January 20, 2009

Persians may have gassed ancient Romans

A British archaeologist says soldiers in the Persian Empire may have used poisonous gases on the ancient Roman city of Dura in eastern Syria.

Simon James of the University of Leicester said he has found evidence Persian soldiers in the 3rd century dug a mine beneath the city wall and ignited bitumen and sulfur crystals while mounting an assault on the Roman city .

James said the theory, presented at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, is based on the discovery of the remains of 20 Roman soldiers near the base of the city wall.

For the Persians to kill 20 men in a space less than 2 meters high or wide, and about 11 meters long, required superhuman combat powers -- or something more insidious, James said.