"Any fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it."
Oscar Wilde

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Elephants, Pigs and Bugs, Oh My!

Aristotle never handled a computer, and Plato never touched a microchip, but the learned Greeks still managed to use biological warfare. In the ancient world, bilological warfare began with the creative use of a wide array of animals, especially elephants, pigs and bugs.

Elephants were a huge part of biological warfare in ancient times. In fact, war elephants are known to have been used in India as early as 1100 B.C. However, they were not used in Europe until Alexander the Great stumbled across them while casually invading India. Despite some ethical problems, Alex was a great general, and he immediately incorporated these behemoths into his army. Ever since, the Greeks all demanded at least a few elephant soldiers to join their army, or else they would end up seriously disadvantaged. Frankly, the elephant was a terrifying, grey tank that destroyed everything in its path. Elephants crippled cavalry because most horses, (unless brought up about elephants), cannot stand the scent of them, and flee from the giants as quickly as possible. The Greeks became familiar with elephants long before their Roman neighbors.

When Greek General Pyrrhus invaded Italy during the aptly named Pyrrhic Wars, he brought with him several war elephants. The Romans quickly learned that they needed to come up with a solution to fight these horrid beasts, and this led to the creation the oiled pig... and perhaps, bacon! Herds of pigs would be drenched in oil, set on fire, and driven toward the elephants, causing the giants to run away in great fear. The feelings of the poor piggies may harm sensitive readers so I won't mention them here!  The burning pigs gave the Romans a surefire way to drive away the massive elephants, and eventually, Pyrrhus left, having lost too many men. As you can imagine panicking elephants fleeing don't mind trampling anyone in their path and Pyrrhus could not afford to keep losing his soldiers.

Although elephants may be a powerful and destructive war machine, and pigs may be delicious and horrifying foes, there was one animal that could top them all. This animal pulled off an amazing accomplishment; it drove invading Roman forces away from the walled city of Hatra in only twenty days. Now, at the time of this seige, Romans were argueably the best fighters in the world, and they were extremely skilled in seige warfare. If they couldn't storm a city, they would starve the defenders out, sometimes taking years to do so. Yet, one amazing, tiny, creature drove them away from Hatra in a mere twenty days. What was this fierce critter? The little-known assassin bug. Whenever the Romans would advance, the defenders of Hatra would dump jars of assassin bugs on their heads. If the Romans waited in camp, defenders would sneak into the camp and throw jars of assassin bugs onto them. These mini attackers would sting or bite the Romans, causing an extremely painful bite. These bugs also inject a venom which can cause deadly allergic reactions. As a result, the Romans fled from the town of Hatra, with little assassin bugs clinging to their armor and clothes. The Emperor Trajan himself was wounded by an assassin bug in this seige. So, if you find yourself needing to protect a walled city beseiged by Romans, look under some rocks and make friends with a few thousand assassin bugs; they'll rid you of your enemy in no time.

These three animals are just a few of the many examples of biological warfare in the ancient world. Snakes, scorpions and even oxen were used to maim, kill, or defeat enemies. If you ever need to make horses panic, grab some elephants, if you are on the other end of that attack, you can always set some pigs on fire, and if you need to lift a seige in twenty days, call up the assassin bugs, and you'll have no problems except a mighty case of animal cruelty!

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