A British researcher found evidence that the army of the Sassanid Persian Empire first used poisonous gases during the siege of the city of Dura Europos in eastern Syria. In 256 A. D. e. 20 Roman legionnaires fell victim to the first gas attack in human history.
The ancient city on the Euphrates Dura-Europos (Dura-Europos - "dura" in Aramaic means a fortress) in Roman times was a large trade center. In 256 it was captured by the Sassanid troops. The Sassanids themselves called their state Eranshahr - "the State of the Iranians (Aryans)". The Persian Sassanids penetrated into Syria and Mesopotamia under King Shapur I. In 260, near Edessa, his army captured the Roman emperor Valerian and most of his army.
British archaeologist Simon James reconstructed the events that took place under the walls of the Syrian fortress of Dura Europos in the third century AD. The Persians erected a large earthen embankment, while digging an underground passage under the walls.
The Romans, in turn, dug a counter-trench, but barely 20 legionnaires reached the tunnel under the walls of Dura Europos when they fell victim to a chemical attack. At least one of the Persians attacking the Roman garrison was also killed by poisonous gases. After the city fell, it was abandoned for a long time.
Perhaps the Persians heard how the Romans were digging and had time to prepare for battle. As the legionnaires entered the tunnel, clouds of poisonous gas enveloped them. The Aryans threw burning tar, bitumen and crystals of sulfur into the coal basin and began to fan it with forge bellows, so that thick smoke went into the Roman tunnel, from which the enemy soldiers were suffocating.
The corpses of the Roman legionnaires were piled up against the wall, and their shields were hung on the wall. One of the Aryans rushed into the tunnel dug by the enemies to light it, but suffocated in the poisonous fumes. His skeleton was also found. The Roman tunnel collapsed - and the Persians were able to calmly finish their underground work. The attackers most likely wanted to destroy the fortress wall and the main tower.
While there is plenty of evidence for such a theory, Simon James recently revealed at a meeting in Philadelphia, he is not entirely sure that this is exactly what happened. “To kill 20 soldiers in a room less than 2 meters high and 11 meters long, the Persians had to be superhuman - or invent something insidious,” James is sure. But the last version is supported by the remains of resin and sulfur, discovered by an archaeologist at the Roman tunnel.
James's version is quite realistic, if only because chemical weapons have already been repeatedly used in ancient history. The most famous use of a chemical warfare agent is Greek fire: a mixture of oil, asphalt, sulfur and other combustible materials. In the classical texts of antiquity, there are also, according to the archaeologist, references to the use of flammable substances in tunnels during a siege.
For the Romans, a chemical attack under the walls of Dura Europos could not have come as a complete surprise either. Legionnaires have already encountered the use of poisonous gases. In 190 BC. Roman legions laid siege to the heavily fortified city of Ambrakia (today Arta) in western Greece.
After their attempts to breach the wall failed, they dug an underground tunnel. And then the defenders of the fortress drove the Romans away from the burned feathers with smoke, fanning the suffocating fumes with the help of furs. The legionnaires had to retreat.