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Video: chemical warfare in ancient Syria

April  03, 2014

Professor Simon James of the University of Leicester presented "Blood in the Dust, Death in the Dark: Combat and Chemical Warfare at Roman Dura-Europos, Syria" April 1.

The lecture was sponsored by the The Archaeological Institute of America, Western Illinois Society.

Alternatively titled "Cold-Case CSI: Roman Syria AD256," the lecture uncovered forgotten secrets of a ferocious battle between the Romans and Sasanians. It is a tale told entirely through archaeology, for the siege in which perished the city of Dura-Europos, "Pompeii of the East," is unknown to history.

Franco-American excavations of the 1920s-30s, and new work between 1986-2011, has revealed the course of the Sasanian attacks and the efforts of the Roman defenders. Siege ramps and mines are still there to be seen, along with weaponry and the bones of the slain, including dramatic traces of the defenders’ last stand.

Dura-Europos, Syri

Temple of Bel at Dura-Europos

Careful reappraisal of evidence preserved in the old excavation archives suggests that an early form of chemical warfare was among the horrors unleashed at Dura, the earliest archaeological record of it.

Dr. James teaches in the School of Archaeology & Ancient History. He earned his Ph.D. fron the University of London in 1991.

He specializes in ancient identity, ethnicity, and conflict; the archaeology of violence; Roman, Iron Age European and Partho-Sasanian martial culture; modern conceptions, representations and appropriations of the human past; and archaeological visualization and illustration.