Syria's History of Chemical Warfare Is 1.7K Years Old
Archaeological evidence indicates invading Persians used it in AD 256
By Kate Seamons, Newser Staff
Posted Sep 8, 2013 8:14 AM CDT
Syria, Dura-Europos.   (©)

(Newser) – Amid all the uproar over chemical weapons in Syria comes this surprising revelation: What could be the earliest archaeological evidence of chemical weapons was uncovered in the country—and it is some 1,700 years old. A mixture of sulfur and pitch combined with fire was the first way humans gassed their enemies, explains Discovery News. It dredges up 2009 findings by British archaeologist Simon James, who asserts that such a poison gas was used during a siege on the Roman-controlled city of Dura-Europos around AD 256. The site was excavated throughout the 20th century, first in 1920; in the next decade, the bodies of 20 armor-clad Roman soldiers were found in one of the counter-mines they dug in order to access the tunnels made by the invading Sasanian Persians.

The original theory was that the collapse of the tunnel killed them. But James offered proof that the Romans were actually gassed: A jar near the bodies contained residue composed of pitch and yellow sulfur crystals. National Geographic shares James' explanation: "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." Death would have come within minutes. There is one bit of archaeology that could predate it: a sulfur and pitch fireball that struck Alexander’s army in 327 BC. But a Stanford research scholar notes that there's no way to determine whether it was purposefully or accidentally ignited. (More on this history front: Researchers now say ancient Egypt sprang up faster than we thought.)

More From Newser
My Take on This Story
To report an error on this story,
notify our editors.
Syria's History of Chemical Warfare Is 1.7K Years Old is...
Show results without voting
You Might Like
Showing 3 of 23 comments
Sep 8, 2013 7:46 PM CDT
Dear Mr. Assad, I pray for you that you find peace in your relationship with your father. I pray that as the father of your nation, you have already grieved enough to know that it is time to let the children laugh once again without fear, even if the price of that laughter is your honorable and patriotic resignation in favor of another leader. I pray.
Sep 8, 2013 3:05 PM CDT
Another piece of the propaganda machine that is trying to make the American people think the Syrian army used chemical weapons against their own people.
Sep 8, 2013 2:15 PM CDT
Assad knows for two years they trying to take him down. Why he didn't secure the chem weapons sites enough to prevent the usage but if they brought this staff from Saudis than it's a different story but still he is in charge and he knows what happens. To me with Pope praying for peace, appears more like a coordinated attack on any Christians in Middle East in attempt to wipe them out and make it only Muslims world which is impossible to control.