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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 terrWeapons 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?...

Title : Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World
Author :
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ISBN : 9781585676088
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 336 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

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

  • Jon(athan) Nakapalau
    2019-05-09 11:34

    How little things change...before I read this book I never imagined that there were such weapons in the ancient world. The ethical questions still remain - but the pace of production is quicker than any meaningful answers.

  • Diane
    2019-05-09 08:49

    This was a reread for me. This is an eye-opening and often shocking account of the use of biological and chemical weapons by the ancient people of Greece, Italy, India, and the Near East. To quote Mayor, "Although it is tempting to imagine an ancient era innocent of biochemical weaponry, in fact this Pandora's box of horrors was opened thousands of years ago." There are accounts in Greek myths (Hercules, Philoctetes) of the use of poison, though the ancient Greek heroes were supposedly too noble to resort to such things. However, that did not stop Athena from suggesting poison arrows as a way to dispose of Penelope's unwanted suitors. Ironically, Odysseus was killed with a poisoned spear wielded by his son Telegonus. Black hellebore (Christmas rose) was used to poison arrows and water supplies. Of course, it helped to have an antidote since it was quite easy to accidentally poison oneself in the process. The water supply for the town of Kirrha was supposedly poisoned with hellebore. Though there are various accounts of how this was accomplished, the result was the same - the destruction of the populace of Kirrha. Around 150 CE, Pausanias visited the area and wrote, "The plains around Kirrha are completely barren, and people there will not plant trees because the land is still under a curse and trees will not grow there." Harming noncombatants was supposedly against ancient Greek beliefs of "fair war," but Mayor states, "during sieges of cities, the entire population was considered the enemy." Ancient Indians used similar tactics in their wars. In "Arthashastra" by Kautilya, there are actual recipes for poisonous mixtures to use on the enemy. These would cause blindness, disease, insanity or death. There was a special smoke to destroy "all animal life as far as it is carried off by the wind." Obviously, it's a form of poison gas. There are also ancient accounts of plague being spread by arrows and various containers. When the Chaldeans sacked and burned Solomon's temple in Jerusalem, they are said to have opened copper vessels, which they assumed contained treasure. Instead, they were attacked by a plague. During the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE by the future Roman emperor Titus, the second temple was destroyed. Once again, invaders broke open jars they assumed held treasure. Instead, Titus's reign saw "one of the worst outbreaks of plague ever known." There's also the fascinating story of Colchis, the homeland of the infamous Medea. Greek soldiers unwisely feasted on Colchian honey and soon began acting like intoxicated madmen. Xenophon found his troops spread around on the ground as if they were under a spell. They were totally incapacitated and some of them even died. The survivors could not stand for three or four days. The culprit? Naturally toxic honey, which was produced by bees from the nectar of the beautiful, but poisonous rhododendron. The powerful neurotoxin has no effect on bees, but people are a different matter. In very tiny doses, it is used as a tonic or mild intoxicant. It is still used today in a glass of milk as a pick-me-up, believe it or not, known as deli bal or miel fou.Another novel odd weapon is the use of insects such as bees and hornets. There are accounts in the Bible of their use. For example, in Joshua, hornets were used to drive away the Amorites. In Nigeria, the Tiv people kept bees in large horns, which also contained a toxic powder. The powder may have been used to calm the bees and make them safer to use. During battle, the bees would be released towards the enemy. The Romans used catapults to launch hornets' nests at the enemy. This was a tactic that was still being used centuries later by the Germans in the Thirty Years' War and by Ethiopians against Italian invaders in the 1930s. Of course, fire was also used as a weapon. Writing around 360 BCE, Aeneas the Tactician detailed how to supplement fires with chemicals. He recommended pouring pitch down on the enemy or their siege weapons, following by hemp and sulphur, which would stick to the coating of pitch. Then the pitch and sulphur mix was set afire. The Phoenicians used fire ships against enemy vessels. They would coat a ship with flammable mixtures, set the ship on fire, and send it towards the enemy with great effect. They also used a mixture of sand and tiny bits of metal, which they heated until it glowed red hot and then catapulted at the enemy. The sandy metal mix "sifted down under the soldiers' breastplates and seared their skin with the intense heat, inflicting unavoidable pain." Mayor concludes soberly, "Once created, toxic weapons take on a life of their own, resistent to destruction and threatening harm over generations. Tons of still-active chemical weapons from World Wars I and II lurk in long-forgotten dumping areas, releasing toxins and posing grave risks to unwitting finders." She compares them to the plague demons in the jars in the temple in Jerusalem and the golden casket in Babylon. Amazingly, during excavations of the historic fort at the Presidio in San Francisco, archeologists discovered glass vials of still-toxic mustard gas that was buried by the US military during World War II, 60 years earlier. How are we to dispose of still deadly chemical and nuclear weapons? This is the only second time I have read this book and it was definitely not easy. The subject is sobering, incredibly sad and terrifying. Thousands of years ago people were using horrific weapons against each other. Things have not changed. This is still going on. "One can only hope that a deeper understanding of toxic warfare's mythic origins and earliest historic realities might help divert the drive to transform all nature into a deadly arsenal into the search for better ways to heal. Then Appian's sorrowful words about war, 'They left nothing untried that was within the compass of human energy,' could refer to human ingenuity striving to turn nature's forces to good."

