A brief history of chemical warfare

It at all started around 600 B.C.

American soldiers, 1918
(Image credit: Bettmann/CORBIS)

How long have poisonous weapons been used?

For more than 2,000 years. As early as 600 B.C., the Athenians poisoned the wells of the Spartans, who later tried lobbing burning sulfur pitch over the walls of Athens, hoping to fill the city with toxic smoke. Genghis Khan used that same trick, catapulting burning sulfur pitch during his siege of fortified cities around A.D. 1200. Over the centuries, various armies put poisons on arrows and in bullets to make them more lethal. But it wasn't until the 19th and 20th centuries that mankind began developing toxins and poison gases of devastating lethality, including mustard gas, chlorine, and the nerve gas sarin. Even before these gases were used in war, they created a special kind of fear and moral revulsion.

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