Friday, May 31, 2013

Fun Friday Facts #75: Biological Warfare in History

Brandy from Brandy’s Bustlings wanted me to write about the history of the word “yellow” as an insult, but I couldn’t find anything on that just by typing “why is the word yellow used as an insult” into Google, and it’s been a long day and I’m tired, so maybe I’ll just bounce that back to her. I usually like to have more than one fact in my Fun Friday Facts, anyway.

Instead, I’m going with another topic inspired by a comment I received last week. Facebook friend and fellow blogger Darla Dollman pointed out that, in 1346, the Mongolian army employed biological warfare when they used plague cadavers to contaminate the enemy’s water supply during the siege of Caffa. I also recall seeing something on The History Channel recently about people in Biblical times filling up clay pots with live bees and lobbing them at people during battle. They didn’t explain exactly how the ancient people got the bees into the pots and kept them there long enough to seal the things up, so I’m skeptical.

I mean, bee wrangling normally requires special suits and everything.

Perhaps the earliest recorded use of biological warfare dates back to the 14th century BC, when armies fighting in Anatolia deliberately brought tularemia to the enemy’s doorstep, but also probably brought it home with them when the battle was over. The epidemic had already touched much of the Mediterranean world, from Cyprus to Iraq and from Palestine to Syria, excepting Egypt, which quarantined itself.

Smart thinking, Egypt.

Poison was a popular agent of biological warfare in the ancient world. In 590 BC, Athenian and Amphictyonic League soldiers fighting the First Sacred War against the city of Kirrha used hellebore to poison the enemy’s water supply. In the 5th century BC, Scythian warriors used a putrefied mixture of blood, dung and snake’s venom to poison their arrowheads. Alexander the Great’s army fell victim to biological warfare in India, when the enemy used the venom of Russell’s viper to poison their arrowheads.

In 184 BC, Hannibal of Carthage, of Alps-crossing fame, fought King Eumenes of Pergamon by having clay pots filled with venomous snakes chucked at his battleships. Again, no word on how they got the snakes into the pots. In 198 AD, the city of Hatra, in present-day Iraq, fought off the Roman army by pitching clay pots filled with scorpions at them.

"Fuck this noise, let's go back to Rome."

Throughout the Middle Ages, the tossing of dead bodies, both human and animal, plague-ridden and non, into besieged communities was considered an effective form of biological warfare. It was believed that the very reek of decomposing corpses was enough to kill those within the besieged city's walls. The strategy was employed during the siege of Thun-l’Évêque, in 1340, when besiegers flung dead animals into the city. It was used again in 1422 in Bohemia, when besiegers of the Karlstein Castle catapulted dead bodies over the castle walls. For good measure, they also tossed 2,000 carriage loads of dung.

It's raining shit!

Image credit: Dorai Raj L.