  • Jennn
    2019-05-11 09:38

    Honestly, I'm not that interested in biological and chemical warfare. Maybe because it scares me to the core due to humanity's immature nature (and I'm a natural worrier anyway). So, usually I avoid books about it. However, it's about ancient examples, or at least I thought so.Despite my initial worry, Mayor does an excellent job at paralleling the ancient world and the present. She gives examples of how today's army is looking into strategies of the past, no matter how silly (e.g. the army looking into using bees as weapons for targets). It's eerie, surprising, and unsettling (like infrasound: see below in 'notes').The book is packed with facts and examples well-researched and, thankfully, usually mentions key people repeatedly, so the slow students (ahem, me) can remember who they are and their history. It may be annoying to people who already know the history, but I was quite appreciative so I could get my facts right and it made a longer lasting impression.The book is balanced wonderfully and I think it was better handled than her first book, although I liked the content better in "The First Fossil Hunters". She is a wonderful teacher and more importantly in this case, a good writer. I took notes and learned a lot.Quotes:"Over and over, the ancient historians repeated the refrain: the only hope of quelling such ghastly fire was to cover it with earth. That solution echoed Hercules' method of getting rid of the monstrous Hydra's head by burying it under the earth. Now, those desperate attempts to bury poison and fire weapons seem to foreshadow our own efforts to dispose of dangerous weapons underground, out of sight but never completely out of mind." pg 252-3"A geologic solution on a massive scale was proposed in 2002, when plans were developed to bury a huge cache of radioactive material deep under the Yucca Mountain in Nevada, in the desert about one hundred miles northwest of Las Vegas. The seventy-seven thousand tons of nuclear material are expected to remain dangerously radioactive for one hundred thousand years. The government hopes to make the toxic sepulchre impregnable for at least ten thousand years, until the year AD 12,000." pg 254"There are two bio-weapon recipes in the Arthashastra of the fourth century BC, however, that appear to be evidence of such an attempt in India. One describes how to make a poison arrow with a mixture of toxins and 'the blood of a muskrat'. Anyone pierced with this arrow will be compelled to bite ten companions, who will in turn bite others, wrote Kautilya." - pg 136 (reminds me of zombies O.o - but it was meant to try for rabies)Random notes:Deli bal (aka miel fou) is called 'mad honey' for a reason: the bees collect nectar from the poisonous rhododendron, which causes (even in small amounts) to get horribly ill and hallucinate. Some people in present day use a small amount to give their drinks a little kick.Mithridates was interesting (why did I never learn about him in history?): So afraid of being poisoned (he had poisoned some family members himself, after all), he had 13 Sycthian shaman/doctors called The Agari at ALL TIMES. He also built up an immunity to poisons by taking small doses everyday. When he finally was on the verge of being capture (it took a while, he was good at giving the slip), he tried to poison himself...only to survive! (here's a great example of irony) He tried to kill himself, but couldn't, so had his bodyguard do it.Andrea Cesalpino (a physician) reported during the Naples Campaign (1494-95), the Spanish abandoned a village to the French, leaving behind wine...mixed with blood from leprosy and syphilis patient from the Saint-Lazare Hospital.The Hittites had a ritual of driving plague-infected women and dogs into enemy territory to infect them (this was before the black plague-infected bodies were tossed over Kaffa, which a lot of people believe was the first instance of awareness of diseases).The army is doing experiments with infrasound, which they've successfully been able to make victims feel nauseous, hallucinate, and even die from internal injuries (makes me think of serenity and the "hands of blue").Elephants hate pigs' squeals.In approx. 270 BC, Antigonus Gonatus and his war-elephants were defeated...by flaming pigs.Folk belief cited by Pliny was that it takes 27 hornet stings to kill a man.Napalm burns at more than 5,000 degrees (F).In 424 BC short-ranged, primitive flamethrowers were invented by the Boeotians.It was believed the black mandrake was female, while the white was male. In most cases it was harvested according to rituals and pulled out by animals usually.

  • Liz
    2019-04-21 06:57

    This was a pretty thorough look at the different types of biological and chemical weapons use in ancient warfare. It is broken down into sections, each detailing a different type of tactic. She describes how poisons, incendiaries, biological weapons (such as plague corpses), and even animals (such as hornet’s nests) were used, and cites examples of battles in which these techniques were employed.I thought this was very enlightening read. Many people assume that the use of biological and chemical weapons is an issue that is unique to our current society, but this book shows that this type of warfare is nothing new. The ancients knew how to fight dirty, and their battles weren’t exactly as fair and honorable as some romantics would have us think. At the same time, these ancient civilizations battled with the same issues of conscience that our civilization is facing today as to the use of these highly effective, but often needlessly destructive, techniques. It’s definitely food for thought. I enjoyed this author’s style of writing. She was able to share this material in a way that was informative, but still interesting, and not at all dry as some historical narratives can be. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in ancient history and seeing how our own society mirrors these past events.

