In This Review
Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Unconventional Warfare in the Ancient World

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Unconventional Warfare in the Ancient World

By Adrienne Mayor

Princeton University Press, 2022, 432 pp.

In this revised and updated edition of a book first published nearly two decades ago, Mayor explores how the ancients used irregular methods to kill their foes. She explains in this fascinating account how ancient warriors siphoned venoms from snakes and insects, poisoned food and water supplies, introduced plagues to opposing armies and populations, and conducted experiments in toxicology. In AD 198, the defenders of the city of Hatra in modern-day Iraq used “scorpion bombs” (terra cotta jars stuffed with deadly scorpions) to repel a Roman attack. Sometimes, understandings of animal biology led to clever stratagems. At the Battle of Thymbra, in 547 BC, a Persian army was about to be overwhelmed by the Lydian cavalry. But Persian leaders rescued the situation when they recalled that horses cannot abide the smell of camels. They shielded their regular cavalry and infantry with camels from their baggage train. The enemy cavalry recoiled at the odor of the camels, disrupting its advance, and the Persians won the day.