In 198 AD, Emperor Septimius Severus sent a Roman legion to march to the city of Hatra, Iraq (modern-day Mosul) to demand that it submit to the might of the Roman Empire. Faced with a predictably defiant response, the Roman soldiers decided to take the city by force, and massed for an attack. Which turned out to be a bad idea. A very bad idea.
Y’see, the Hatrans had experience in dealing with these guys: they had repelled another Roman attack 82 years before. The residents apparently didn’t have a lot of weapons, but they made up for it in ingenuity. Because Hatra was a major trade city, there were a lot of clay pots. And the settlement was surrounded by desert, so there were lots of scorpions lying around.
When the pots broke open upon landing, the Roman soldiers found themselves engulfed in a giant, angry swarm of poisonous deathstalker scorpions (Leiurus quinquestriatus). Chaos, hilarity, and mass stingings ensued. The legionnaires scrambled over each other to escape, and the air was filled with the worst Latin profanities the soldiers could think of.
The entire army was routed. The Romans never bothered to invade Hatra again. The city didn’t stand for very long after this invasion, however; it was destroyed by the Persians in 241 AD.
- The Smithosonian Institution’s directions on how to make a scorpion bomb (Hint: you have to gather the scorpions first)
- Adrienne Mayor’s Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World