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Smoking gun evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria!!!


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Does Bush administration still have time to execute their exit strategy from Iraq through Syria?

Early chemical warfare comes to light

Remains of a Roman garrison in Syria document a third-century battle and offer a glimpse of a grisly tunnel fight

PHILADELPHIA — Roman soldiers defending a Middle Eastern garrison from attack nearly 2,000 years ago met the horrors of war in a most unusual place. Inside a cramped tunnel beneath the site’s massive front wall, enemy fighters stacked up nearly two dozen dead or dying Romans and set them on fire, using substances that gave off toxic fumes and drove away Roman warriors just outside the tunnel.

The attackers, members of Persia’s Sasanian culture that held sway over much of the region in and around the Middle East from the third to the seventh centuries, adopted a brutally ingenious method for penetrating the garrison wall, reported Simon James of the University of Leicester in England on January 10 at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America.

“In my view, this is the earliest archaeological evidence for the use of chemical warfare, which was later used by the ancient Greeks,” James said.

The Roman garrison at Dura (now called Dura-Europos) was located in what is now Syria and sat on a cliff overlooking the Euphrates River. The massive Sasanian siege of the garrison occurred in 256, give or take a few years. No historical records exist of this battle. Archaeological work conducted since 1920 at the ancient garrison has provided glimpses of the fierce conflict, although much remains unknown about precisely what happened.

James’ new findings vividly illustrate that “you can create a real story out of battlefield patterns that archaeologists find,” remarks Melissa Connor of Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln.

James, who has conducted fieldwork at Dura-Europos for 30 years, examined a group of about 20 men’s skeletons adorned with military equipment that lay in a tunnel the Romans had dug to intercept Sasanian invaders, who were digging underneath the garrison wall via another tunnel.

French investigators at the site have suggested that when the Romans reached the subterranean Sasanians, the mouth of the Roman tunnel collapsed. Trapped Romans were then killed and fell on top of one another.

Although debris indeed blocked the entrance to the Roman tunnel, James doubted that explanation. First, he analyzed the positions of Roman soldiers’ bodies in the tunnel and determined that they had been deliberately stacked into a pile, either when they were mortally wounded or after they had died. The Sasanians apparently wanted to create a human wall between themselves and approaching Romans.

To obstruct advancing Romans, the Sasanians blocked the tunnel entrance with stones before stacking up the Roman victims. The Sasanians then threw a cloak and some straw on the Romans and set them on fire using a mix of pitch and sulfur. Signs of severe burning appear on the pile of skeletons and military equipment. Remains of pitch and sulfur crystals were found near the bodies, which had not been observed in earlier research, James reports.

Toxic fumes from the fire would have driven off any further Roman soldiers hoping to enter the tunnel, James said. One skeleton in the tunnel, lying by itself on the Sasanian side of the pile of bodies, is that of a helmeted Sasanian soldier carrying a sword. He apparently had set the fire and failed to flee before succumbing to the fumes, James suggests.

Research above ground at Dura-Europos indicates that, rather than surrendering, residents of the garrison engaged in street fighting as the city fell to the Persians. But then everyone, even the conquering Sasanians, abandoned the isolated site. The garrison sat in a desolate no-man’s-land that made it unappealing to the conquerors once the Romans had been vanquished. As a result, material evidence of the siege stayed in place, including a massive assault ramp built up to the garrison’s wall.

James suspects that the assault ramp was used to bring some type of battering apparatus up to the garrison wall.

Source: Science News

Now, here's a question: if some kind of chemical warfare was known that early, why wasn't the technique developed further? I could see how the siege of a medieval castle could have been cut from months to days when the defenders wouldn't have been starved but smoked out, making fortresses obsolete. But I suppose they lacked the knowledge of chemistry that was developed during 19th century and couldn't make it effective enough except in such closed confines. Still, even in a pitched battle it could have been very effective for lone horsemen to ride to the direction of advancing enemy infantry formations and set and drop big stinkbombs which in turn could have disrupted the formations, slowed them down while they reorganize, or made them change course. This, in turn, would have led to countertactics, which would have led to counter-countertactics.

I should have been there at the time, I could have helped in making medieval warfare one bit more unpleasant!

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I could see how the siege of a medieval castle could have been cut from months to days when the defenders wouldn't have been starved but smoked out, making fortresses obsolete.

But how do you get the smoke into the fortress? As always with chemical weapons, delivery is a much harder problem that developing a harmful agent.

[snips]

Still, even in a pitched battle it could have been very effective for lone horsemen to ride to the direction of advancing enemy infantry formations and set and drop big stinkbombs which in turn could have disrupted the formations, slowed them down while they reorganize, or made them change course.

There were plenty of occasions when people tried using noxious chemicals in warfare before the 19th century; see http://www.cbwinfo.com/History/ancto19th.shtml for a quick sketch.

I doubt that stink-pots, fire-syphons, thunder-bomb oxen and all those weird and wonderful devices that feature in WRG wargames rules could ever have been terribly effective in open warfare. While no doubt the general rejection of CW as a legitimate method of waging war is partly due to its being considered dishonourable and unsoldierly, I suspect that, then as now, a good part of the reason for rejecting it is that it is largely ineffective. The best killing technology for the medieval period was, as it has been for thousands of years, the pointed stick, whether held, hurled or shot.

All the best,

John.

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I'm thinking of catapults. Worked with plague ridden bodies, so why not chemical canisters.

I'm thinking of the natural draft through the tunnel - though it looks like the gas would be H2S. Inject some water and takes it to H2SO3, sulfurous acid.