  • Rindis
    2019-05-02 12:51

    Adrienne Mayor starts with, intelligently, expanding the normal contemporary definition of 'chemical and biological' weapons to include pretty much anything that causes biological harm, such as poisons, noxious chemicals, and beyond, to the use of animals, heated sand, and other unusual items. Her book then combs all the ancient sources for examples of these in the ancient world. There's a concentration on Greek and Roman sources, but there are repeated references to Indian and Chinese uses as well.The problem is that the phrase 'unusual items' above does describe the book. While grouped into chapters for broad topics, its really a bunch of mini-essays on what are often 'one-off' uses of poisons and disease, and shows little systematic use of any of these. On the other hand, it does very well with making the point that the concepts were not unknown, and that even where deliberately spreading a disease might be difficult to do reliably, people were thinking about how to do it.Sadly, the first item in the title of the book (Greek Fire), is the last thing discussed, and it doesn't get much. It is shown that it is descended from earlier petroleum-based fire weapons. What was special about it was the delivery system, and that isn't even speculated on.Overall, the book does well in showing that, despite generally being ignored in histories of the era, 'chemical and biological' weapons were very much on the minds of the ancients, and it shows that they were probably in regular use with peoples we don't have a lot of records from. It also shows that Western attitudes towards them match up with Greek and Roman thought, pointing out how the 'boomerang' effect of poisons and disease feature prominently in early myths. But, the mini-essay approach undermines the cohesion of the work, especially when the same thing is re-introduced over and over (yes, by the sixth time it's brought up, I'm pretty sure I remember that the Arthashastra is from India).

  • Michael
    2019-05-01 09:45

    It's somewhat saddening to realise that although the earliest mythological stories about the use of biochemical weapons came with the moral "too dangerous and inhumane to use", they're still in use today, and causing all the same tragic misery.Despite this chastening theme, this is an engrossing book. The author makes her points well and is clear about what is known and what is speculation and opinion.Anybody interested in mythology, ancient history or military tactics should find this a rewarding read.

  • Петър Стойков
    2019-04-23 10:53

    Модерната война е нищо в сравнение с войните, водени в историята и страданието и разрухата, които тя носи днес рядко могат да се сравняват с изпитаните от цивилни и войници в предишни столетия и хилядолетия.Благородните рицари и блестящите фаланги са главно в приказките и историческите романи, докато стрели, намазани с лайна за да предизвикат инфекции и хвърлянето на разложени животни в единствения водоизточник на селото, за да заболеят обитателите му от чума са в реалната история.Примери за биологична и химична война има доста, но за съжаление авторката се е ограничила в изследванията си само до античния период, от когато има останали сравнително малко данни и сведения. Поради това тя се опитва да запълни книгата си с какво ли не, примерно първите 25% от нея са уводи и предговори и първата глава, която не е нищо друго, от пространен преразказ на легендите за Херкулес (защото натопил стрелите си в кръвта на Хидра) и Одисей. Нататък има интересна информация, но тя е залята с още и още авторови интерпретации, предположения и чисти празни приказки до степен да се налага активно да се опитвам да отлича историческата истина (за която имаме конкретни сведения) от художествената интерпретация на авторката. Така не се пише научно-популярна книга.

  • Dorthe
    2019-05-16 08:30

    This is a somewhat slapdash treatment of a hugely interesting subject.Points of annoyance:- the book could have been cut by at least a third by omitting repetitions: the long, self-congratulatory introduction presents all chapters, then come the chapters themselves, and finally a conclusion repeating all the author's points. - several characters in the book dabbled in more kinds than one of bio-chemical warfare and so show up in different chapters, to be introduced anew every time. Do we really need to be reminded four times that Mithridates was a threat to the Romans, and himself was afraid of being poisoned?- I have this on audio and was treated to extra annoyance from the US English mangling of Greek and other names, e.g. Kyzikos (probably spelled Cyzicus) pronounced 'Sissicus'. That is pretty standard, though, and not the fault of the author. - comparisons are made without much regard to chronology, over distances of centuries. This method can be useful in bringing new insights, but only so long as it is based on a firm grasp of the facts, avoiding superficial similarities.- words like δορύκνιον and πῦρ αύτόματον being referred to as Latin words.- the author seems not to have grasped the concept of differential diagnosis: the dramatised effect of an envenomed garment (Herakles' tunic in Sophokles' tragedy) are compared to accounts of the effect of cobra venom and concluded to have been just that. Later, the symptoms of the Athenian 'plague' (whichever disease that may have been) in 430 BCE are described in much the same terms, though not claimed to be the same. One might conclude that widely differing causes can produce effects on the human body which are described by the sufferers using similar terms: a 'burning' can be caused by fever, acid, nerve toxin, actual fire, &c. - the same goes for literary echoes: Thucydides in describing the Athenian plague consciously echoes the homeric description of the plague afflicting the Greeks at Troy.- the Roman general Lucullus, while chasing the aforementioned Mithridates during the 70s and 60s BCE, is said to have found a statue of the dying Herakles and to have brought it back to Rome, placing it next to a statue of 'Divine Caesar'. That would have taken some foresight.

