Archaeology Odyssey 8:2, March/April 2005

Ancient WMDs

Torches & Poisons & Bees—Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Ancient World

By Adrienne Mayor

Most people assume that biological and chemical weapons are recent inventions, that only our advanced knowledge of science and weapons systems has allowed us to make use of toxins, pathogens and incendiary chemicals. Many historians have assumed, moreover, that the rules of engagement in ancient warfare—predicated on honor, valor and skill—would have banned the use of poisons and other underhanded weapons. In fact, ancient warrior cultures used such weapons more extensively than has been realized, and their attitudes toward unconventional warfare were complex and ambivalent.

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