Animals are everywhere. From dogs to cats and rats to snakes every country has them. The ancient world had many uses for animals the oxen and horses provided means of transportation and proved helpful in wars such as cavalries or elephants used in Hannibal’s invasion of Italy. The animals also provided food and clothing for the people of the ancient days. But animals also have sinister uses. In the bible we read much of plagues and pestilences where god sends an “angel” to help the people of Jerusalem. According the second Book of Kings around 700 BCE a large army of Assyrians under the rule Sennacherib began attacking Jerusalem. Isaiah urges King Hezekiah to keep defending the city and tells him that God will protect the city. God sends an “angel” and smites the 185,000 soldiers camping outside of Jerusalem. The angel of god is a plague carried by rats that swept through the already unsanitary camp of the Assyrians (2 Kings: 19).
A similar story is reported by Herodotus where the pharaoh of Egypt is also under attack by Sennacherib. The Pharaoh was told by the god Ptah in a dream to face the Assyrians for he would send help to the Egyptians. The Pharaoh thought the god meant an Army but instead the god Ptah sent thousands of rats and mice to chew the weapons of the Assyrians and bring (Mayor). According to the book of Samuel, rats and mice were already known to be bringers of plague and death (1 Samuel: 5).
Rats have not been the only deadly animals used in ancient warfare. Snakes, scorpions and smaller insects have also been widely used to attack the enemy. In the ten biblical plagues, lice was the third. Bees have also been used against the enemies. Mayor states that the poisonous hornet’s nest was hurled at the enemy to confuse and to kill the enemies. The swarm of angry hornets would buzz around the unsuspecting enemy and sting them until they either died or found some sort of shelter and even then most soldiers would be badly injured.
The same would be done with other insects and reptiles. In the ancient Mesopotamian city of Hatra, scorpions would be put into clay pots and sealed, then hurled at the enemy where the irritated scorpions were ready to attack the first aggressor that they saw (Herodian). Mayor believes that the clay bombs were not filled only with scorpions but with a “potpourri of scorpions, assassin bugs, wasps, pederin beetles and other venomous insects from the desert around Hatra (Mayor).” Who would have thought that such small animals could do so much damage to strong, brave men?
Herodian. History of the Empire. Trans. C.R. Whittaker. Loeb Classical Library; Harvard University Press, 12 April 2012.
Herodotus. The Histories . Ed. A.D. Godley. n.d. 12 April 2012. <www.perseus.tufts.edu>.
Mayor, Adrienne. Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World. New York: The Overlook Press, 2003.
Samuel. “1st Book of Samuel.” Various. The Holy Bible. King James Version. n.d. 12 April 2012.
The Holy Bible. The Old Testament. Ed. King James Version. n.d.
Various. “2nd Book of Kings.” Various. The Holy Bibile. King James Version. n.d. 12 April 2012.