  • Michele
    2019-05-09 12:30

    Is biological and Chemical Warfare a modern invention or a thing of the past? Yes! Is is a thing of the past and a very old idea. Poisoned arrows, fouling water supplies, deadly scorpions used inside bombs and spreading disease as a weapon are ancient tactics used in the ancient world. Adrienne Mayor sheds light onto the use of "weapons of mass destruction" thousands of years before one would associate the term to warfare. In this book, she points out various civilizations that employed 'dishonorable' acts in early battles. Greek fire? it was an early version of napalm!

  • Paul Lee
    2019-05-16 04:52

    Reading very much like a thesis, this book is well organized, full of factual information, and paints an interesting perspective of biological and chemical warfare that has implications for the present day. The author is a folklorist and is more concerned about how culture and information is passed down and encoded in oral/written tradition rather than accurate historical record.

  • Robert
    2019-04-20 12:44

    This is a very entertaining book about chemical and biological warfare in ancient civilization.Death by beehive!

  • Dana Stabenow
    2019-05-15 11:41

    What, you thought napalm was a new thing? This book will disabuse your mind of that notion pronto. According to Mayor, mankind has been thinking up new and more horrible ways to spread terror and kill more people faster since before Alexander. Beehive bombs. Snake bombs. Poisonous spider bombs. Naphtha bombs. Arrows poisoned with snake venom or tipped with burning pitch to set the besieged city on fire. Catapulting the plague dead over the castle walls. There is no end, and, evidently, a very early beginning to mankind's ingenuity and bloodthirstiness.Did you know rhododendrons were poisonous? And did you know that if bees fed on rhododendron nectar, that if you ate the honey they produced that it would kill you? It's how Colchis defeated Xenophon in 401 BC.That ancients' idea about getting the plague if you sacked a temple? Might very well have been based on fact. There are lots of stories about attacking troops breaking into sanctuaries and plundering what they found there, only to find that they were filled with the garments of those who had died from the plague. Suckers...There is a legend that Pharaoh defeated Sennacherib with the help of the god Ptah, who sent thousands of mice into the Assyrian camp to eat the leather holding their weapons together. Mayor writes that a core of historical truth may lie behind the legendGreek, Babylonian, and Assyrian evidence refers to a military campaign that was aborted after Sennacherib's army was beset by disease-carrying rodents who, incidentally, ate the leather parts of their weapons at Pelusium. The bad omen and the rumor of the approaching Ethiopian army caused the Assyrians to abandon their invasion of Egypt and retreat through Palestine while the rodent-borne disease (perhaps bubonic plague or typhus) incubated in the men. As they arrived at Jerusalem, the epidemic swept through the troops, killing tens of thousands.All I want to know is who scattered all those bazillions of crumbs to attract the plague-carrying rodents.A fascinating and pretty horrifying read.

  • Ilya
    2019-05-12 09:53

    Warfare in the ancient world involved a panoply of weapons. There were flamethrowers using bellows for air pressure; ceramic bombs packed with burning substances (petroleum, pitch); unmanned burning wooden ships filled with combustible materials used as missiles against other wooden ships or moles. There were spears and arrows dipped in poisons of both animal and vegetable nature, including snake venom, as well as in bacteria-rich feces, or topped with stingray spines. Dropping beehives on the enemy was practiced both in antiquity, and as late as the 1935-1936 Italian invasion of Ethiopia, in response to the Italians' use of mustard gas. Armies retreated, leaving behind poisoned food and drink for their enemies. Both during the March of the Ten Thousand and during a war between Pompey and Mitridates, soldiers were poisoned by eating neurotoxin-rich rhododendron honey. The sight and sound of an elephant made horses panic; elephants in their turn could be frightened by squealing pigs; a pig smeared with burning pitch would squeal at the top of its lungs.Mayor is a folklorist, and she devotes a lot of space to mythology: Heracles's slaying of the Lernaean Hydra and using its venom on his arrows; accidentally slaying centaur Chiron and deliberately centaur Nessus, whose blood on a tunic in turn killed Heracles himself. After the death of Heracles, the ownership of the arrows went to Philoctetes, and they were used in the Trojan War. Mayor wonders, what background could have produced stories like that. There are several ancient stories of boxes containing a plague; in Greek mythology it is a box opened by Pandora; in the Hebrew Bible it is the Ark of the Covenant captured by the Philistines; Mayor wonders whether such boxes could contain infected clothes worn by plague victims. I found it strange to read about the Ten Plagues of Egypt in a book that does not mention that the Documentary Hypothesis thinks that this part of the Hebrew Bible is a compilation of several sources.

  • Dean Hamilton
    2019-05-08 09:27

    Hercules was probably one of the most famous early practioners of biological weapons, and one of its most prominent victims...Slayer of the Lemean Hydra, Hercule's dipped his deadly arrows in the Hydra's blood, creating a fatal weapon - one that echoed down through Greek history claiming myrid lives. Eventually the Fates drew him full-circle and Hercules is destroyed by the gift of a cloak from his wife. The garment, secretly poisoned with the blood of Nessus, a centaur that Hercules has shot with his envenomed arrows, "burns like fire" until Hercules, in agony, begs his own son to burn him in a bonfire. The legendary story of the 12 Labors of Hercules serves as both metaphor and warning in Adrienne Mayor's fascinating and highly readable examination of the usage and prevelance of biological and chemical warfare in the Ancient World. Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs is a timely and relevant eye-opener, touching on the practical usages of such tried and true weapons such as poisoned food, tainted water, bug bombs (scorpions and bees were apparently popular tools to loft onto besiging armies), snake bombs, burning oil, pestilence-ridden corpses, maddened cattle, pitch-covered pigs (ignited of course) and, of course, the precusor of modern napalm, greek fire. Of special note is the "mad honey" that Xenophon and the Ten Thousand encounter on their trek to the sea. Mixed from the rhododendron plant, the honey of Pontus is a famous and lethal toxin causing hallucinations and often death.Mayor carefully outlines the often ambigious nature of chemical and biological weapons, particularly the fact that the ancients recognized the double-edged sword that they wielded had terrifying implications for their own populations if used unchecked. Mixing the mythological roots of bio-war with historical examples, Mayor has written a highly readable, utterly absorbing piece of work that, at the end, leaves you grimly fascinated and nervously appalled.

  • Aramina
    2019-05-18 06:29

    In the ancient world, war was commonplace and appeared around the globe at various times. An assortment of weapons and strategies were used among these wars, but what was the most feared weapon of antiquity? The author of the historical non-fiction book, Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs, Adrienne Mayor, highly believes that biochemical weapons equipped with poison, disease, and other toxins terrorized civilizations in and out of combat. Mayor made many clear remarks of how these chemical and biological weapons and strategies were made or enhanced. Many myths and legends are incorporated into her book, including the famous Hercules and Pandora’s box. Old history and 19th century to modern day examples, such as the Scythian Persian War and the Winston Churchill Kurdistan bombings, are also integrated into the book, explaining where and how the weapons she mentions are used. Additionally, Adrienne goes over how toxic plants, venomous snakes, poison frogs, and other biological resources are used to create liquid poisons that were handled during war and hunting, and also the effects of these poisons.Over the course of reading Greek Fire, I felt that the information was not so historically appealing. The parts I did find interesting, though, were the sections discussing weaponry, mythology, and strategies of war. I believe the subject matter of Greek Fire is not of use of many people today. It might be compelling to those who wish to learn more about ancient warfare, such as history majors or military historians. Botanists, biochemists, and epidemiologists might also be interested in this book due to the mention of plants, biochemical aspects, and disease. The type of audience that would be appropriate to read this book would most likely be those of an older age, such as ages 17 and up because Mayor writes about rape, bloodshed, and other gruesome topics (like beheading) throughout the book.

  • Sineala
    2019-04-27 05:52

    Seeing as how I unexpectedly enjoyed all the tidbits in Sheldon's Intelligence Activities in Ancient Rome: Trust in the Gods, But Verify that concerned the more... unorthodox military strategies and tactics in the ancient world -- Hannibal's snake bombs, for example -- I was pretty sure I'd enjoy this, being as it's a popular-classics book about all the biochemical warfare in antiquity. I had no idea that was my thing, but apparently it is.Chapters are devoted to poison arrows, deliberate plague outbreaks, poisoning the water, poisoning your enemies directly, using animals against them (did you know the Romans liked to catapult beehives?), and of course Greek Fire and other petroleum-based weaponry. Naphtha was apparently very popular for centuries before Greek Fire was actually invented. Somehow I am not surprised.If I had one criticism, it would be that this book feels a lot less information-dense compared to work that is intended for more of a scholarly audience (and I am certainly glad I read Sheldon's book first), but that's probably not fair. And if I had two criticisms, the other one would be that I found myself skimming a lot of the paragraphs about how such-and-such ancient technology was just like something DARPA was working on or something someone else did in the 20th century; either the comparison was really obvious and kind of boring, or I just didn't want to know how much of a great idea people still think, say, aconite-laced weapons are, because then humanity just depresses me. (No, I don't know why I was reading about biochemical warfare either.)I would also have enjoyed more references to literature and myth, but that's possibly just me.Overall, recommended, if you're the sort of person who enjoys reading anecdotes about war in antiquity.

  • Tom
    2019-05-12 12:29

    This is a very fascinating book about the ingenious and destructive imagination of mankind and the fascinating blending of myth and history with regards to biological and chemical weapons.It was rather easy to get lost with all the names and dates being thrown about, but this was really illuminating into seeing all of the frighteningly advanced weaponry of the ancient world. Moreover, how the cultures felt about, created, and defended against these less-conventional weapons was intriguing, with rather conflicted feeling of these weapons being unsporting, yet generally not having too large a qualm to use the weapons in a pinch. One of the most incredibly weapons seemed to be poisonous honey from bees that fed upon rhododendron flowers, which apparently in decent quantities can lay a person out for days! The book also got into how commanders would try to force opponents into camping in malaria zones, poisoning wells, purposely transmitting diseases, poisoned and toxic projectiles, and incendiary devices. Also, one of my Ohio State professors, Sarah Iles Johnston, was in the bibliography. This book had rather good notes too.

  • Matthew
    2019-05-10 09:56

    I bought this book mostly because I thought it might be passingly interesting to read about warfare in the ancient world. I soon realized that this went beyond just the idea of ancient soldiers besieging their enemies' cities and delved deeper into the culture of the ancient societies, especially elaborating on the mythological and religious ties that several of the topics touched on. I also enjoyed how the author drew parallels between ancient warfare tactics and modern examples, which helped to illustrate the examples she cited from ancient texts. While history books can sometimes drag, Mayor does a good job of keeping the pace going so that one does not need a degree in Classics nor a background in biological or chemical sciences in order to understand what was happening during the ancient battles and sieges. Despite this, sometimes the text repeats itself, almost oblivious to the fact that the same battle/weapon/tactic had been mentioned in the previous chapters. Overall, a very well-researched, enlightening and fun book to read.

  • Annette Nkwocha
    2019-04-22 11:28

    The subject matter is fascinating and there is a lot of great information in it, however it could safely be much shorter than it is. There was a lot of repetition and it was very self-referential. Also that Mayor pronounces certain things as fact when it's really her speculation started to grate on me very early on. Having read (well listened to) her book on the Amazons I knew that this was probably going to happen but it didn't make it any easier to swallow. It's pretty hard because in the case of this book and Amazons one I wanted so hard to believe, the critical thinker in me however just found myself getting annoyed.I think there is just something about Adrienne Mayor's style that doesn't quite sit right with me and the interesting subject matter isn't quite enough to make me overlook that. It often comes across to me as if she's either trying to discourage readers from engaging with her writing critically because she's afraid it won't stand up or she just doesn't trust us enough to get it.

  • Kathy
    2019-04-22 11:27

    So what is your interest? Botany, chemistry, entomology, animal behavior, military strategy, history, current events? Whatever it is, you will probably feel this book was written just for you. It's well written, gives tons of examples poisons used in history and ties it all up neatly with events of the recent past. The author does an excellent job of showing how antiquity and current events are not so far apart.Just an FYI, some stories of poison use are clever and some are tragic. Many stories are not for the squeamish but some answer questions that plaque me daily,,, like how do you get scorpions inside a clay thingamabob so you can throw a scorpion bomb?

  • Lynn Anslow
    2019-05-04 10:49

    This is a fascinating review of the historical uses of biological and chemical warfare. These have not been unique to the modern era.Entertaining to read, it's hard to put down. I found myself returning to certain chapters because they contained such amazing details.The author treats the 12 Labors of Hercules as actual events, as well as the stories of Jason & the Argonauts. She makes the point that, even if they were myth, clearly the concepts that are the theme of the book were well known at the time.

  • Jonathan
    2019-05-02 10:47

    A very interesting book on an extremely overlooked topic of ancient warfare, ancient WMD's, chemical and biological weapons. I appreciated the explanation of the various biblical phenomenons that were attributed to 'spirits' but were actually clever scientific tricks. I also appreciated the author exploring the down hill slide that these things have created and how it effects our modern attitude towards them.

  • •Catherine•
    2019-04-27 12:32

    3.5 stars (I don't know how to make a half star)One of my friends recommended the author to me. As I looked up her books, I was intrigued by a good amount of them but really excited by this book--especially with the hope of learning more about Greek fire. Sadly, by the end of the book, I felt that my excitement was misplaced.If you don't want to read the whole book and are looking for an overview, read the introduction and the afterward. They basically cover what you're looking for. I had a number of issues with this book. The first that arose was the introduction. Reference my comment above. Some people might like a long intro; I do not because I intend to actually read the book.39 pages in length, I got halfway through it and just flipped to the start of chapter 1. Why bother reading the book itself when the author is just going to tell you everything she is going to write about in the introduction? No intro should be almost 40 pages either. The first two chapters were essentially about poisoned arrows. While somewhat interesting, they could have been condensed into one chapter. When you're starting your book title with the words "Greek fire", I think it's safe to assume readers don't want two chapters talking about poisoned arrows. I don't know how much of the general population is picking this up to read for fun so let's also assume her readership for this is mostly historians or people who just really like history. Again, making an assumption here but I think most people know-whether or not you went to school for history-that ancients used poisoned arrows. This brings me back to my earlier point that this could have been one chapter. The chapter on poisoned water was interesting, as was the chapter on plagues. The titles of the chapters seem a bit superfluous to me though, seeing as that the proposed "story" of the chapter plays a very small role. The chapter titles should simply reflect the overall subject of the chapter, not reference a specific story. Also be warned, each chapter is a new topic and there is no flow between chapters. I personally didn't expect there to be, because the book is trying to cover a wide array of topics. I just bring this up because some people don't like that. If you are that someone, know going in that each chapter is essentially it's own essay. In the end, I finally got to the topic that initially drew me to the book: Greek fire. I understand that the recipe for Greek fire has been entirely destroyed, but I was under the impression references to it have not been. With the meticulous attention to detail the author paid to the other topics, I hoped to learn all about Greek fire (I know historians have to work with what they have). My knowledge on the subject is very minimal. I enjoyed what I learned about Greek fire in this book, but it still felt lacking. I wanted more. All in all, the subject of the book was interesting and the author is a good writer. I liked that it was more historically written than science. However, this book just isn't what I was expecting.

