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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jul, 2022 1:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ryan S. wrote:
Jean, I see that you are making subtle ad hominem arguments and that it is really difficult to have a good faith conversation with you. Especially, because you make more of an effort to prove people wrong than to understand their points. You construct strawmen from exaggerating points that people make and get all excited about it, and then claim other people have strong feelings...


Ryan, we are talking past each other a little bit here. I don't understand why you are pressing on certain issues that I believe have been very clearly covered already in the thread. Maybe you missed those posts I don't know. It's easy to get frustrated when you feel like someone is misrepresenting one thing and ignoring another, but often it isn't really intentional. I'm assuming that you are just making some honest mistakes here. I suspect maybe there is a language issue?

For the record, I personally don't have strong feelings about any of this - I was pointing out that you are making categorical statements about things for which there is no definitive data, for example when you insist over and over that Pliny doesn't include Greeks when he says "we" dip our arrows in poison.

Quote:

You suggest that it is absurd to think that Europeans couldn't import Chinese cobra venom because they imported spices and other dry goods.


Let me stop you right there. I've already pointed out, (though I don't mean to be rude but it should be painfully obvious already), that the Greeks and Romans certainly did not need to import cobra venom from China. Not only did they trade with Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East where cobras and all kinds of other venomous snakes are present, but they actually occupied these areas.

I'll provide a couple of visual reminders here to make the point clearer:


Hellenistic polities, 281 BC


Roman Empire during the reign of Trajan

Geographic range of Egyptian Cobra



Notice these maps overlap.


So they did not need to import cobras from China, they were right where their armies were already.

They traded much more than just 'dry goods' on the Silk Road, I provided an example of the wide variety of merchandise according to late medieval Italian merchants, upthread so I'm not going to repeat that here again. I will remind you however that Silk Road trade included several poisonous plants (used as drugs and medicines) and certain toxic metals, such as orpiment and realgar, used as pigments and medicines in Europe, and as poison, both of which contain arsenic. Just to mention two examples among many.

So my point re: the Silk Road, is that the sheer quantity and variety of merchandise shipped down the the trade routes from China, India and Persia, certainly by the 13th or 14th Century, make it seem vanishingly unlikely that anything they needed that China (or India or Persia, or various Islands in the Pacific which were the source of many of the spices) had, they could and would get it.

Cobra venom, or that of at least 24 other noxious snakes, they can obviously get from sources much closer and import by ship or boat.

So your argument struck me as missing something, if in fact it is I who am missing something here, please explain it. It wouldn't be the first time I made a mistake.

Quote:

Your argument against the existence of weak bows in the past is that the Parthians and the Huns beat the Romans. Although, there is no law that one needs strong bows to beat Romans, or claiming that they used poison.


Ok you seem to be making some strange assumptions here. I'll try to unpack this.

1) I pointed out that I am familiar with the details of several battles in which large numbers of heavily armored Roman Legionnaires were killed and injured by bows used by the Parthians and Huns, among others. I know that these arrows were piercing Roman shields and in some cases, armor. This to me yes does imply that the bows were not weak. In some cases the enemy archers were out-ranging the Roman archers or their other missile weapons, which triggered the Romans to develop better and longer ranged missile capacities. If we need to turn this discussion into a debate of the nature of Classical Warfare I guess we could, but I don't really have time to wade into that here and now.

2) I never claimed, nor would I ever, "against the existence of weak bows". That would be absurd. I have a weak bow on my wall I can see from here.

3) What I did say is that the notion that "only people with weak bows used poison" is ridiculous, considering the wide range of people who clearly did use arrow poisons, and the fact that many of these people were known for using powerful bows. Like the Parthians, and Scythians, among others.

Apparently, I'm learning that the Mongols also used poisoned arrows. They were not known for weak bows either.

Quote:

You are also extremely dismissive of any economic consideration, as well as technical and logistical problems that must exist.


Yes, I admit this. Because:

1) I am very familiar with the volume of trade and the wealth of the polities in the areas under question.

2) I have some idea of the wide range of chemicals produced both in Antiquity and during the medieval period. Acids, drugs, tinctures, dyes, alkalis, pyrotechnics etc.

3) I have some ideas of the complexities of dealing with certain chemicals like Greek Fire and early gunpowder weapons in the field, and I know how they managed it.

4) And finally, I know that in the Classical World, and in the Renaissance, poisons were used routinely for murder, as well as being used in smaller doses for medicines and drugs, to poison pests like mice or rats, and so on.

Quote:

You have a very low standard of what counts as a military effective poison, and at the same time do not consider any trade-offs that might be involved.


