Of all the weapons we’ve ever come up with, poison gas has to be one of the more horrific. It isn’t terribly effective as a weapon (too hard to control, too easy to protect oneself against, difficult to apply in concentrations needed to be effective) other than as a means of slowing down an enemy, or otherwise denying them easy access to part of the battlefield. But for those caught by it unprepared, the experience is ghastly:
this vision of a man-made Hell:
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
Experiences like this easily led to poison gas quickly becoming a symbol of impersonal, industrial warfare along with the machine gun.
Given this history, I was surprised to read today that poison gas was not first used as a weapon in the trench warfare of 1915. It was the product of trench warfare, but from a distinctly pre-industrial era. Like, 3AD pre-industrial. And the first victims were the Romans:
Ancient Persians were the first to use chemical warfare against their enemies, a study has suggested.
A UK researcher said he found evidence that the Persian Empire used poisonous gases on the Roman city of Dura, Eastern Syria, in the 3rd Century AD.
The theory is based on the discovery of remains of about 20 Roman soldiers found at the base of the city wall.
The study shows that the Persians dug a mine underneath the wall in order to enter the city.
They also ignited bitumen and sulphur crystals to produce dense poisonous gases, suggested Simon James, an archaeologist at the University of Leicester.
“The Roman assault party was unconscious in seconds, dead in minutes[,” said Dr James. ]
Damn. Viciously resourceful little primates, aren’t we?