Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World

Overview

Weapons of biological and chemical warfare have been in use for thousands of years, and Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs, Adrienne Mayor's exploration of the origins of controversial weaponry, draws extraordinary connections between the mythical worlds of Hercules and the Trojan War, the accounts of Herodotus and Thucydides, and modern methods of war and terrorism.

Drawing on sources ancient and modern, Mayor describes ancient recipes for arrow poisons, booby traps...

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New York 2003 Softcover. NEW Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World. This dense but highly informative volume narrates the long pretechnological history of the ... use of poisons and fire in warfare. Mayor, who has published in Military History Quarterly, begins with the first legend of poisoned arrows: Hercules and his quiver of missiles tipped with the hydra's venom (probably snake venom). He and his wife also figure in an early use of an externally applied poison-the "poisoned" garments that killed them both with an inextinguishable flame may have been impregnated with saltpeter. Using their powers of observation and a sound if rule-of-thumb grasp of cause and effect, our not-so-primitive ancestors went on to set fires, throw fires and project fires (Greek fire reached its apex when flung from a ship-mounted flame thrower). They also put poison on arrowheads, in food and wine and in water supplies, tamed elephants to use as living tanks, bottled scorpions to throw over walls and knew about th Read more Show Less

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Overview

Weapons of biological and chemical warfare have been in use for thousands of years, and Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs, Adrienne Mayor's exploration of the origins of controversial weaponry, draws extraordinary connections between the mythical worlds of Hercules and the Trojan War, the accounts of Herodotus and Thucydides, and modern methods of war and terrorism.

Drawing on sources ancient and modern, Mayor describes ancient recipes for arrow poisons, booby traps rigged with plague, petroleum-based combustibles, choking gases, and the deployment of dangerous animals and venomous snakes and insects. She also explores the ambiguous moral implications inherent in this kind of warfare: Are these nefarious forms of weaponry ingenious or cowardly? Admirable or reprehensible?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This dense but highly informative volume narrates the long pretechnological history of the use of poisons and fire in warfare. Mayer, who has published in Military History Quarterly, begins with the first legend of poisoned arrows: Hercules and his quiver of missiles tipped with the hydra's venom (probably snake venom). He and his wife also figure in an early use of an externally applied poison-the "poisoned" garments that killed them both with an inextinguishable flame may have been impregnated with saltpeter. Using their powers of observation and a sound if rule-of-thumb grasp of cause and effect, our not-so-primitive ancestors went on to set fires, throw fires and project fires (Greek fire reached its apex when flung from a ship-mounted flame thrower). They also put poison on arrowheads, in food and wine and in water supplies, tamed elephants to use as living tanks, bottled scorpions to throw over walls and knew about the problems of accidental casualties, enemy retaliation and lowering the ethical level of warfare. Mayor clearly describes how some of the poisons caused gruesome deaths, and Greek fire was essentially napalm. One antielephant weapon consisted of coating live pigs with pitch, setting them on fire and driving them at the elephants. The sheer mass of information will be daunting for the novice, particularly to one not familiar with classical mythology, but the book is otherwise absolutely absorbing, if macabre, and a formidable source on classical warfare, with bibliography, illustrations and annotations to serve further research. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585676088
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 11/28/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 8.38 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 9
Historical Time Line 11
Maps 19
Introduction: War Outside the Rules 23
1 Hercules and the Hydra: The Invention of Biological Weapons 41
2 Alexander the Great and the Arrows of Doom 63
3 Poison Waters, Deadly Vapors 99
4 A Casket of Plague in the Temple of Babylon 119
5 Sweet Sabotage 145
6 Animal Allies and Scorpion Bombs 171
7 Infernal Fire 207
Afterword: The Many-Headed Hydra 251
Notes 259
Bibliography 295
List of Illustrations 307
Index 313
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