I don't know where you get the idea of a low standard for an effective poison, but I'm taking the toxicologists word on how much Rhododendron, Cobra Venom, or Hellebore it takes to kill someone. I do not dismiss tradeoffs, but I know many weapon systems had them. Marching out to Parthia or sailing across the English channel in an open boat powered by sails and oars is very hazardous. And yet we know they did it.

Quote:
As far as snakes, the existence of a species or number of species in Europe doesn't mean that the Europeans had them always at hand. If they got the snakes from the wild, they would have to go out looking for them, and snakes aren't easy to find. The same goes with plants.


And yet, we know for a fact that they certainly did harvest plants, and snakes as well.

Quote:
As far as common sense, common sense is what tells me that burying a dead snake in a pile of dung, isn't going to preserve its venom. Maybe it does, but that would be counterintuitive.


Ok, well once again it seems to me that you are missing the point. Which I'll try to spell out:

1) We don't know that this is how the Scythians actually made arrow poison. That was only one description of the method, not by a Scythian, but by a Greek.
2) There were almost undoubtedly many methods. In fact several other methods have been described by various sources around the world.
3) Even if we assume this was the main method, we don't necessarily know the details of how or why it might or might not work. To me that is too speculative to hinge any argument from. However, since you seem very fixated on this point, here is a description I found which proposes how and why it may have worked:

PLEASE NOTE however, before reading this, I don't think it's necessary to assume that this was the only, or even the main method of producing arrow poison with snake venom in Central Asia. To the contrary.

"The most blood-curdling ingredient of the dreaded scythicon was viper venom. Scythian territory is home to several poisonous snake species: the steppe viper, Vipera ursinii renardi; the Caucasus viper, Vipera kasnakovi; the European adder, Vipera berus; and the long-nosed or sand viper,Vipera ammodytes transcaucasiana. Simply dipping an arrow in one of these venoms would create a death-dealing projectile, since even dried snake venom retains its neurotoxic effect for a long time (herpetologists working with snake skeletons have suffered envenomation by accidentally puncturing themselves with the fangs of dried-out snake skulls). But the Scythians went much further in manufacturing their war arrows.

The complex recipe for scythicon can be reconstructed from statements attributed to Aristotle; from fragments of a lost work by the natural philosopher Theophrastus (fourth century BC); and from the formula given by Aelian. Since psychological terror is a chief aspect of bio-war, the method for brewing the poison and its nauseating ingredients were probably gleefully recounted by the Scythian archers serving with the Athenian army in the fifth century BC.

First, the Scythians killed poisonous vipers just after they had given birth, perhaps because the snakes were sluggish then and easily caught. (Most vipers, also called adders, give birth to live young.) Then, the bodies were set aside to decompose. The next step required very specialized knowledge, and because shamans were important figures in Scythian culture and the keepers of arcane knowledge, they probably oversaw the complicated preparation of the poison, which required several ingredients. One was taken from humans. “The Scythians,” Aelian wrote, “even mix serum from the human body with the poison that they smear upon their arrows.” According to Aristotle and Aelian, the Scythians knew a means of “agitating” the blood to separate the plasma, the “watery secretion that somehow floats on the surface of the blood.” Theophrastus is cited as the source for this remarkable forerunner of modern blood-plasma separating technology, but unfortunately the full description of the technique is lost.13

The human blood serum was then mixed with animal dung in leather bags and buried in the ground until the mixture putrefied. Dung or human feces itself would be a simple but very effective biotoxin for poisoning weapons, and even without an understanding of modern germ theories, experience would have taught the dangers of dung-contaminated wounds. As the historian Plutarch remarked in the first century BC, “creeping things and vermin spring out of the corruption and rottenness of excrement.” Excrement is loaded with bacteria that can cause morbid infections. The “pungee sticks” deployed by the Vietcong against U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War are a modern example of the use of feces on sharp weapons intended to inflict deep, septic wounds.

In the third step, the Scythians mixed the dung and serum with the venom and matter from the decomposed vipers. The stench must have been powerful. A comment by Strabo, who was a native of the Black Sea region, confirms this. The Soanes, a Scythian tribe of the Caucasus Mountains near the Black Sea, “used remarkable poisons for the points of their missiles,” he wrote. “Even people who are not wounded by the poison projectiles suffer from their terrible odor.” The reek of poisoned arrows may have been an intentional feature, an ancient version of modern “stench weapons” designed by military chemists to be “psychologically toxic” to victims.