The discrepancy in height between the top of the shaft and the bottom would want to be quite large - or you could be pumping air through from the bottom with a big pair of bellows / set of sails.

An acid fog - and the need to block the tunnel - hence the rockfall. :)

Cheers for the article.

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Wind is not always unpredictable. And especially not in a relatively short time span. In some areas such as the Mediterranean coast you can almost guarantee a strong onshore wind in the afternoon.

I imagine Perth rarely sees ... o a linky

http://www.windfinder.com/report/perth_airport

And of course being upwind is handy if you have elephants or arrows : )

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Battle of Kansu 623A.D

Surrounded in Kansu Province and surrounded By Huns General Chai Shao ordered two scantily dressed girls to an isolated knoll in full view of the Hun army where they performed curious and obscene dances and gestures [i yeah right] and sang lewd songs. The huns became distected and gathered around the knoll to get a better view.

The Chinese launched an attack from the rear .....

This item from John P Greer's book "The Armies and Enemeies of Ancient China". I understand that not everyone believes it to be of the same standard as the other WRG books.

Elephants: Horses don't like elephants - its a size thing :)

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And I thought this was a forum for wargamers .... : )

Untrained horses would always flee elephants in battle.

http://www.clickfire.com/military-use-of-elephants-in-the-greek-and-roman-period/

I think the smell of unknown animals was a problem so they had to be familiarised with them - and even then you can see from the accounts that the elephants overawed the horses by their size. They just kept saying "Why can't I be hung like an elephant"

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But the point is, this would work out the same if the elephants were downwind of the horses, right? So the original statement was superfluous and misleading...like much of what appears on this forum. The whole subject of elephants should not have been brought into the discussion. It has led to a lengthy and wearisome digression for which only you are to blame. So there! And I was right all along. As I usually am.

Michael

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Battle of Kansu 623A.D

Surrounded in Kansu Province and surrounded By Huns General Chai Shao ordered two scantily dressed girls to an isolated knoll in full view of the Hun army where they performed curious and obscene dances and gestures [i yeah right] and sang lewd songs. The huns became distected and gathered around the knoll to get a better view.

The Chinese launched an attack from the rear .....

This item from John P Greer's book "The Armies and Enemeies of Ancient China". I understand that not everyone believes it to be of the same standard as the other WRG books.

Elephants: Horses don't like elephants - its a size thing :)

I've checked a few chinese sources, Old Book of Tang, New Book of Tang, Zizhi Tongjian, which have similiar words on the event. The accounts stated that Chai Shao ordered someone to play PiPa, and had two women to do couple dance. No other mentions of how the girls were dressed or the nature of the music though.

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ME ................. : )

Undaunted. Thanks for the research. I think I quite like the sound of playing PiPa : )

I suspect that the attractions of two women simply performing rather than erotically performing is a magnitude of difference in effectiveness. I think historians have a habit of bowdlerising the good bits!

Incidentally I have a small collection of CD's of Chinese music played on ancient instruments - they have some wonderful titles

The King of Qin Breaking Up Battle Arrays

A Phoenix Worshipped By Hundreds Of Birds

Night Rain on Banana Panel

The Loving Song of Mountain Fastness

and the The Yellow River Concerto has some Inner-Mongolian folk songs. Its actually quite good.

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ME ................. : )

Undaunted. Thanks for the research. I think I quite like the sound of playing PiPa : )

I suspect that the attractions of two women simply performing rather than erotically performing is a magnitude of difference in effectiveness. I think historians have a habit of bowdlerising the good bits!

They also have a habit of cleaning them up.

I sorta doubt a bunch of Hun warriors were that big of fans of the, er, more cultured performing arts and rather preferred the sort that required a fistfull of ones.

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Well... there were ancient Greeks still at that time and all the way to the end of the ancient era, so I suppose it could make sense at some level. But I'm more inclined to think that the 'ancient Greeks' in this context refers to East Roman aka. Byzantine Empire, although it wasn't particularly Greek (nor Roman).

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not that I recall - yuo may be thinking of Archimedes and his various machines during hte Roman seige of syracuse in the 2nd Punic War (the seigeg was 214-212BC)- one of his machines was supposedly mirrors reflecting sunlight but the ol' Mythbusters put that one to rest when a massive bank of highly polished bronze mirrors only just managed to get a bit of smoke from a wooden hull under ideal conditions.

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Always a believer that Archimedes was a smart cookie and to have been made up it was an unlikely tale:

http://web.mit.edu/2.009/www/experiments/deathray/10_ArchimedesResult.html

who do you prefer to believe.

BTW if I were trying to set alight a galley I might choose to aim at the cordage or stowed sails for a quicker result. Also the upper part of a galley I would very likely have light wood shielding the rowers from arrows. Not 1" thick for sure.

Funnily enough if Mythbusters had done any research this may have been useful to them

http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Mirrors.htm

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I am talking of using the mirrors - which were very much aimed weapons. : )

Mythbusters dismiss the mirror as a faint possibility but argue that with grapples and land based catapults Syracuse could kill galleys anyway. True but if you could use a hitherto unknown weapon to spread confusion and fear you would use it wouldn't you!

The greeks were known for being thoughtful and devious with Alexander having very large bits of oversize armour made to "accidentally" leave at their camps when trolling through Asia.

Psyops ... : )

For discussion for galleys and size, and fighting methods:

http://ay-avebury.soton.ac.uk/Prospectus/CMA/HistShip/shlect26.htm

http://www.atm.ox.ac.uk/rowing/trireme/

the first site is a navigational nightmare but probably is the most academic I have found : )

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