Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor

It never ceases to amaze me just how creative the human race can be when it comes to killing ourselves. A book like this expands on any level of historical understanding of the ancient world, and as a well-written history book should do, it opens our eyes to those terrors of the past that we should not (but invariably do) repeat.

I think we’ve all heard of Greek fire and poison arrows. This book goes into great detail as to the effects of these things. But there are other weapons that I could not have expected. For example, one of many, how do you defeat war elephants? Apparently the answer is battlefield bacon: you light pigs on fire and let them loose in the hopes they actually run in the general direction of the elephants instead of into your own soldiers. This book outlines everything from how these varying arsenals worked to the dangers of self-inflicted blowback and beyond.

Anyone who loves history needs the experience of this book, as it will completely change the way you see ancient warfare. For anyone who enjoys historical fiction or fantasy, this book will probably add a particular edge to those tales as well. It’s a grisly topic, fascinating from a scholarly perspective.

4 stars

Greek Fire book