Scythian arrow poison was obviously not intended for hunting animals. The laborious process of contaminating putrid venomous snakes with blood and feces created a bacteriological weapon clearly meant only for human enemies, since no one would eat game tainted by such toxins. As Renate Rolle, an expert on the ancient Scythians, has stated, the result was “a pernicious poison” calculated to cause agonizing death or long-term damage, since “even slight wounds were likely to prove fatal.”

Likely indeed: putrefied human blood and animal feces contain bacteria that cause tetanus and gangrene, while the rotting vipers would contribute further bacterial contaminants to wreak havoc in a puncture wound. Rolle consulted Steffen Berg, a forensic physician, who theorized that the poison delivered by a Scythian arrow would probably take effect within an hour. As the victim’s blood cells disintegrated, shock would ensue. Even if the victim survived shock, gangrene would set in after a day or two. The gangrene would bring severe suppuration and black oozing of the wound, just as described in the ancient myths of envenomed wounds on the battlefield at Troy. A few days later, a tetanus infection would probably be fatal. Even if a victim miraculously survived all these onslaughts, he would be incapacitated for the rest of his life, like Philoctetes and Telephus in the Greek myths, by an ever-festering wound.14

And as if the horrific effects of the poison were not enough, archaeological evidence reveals that Scythian arrowsmiths added yet another feature to their airborne weapons: hooks or barbs. Deploring the odious Scythian missiles for their “promise of a double death,” the Roman poet Ovid described how victims were “pitifully shot down by hooked arrows” with “poisonous juices clinging to the flying metal.” Poison arrows with ingeniously designed breakaway barbs had decimated a Roman army facing mounted archers in Armenia in 68 BC, according to the historian Dio Cassius.

“In order to render the wound even nastier and the removal of the arrow more difficult,” writes Rolle, thorns were affixed to the arrowheads, and others were barbed or hinged. Even a superficially lodged barbed arrow would be extremely tricky and painful to pull out. Projectiles “fitted with hooks and soaked in poison were particularly feared,” notes Rolle. Such weapons modified to inflict more injury and pain than conventional arms aroused moral disapproval among Greeks and Romans, who conveniently ignored their own legacy of biological weapons. Interestingly, the ancient criticism of weapons specifically designed to intensify suffering foreshadows modern war protocols that prohibit projectiles that cause “superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.”15"



Quote:

It is man that dips his weapons in poison as contrasted with animals. He is talking about species, not people groups.


1) What makes you so sure you know the mind of Pliny when he wrote that? It seems that one would need a time machine to make such an assumption and it is unwise to pretend to be certain when you definitely are not.

2) What part of any of that excludes the Greeks? If he meant "mankind other than us", wouldn't he have said so?

3) This isn't the only place where he acknowledges "we" and "us" with arrow poisons.

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jul, 2022 1:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Iagoba Ferreira wrote:
Arrived a bit late to this very interesting thread.

At least for hunting, Spanish texts explain Heleborus Niger, Aconitus or Luparia (Those are the same! You didn't hear Snape? Wink ) but those were probably used too by Muslim Spanish during the Rebellion of the Alpujarras (1568–1571):
https://books.google.es/books?id=acHQ23o-IpkC&printsec=frontcover&hl=es&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=aconito&f=false


And in some late medieval regional nobility fights (Bienandanzas e fortunas, by Lope García de Salazar -not Slytherin!-), poisoned crossbow bolts were sometimes allegedly used. Sadly, most times are vague, just saying "yerbas" (herbs).


Welcome to the thread Iagoba, thanks so much for posting, this is extremely interesting.

I assumed that if the Moors were using such weapons, the Latin armies would as well in short order. This was the case with firearms for example.

So it seems to further confirm that poisoned weapons were indeed used in the late medieval period, just as they were in Antiquity. And in fact, the same poisons.

I also just found this excerpt in a book... seems like Hellebore was popular:



 Attachment: 111.08 KB
Poison_book_English.jpg


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Iagoba Ferreira





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PostPosted: Sat 30 Jul, 2022 12:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes, the same recipe is in Spanish hunting books of the Renaissance. I had studied them for the crossbow stuff, getting right all the bolt types and differences. They state that crossbows are better because you make no bang and you can poison the bolts so an injured prey won't escape or run very far.

Note that those poisons need to be relatively fast to make the injured animal escape harder, and also cooking must neutralize them, both issues not exactly as important when shooting people with poisons!
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Ryan S.




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Aug, 2022 5:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:


The name luparia / wolf's bane sounds like aconite was used to poison wolves. I would love to learn more about how (spikes in a pit? poisoned bait? smeared on arrowheads and spearheads?)


