological evidence for a chemical incendiary in her 2003 book "Greek Fire, Poison, Arrows and Scorpion Bombs."

1 comment: