Washington, January 12 (ANI): A research at the University of Leicester in England has found out evidence on chemical warfare in ancient times.
Simon James has revealed that Roman soldiers defending a Middle Eastern garrison from attack nearly 2,000 years ago met the horrors of war inside a cramped tunnel beneath the site's massive front wall.
He says that 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.
According to him, the attackers were 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.
Making a presentation at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America on Saturday, he said that the enemy soldiers adopted a brutally ingenious method for penetrating the garrison wall.
"In my view, this is the earliest archaeological evidence for the use of chemical warfare, which was later used by the ancient Greeks," Science Daily quoted him as saying.
The Roman garrison at Dura, presently known as Dura-Europos, was located in what is currently 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. There is not much of information available about the battle.
Even though archaeological work conducted since 1920 at the ancient garrison has provided glimpses of the fierce conflict, much remains unknown about precisely what happened.
Melissa Connor, of Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, says that James' new findings vividly illustrate that "you can create a real story out of battlefield patterns that archaeologists find."
During his 30 years of fieldwork at Dura-Europos, James 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.
Studies conducted at the site by French researchers have shown that when the Romans reached the subterranean Sasanians, the mouth of the Roman tunnel collapsed, and trapped Romans were then killed and fell on top of one another.
While debris indeed blocked the entrance to the Roman tunnel, James doubted that explanation.
Analysing the positions of Roman soldiers' bodies in the tunnel, he determined that they had been deliberately stacked into a pile, either when they were mortally wounded or after they had died.
He said that the Sasanians apparently wanted to create a human wall between themselves and approaching Romans.
With a view to obstructing Roman soldiers, according to him, the Sasanians blocked the tunnel entrance with stones before stacking up the Roman victims, threw a cloak and some straw on them, and set them on fire using a mix of pitch and sulfur.
The researcher said that signs of severe burning appeared on the pile of skeletons and military equipment, and that remains of pitch and sulfur crystals were found near the bodies, something that had not been observed in earlier research.
He surmises that toxic fumes from the fire might have driven off any further Roman soldiers hoping to enter the tunnel.
James revealed that there was one skeleton lying by itself on the Sasanian side of the pile of bodies in the tunnel, which is that of a helmeted Sasanian soldier carrying a sword.
He suggested that the soldier might have set the fire, and failed to flee before succumbing to the fumes. (ANI)