I have read that it was put in meat, which seems like the simplest and most effective way to use it. It is very poisonous. Apparently, Castle Alnwick Gardens has to have a licence to cultivate it. The whole plant is poisonous and one has to wear gloves when handling it. It shouldn't be planted near vegetables or where children or animals are. That could explain why the people would not be eager to have it around. Different types of Anconite plants are used as medicine, but they have to be processed to make them less poisonous.
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Ryan S.




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Aug, 2022 6:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:


Ok, well once again it seems to me that you are missing the point. Which I'll try to spell out:

1) We don't know that this is how the Scythians actually made arrow poison. That was only one description of the method, not by a Scythian, but by a Greek.
2) There were almost undoubtedly many methods. In fact several other methods have been described by various sources around the world.
3) Even if we assume this was the main method, we don't necessarily know the details of how or why it might or might not work. To me that is too speculative to hinge any argument from. However, since you seem very fixated on this point, here is a description I found which proposes how and why it may have worked:

PLEASE NOTE however, before reading this, I don't think it's necessary to assume that this was the only, or even the main method of producing arrow poison with snake venom in Central Asia. To the contrary.

"The most blood-curdling ingredient of the dreaded scythicon was viper venom. Scythian territory is home to several poisonous snake species:..


This quote is from Mayor´s book who seems to be responsible for most of the information out there about poison arrows in Ancient Greece. Her source for this, is [i]On Marvellous Things Heard
by Pseudo Aristotle and example of Paradoxgraphy, that is something like Ripley´s believe it or not. The Sections even start out saying, "They Say..." That is also, at least one source for the statement about Gauls using arrow poisons.

For the sake of clarity, my point is that both Mayor and You trust the sources too much. This is really no iron clad proof that the Gauls and Scythians used poisons. Mayor goes even farther than you, relying on Myths to make very confident statements without declaring the possible weakness in her sources. She mentions Herodotus, and claims he didn't understand things and omitted things, but how can she know what he omitted? She also gives the impression that Herodotus mentions poison arrows. He didn´t. She writes in a way that is more entertaining that academic: "the Scythians were truly the “sons of Hercules."" etc.

Also in the article on Snake venom she describes the Sycthians as mixing "venom with bacteriological pathogens" as if they knew what bacteria was. This is, very misleading. Also, with the cup shaped belt buckle, none has yet been found, so we don´t really know if it is ideal for sticking arrowheads into.

The idea of a never healing wound is more of a literary trope, than a medical condition. I think it very plausible that an arrow dipped in faecal matter and rotting flesh might have more chance of causing gangrene or tetanus. However, if a never healing would is just a wound that gives you a fatal infection, then that is really not the stuff of mythology.

So, although you criticize my confidence and accuse me of making assumptions, my main point is that you should be less confident.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Aug, 2022 7:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Iagoba Ferreira wrote:
Yes, the same recipe is in Spanish hunting books of the Renaissance.


That is very interesting, and I would really enjoy looking at some of the sources for this. The guy who asked me the question which led to me starting this thread is a HEMA buddy from Portugal, and I believe he speaks fluent Spanish. I have basic Spanish and can muddle through especially with the help of my friend google translate and some notes I've taken for certain terms of art. If you could share or privately send me names of some of these manuscripts or modern secondary literature I'd be very grateful.

I wonder if this Hellebore recipe goes back to the Gauls of the Classical era. I need to check and see if it is in some of the German 'Kreuterbücher"

In these Spanish texts do they also use a word similar to "crossbowman's herb"?

We seem to have a lot of etymological links - "Toxon" for bow, arrow or poison in Greek. A Latin term for deadly nightshade dorycnion meaning "spear drug", and this "crossbowman's herb".

A quick search yielded references to "Armbrustschützenkraut" in this 1912 book on Schuss und Waffe / "shooting and weapons". Apparently "Erva do besteiro" is a common term for Hellebore in Portugal. There is a reference to "herbe d'arbalétrier" in an 18th Century French book, which seems to be a reference to it's use in Spain and Portugal.

The actual terms of art for these concoctions were probably different though, especially in previous eras when the dialects were different in many regions, and soldiers and militia used a lot of military slang.

Quote:
I had studied them for the crossbow stuff, getting right all the bolt types and differences. They state that crossbows are better because you make no bang and you can poison the bolts so an injured prey won't escape or run very far.


This is also a very good point. A deer or a boar could run quite a distance in 5 or 10 minutes, in 20 minutes it could easily be too far to track even if badly or even mortally wounded. So the poison would probably have to work quickly

I too am very interested in the use of crossbows particularly in the 14th-16th Centuries, and Spain seems to be one of the places where the development of crossbow tactics, including with cavalry, seems to have been fairly well advanced. I'd love to learn more of your research and conclusions.