  • Tom Menke
    2019-04-28 05:41

    awesome read

  • Yune
    2019-05-19 08:31

    The title snagged me at "scorpion bombs"; the preface to the edition I read (2009) not only provides updates in research but also the reaction to a historical war strategy game:In 2003, the wildly popular, historically accurate new 3D video game "Rome: Total War" was released. The game featured realistic war elephants. Then, in 2004, inspired by my description of the best defense against war elephants in antiquity (Chapter 6), a new zoological weapon was introduced by the game's developers. One reviewer wrote about the exciting demonstration of the new feature on GameSpy.com: "I had waited 12 months for this! I was on the edge of my seat. The elephants came pounding down the hillside toward my legions. 'All right, let's send in the pigs!' the developers hollered. I was sweating with anticipation. At long last! Our superweapon unveiled! 'Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Pigs of War!' I bellowed."But, he continued, "Here's the thing, the thing to remember about a flaming pig. It doesn't go where you tell it to...[the pigs] ran through my lines of troops, causing them to break formation. Men were running around, screaming, catching on fire, and howling with pain. The pigs went everywhere, everywhere except toward the elephants, who continued their charge unfazed, then rammed into our panicked troops like freight trains. How many strategy games offer THAT? I must have this game."I must have this book, I thought.It circles around the notion that biological and chemical warfare are modern additions to our arsenal -- that only only did our ancestors lack the technical means for such, but that they possessed a sense of ethics and honor that wouldn't allow for their utilization. Y'know, noble warriors of yore and all that. Mayor debunks this idea pretty thoroughly, and if you're not overly squeamish, does so in a surprisingly entertaining fashion.The book reaches back all the way into mythology, when Hercules dips his arrows into the Hydra's venom. There's a cheerful amount of legend and culture mixed into the descriptions of actual poisonous plants and animals available in those times and places, and just enough details on effects and symptoms to make one glad not to be an ancient warrior. Other chapters go on to explore instances of poisoning water supplies (not just weaponry), historical understandings of epidemiology (to the point where infectious vectors from animals to corpses were flung over sieged cities' walls), the use of animals beyond the standard equine mounts (see the scorpion bombs of the title), and chemical fires, of course.Mayor also takes some time to point out that ancient attitudes toward these techniques were also mixed -- the Laws of Manu dictated Hindu conduct and forbade the use of toxic weapons, but a contemporaneous strategist's treatise ruthlessly provided recipes for such -- but how defensive uses seemed more justified. I also appreciated her reasoning how some weapons were clearly developed for use against other humans and not for hunting because one generally does not try to spoil the meat. But overall, she seems to just be fascinated by all these uses and their contexts, and she carried me along in her enthusiasm.Another person who read this described it as "a bit lightweight," and I have to agree. In the author's attempts to broaden her range across numerous examples, some of them get short shrift. There are battles that could take up (and have, I'm sure) entire books of their own. I was also distracted by the constant comparisons to contemporary accounts of biological/chemical weapons, which are effective in furthering Mayor's thesis, but dragged my attention away from the historical settings.Recommended if you've an inkling of interest in the topic and you're not already an expert. Surprisingly good-natured in tone, while grounded enough to solidly educate.

  • Ensiform
    2019-05-19 12:30

    Taylor details the use of poisons and other biological agents in the ancient world, covering many eras, tribes and traditions. In addition, Mayor promises to refute the commonly-held belief that the ancients had some sort of code against biological warfare and subterfuge. As to the history, the book is rather heavy on the padding, relying on mythological sources for some stories and rather stretching the definition of "biological agents" to include war elephants and strategic use of terrain such as pushing the enemy toward swamp, or diverting rivers.That's not to say that there isn't fascinating material here; there is. We hear tales of toxic rhododendron honey, poisonous snakes being catapulted onto ships, red-hot iron scraps flung onto armor, the use of burning naphtha, arrows with detachable barbs dipped in poison and feces, and other horrors. I was particularly intrigued by Mayor's well-supported hypothesis that the Hebrews' Ark of the Covenant was actually a plague box, where elders kept infected items to be distributed to enemies. The book is written in large part like a doctoral thesis, with repeated passages meant to support main ideas, which is a bit distracting. What is more disappointing is that Mayor doesn't, in fact, refute anything definitively: the ancient sources she cites are, as is to be expected, ambivalent on the subject of biological warfare, as one might suppose all people are. Some hawks are all for using poison on their enemies, some forward-thinking men hesitate due to moral concern, and of course most end up using whatever is necessary to defend their homes and lives, and "moral standards" go hang.In the end, this is a book full of interesting anecdotes, but without an overarching idea to tie it all together. That's not a deal-breaker even so, except that Mayor tries too hard, with myth and other less than solid examples, to present the historical material as if there were an overarching theme. There isn't: The ancients used a lot of biological weapons. Some hated the idea and some didn't, but it happened anyway. Mayor gains a good chunk of validation by bringing us to the present at the end, when she compares our modern attempts at disposing of chemical weapons to the ancient Greeks' "many-headed hydra." We can bury it under a boulder like the hydra's immortal head, but it's still festering there, poisoning the earth.

  • Caroline
    2019-04-30 05:40

    We tend to think of biochemical warfare as a fairly recent development, perhaps beginning with the use of poison gas on the WW1 battlefields. These days it is probably a bigger fear than traditional weapons - germ warfare, weaponised pathogens, chemical weapons, nerve gases... But as Adrienne Minor shows in this fascinating and unorthodox exploration of military history, its roots arguably go back much much further, as far back as mythic history. Drawing on sources from Greek and Roman myth, ranging from the Trojan War to the Christian biblical accounts, she demonstrates how man has been drawing on the natural world for weapons for a very long time.This book is full of accounts of poison arrows, toxic honey, poisoned wells, naptha and Greek Fire, booby-trapped containers rigged with plague, grenades filled with live hornets and scorpions, catapults of snakes, the list goes on. Truly, the inventiveness of man knows no bounds. If there was a way to use it to hurt, wound, maim or kill, someone somewhere has probably already tried it, and quite possibly a very long time ago too. The flaming pigs to combat war-elephants was a real eye-opener for me!That said, this book does stretch the term biochemical warfare to its broadest definition. Few of the examples here would really fit with our modern definition of the term - as in something deliberately, artificially and chemically weaponised. The early use of naphtha and Greek Fire would count - I'm not sure filling clay jars with scorpions and hurling them at one's enemies does. Or, for that matter, dipping arrow-tips in snake venom or spiking wine. 'Unconventional' weapons might be a better term.But for all that, it's a good book, by turns entertaining and sobering, and it has some interesting things to say about the moral viewpoint of artificial weaponry and how it has always been seen as an underhanded and cowardly method of waging warfare, a viewpoint that continues today. And the unintended consequences of unleashing nature's deadly secrets is also something that we today are just as affected by as man many thousands of years ago.

  • Natalie
    2019-05-11 11:56

    This is a fascinating and very readable compendium of the use of poison, animal allies and incendiary devices in the ancient world. I found some of Adrienne Mayor's insights into the psychology of ancient warfare very interesting. For example, the Greeks and Romans tended to look down on the use of poison in battle and attribute it to 'barbarian' tribes, yet some of their greatest cultural heroes such as Hercules and Odysseus used these devices in myth. She explores the idea that people had the intention to use biological warfare long before they had the means: hence all the prayers asking the gods to bring down plagues on their enemies.However, the author tends to place too much faith in the ancient sources and does not provide as much critical analysis as I would have liked. This would have worked well as a book on 'the stories ancient people told about biological and chemical warfare', but Mayor treats the sources as if they are giving absolutely factual accounts, even where they verge on the fantastical. For instance, she treats the Old Testament as a historical account, rather than a mythic narrative (albeit one with grains of truth). She also builds an unlikely theory around stories in which plague afflicts armies who have violated shrines of the gods, suggesting that priests may have stored pestilence-ridden textiles in their temples. Far more likely that these stories simply arise from myths about the gods punishing the enemies of their worshippers, and the common incidence of disease in invading armies.I would recommend this as a sourcebook on ancient accounts of unconventional warfare, and as a starting point for further research. It certainly piqued my interest in the topic.

  • Pete Lalayanis
    2019-04-28 12:31

    A lot recipes for bio/chemical weapons that include snake venom, insects, blood, and other nasty ingredients. Although we wouldn't use these specific concoctions, the same principals apply in the construction of bio/chem weapons, and why they're effective against your enemies. A great source for citing the earliest uses of bio/chemical warfare. Interestingly enough, ancient greek myths included the use of specific biological and chemical warfare, before it was ever employed in battle. The most interesting chapter was the final one - "Infernal Fire." A lot of dark fire weapons were made in the ancient world (ie: flaming mud that sticks to your armor/skin that can't be put out by water). If we need VO's about the use of fire in a battle, this is a great starting point for citing early history. If we do an episode with a bio/chemical weapon again, information form this book could come in handy. The book cites the use of the "scorched earth policy" a couple times and got me thinking that a great ratfuck would be getting the bad guys to destroy their own danger weapons. We could also have to destroy something valuable to our client so it doesn't fall into the bad guys hands as an act turn.

  • Shuffy2
    2019-05-02 05:48

    Biological and Chemical Warfare a thing of the past- actually yes! The idea that biological and chemical weapons are a modern invention is naive, it is merely how you view and/or define the terms.Poisoned arrows, tampering with water supplies, deadly scorpions used inside bombs and spreading disease as a weapon are ancient tactics used in the ancient world. Adrienne Mayor sheds light onto the use of "weapons of mass destruction" thousands of years before one would associate the term to warfare. Using first sources she points out various civilizations that employed 'dishonorable' acts in early battles.The book while informative was at times very repetitive, it could have been just as thorough in a shorter amount of pages. I would still recommend the book to anyone interested in ancient warfare.