Quote:

Note that those poisons need to be relatively fast to make the injured animal escape harder, and also cooking must neutralize them, both issues not exactly as important when shooting people with poisons!


Another good point. This is one of the things mentioned in several toxicology articles I read, and as a distinction between the poisons based on fecal matter and certain snake venoms vs. some other plant based poisons.

J

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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Aug, 2022 3:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The 1644 book Arte de ballesteria y monteria by Alonso Martínez de Espinar covers exactly what Iagoba describes. It goes into some detail about how to make & test the poison, & how quickly it acts. The author claims a deer will often drop in ten paces, more or less. It's available on Google Books. And yes, Martínez de Espinar called it "the crossbowman's herb" ("la yerua de Ballestero").

So that's a very solid reference for hunting poison in 17th-century Europe that likely applies to earlier periods as well, given how the text presents the crossbow as a venerable weapon.

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Aug, 2022 5:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good find Benjamin.

I'm really curious now is this if an ancient Gaelic, or possibly Greek or Iberian, Carthaginian etc. recipe.

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PostPosted: Wed 03 Aug, 2022 9:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Portuguese language Wiki on Hellebore mentions that this erva-dos-besteiros "crossbowman's herb" was being used by Portuguese crossbowmen back to the reign of King João I, (1385-1433).

https://pt.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helleborus_foetidus

Their source is a 19th Century book, Viterbo, Joaquim de Santa Rosa de (1856). Elucidário das palavras, termos e frases que em Portugal antigamente se usaram e que hoje regularmente se ignoram vol. 1. Lisboa: A. J. Fernandes Lopes.

Interesting map too from the English wiki, showing the range of various subspecies of Hellebore, apparently the most toxic variant (Helleborus niger) is the one shown as #5 on the map, native to Northern Italy and the Alpine zone.



Two different species are found in France and Spain / Portugal.

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PostPosted: Wed 03 Aug, 2022 1:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Jean,

Excuse me: According to the map you so kindly provided, France has two species, Helleborus foetidus throughout the country except for the northwest, and H. viridis occidentalis in the western half of the country and in the northeast; Spain has three, H. foetidus throughout the country, H. viridis occidentalis in the north, and H. lividus in Majorca; and Portugal has one, H. foetidus throughout the country.

I rely on your thoroughness and precision. Don't let me down now.

Best,

Mark Millman
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 03 Aug, 2022 3:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:
For the record, I personally don't have strong feelings about any of this - I was pointing out that you are making categorical statements about things for which there is no definitive data, for example when you insist over and over that Pliny doesn't include Greeks when he says "we" dip our arrows in poison.

These kinds of arguments can't rely on translations. We need to see the passage in the original language.

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Wed 03 Aug, 2022 5:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mark Millman wrote:
Dear Jean,

Excuse me: According to the map you so kindly provided, France has two species, Helleborus foetidus throughout the country except for the northwest, and H. viridis occidentalis in the western half of the country and in the northeast; Spain has three, H. foetidus throughout the country, H. viridis occidentalis in the north, and H. lividus in Majorca; and Portugal has one, H. foetidus throughout the country.

I rely on your thoroughness and precision. Don't let me down now.

Best,

Mark Millman


You are right, when I noted there were two species in Spain, France and Portugal, I missed the one in Mallorca, though that wasn't always part of Spain. During the reign of Joao I (and prior) there wasn't even a kingdom called Spain. I believe Mallorca was part of Aragon until 1479. Is that precise enough for you?

I don't think that matters, of course, since obviously they could access any of the three, plus probably the species in Corsica and Sardinia, and in the various polities of Italy, the Alps, and the Balkans easily enough since trade was brisk all through this area.

J

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Wed 03 Aug, 2022 5:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Jean Henri Chandler wrote:
For the record, I personally don't have strong feelings about any of this - I was pointing out that you are making categorical statements about things for which there is no definitive data, for example when you insist over and over that Pliny doesn't include Greeks when he says "we" dip our arrows in poison.

These kinds of arguments can't rely on translations. We need to see the passage in the original language.


If one wanted to have such an argument, sure. You would probably need quite a bit more context as well. My point was simply that this individual didn't actually know or have any reason to be certain of any particular conclusion, any more than I did.

Given the range of different Classical auctores who made similar observations, and the various other statements that Pliny made in Naturalis historia, as well as the various poisons and antidotes he mentions, I'm personally satisfied with the tentative conclusion I reached. I am perfectly happy to see it proven wrong based on some evidence, whether philological or otherwise, but I'm not going to take somebody's word on it unless it's someone I have some reason to believe is an expert on the subject.

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PostPosted: Thu 04 Aug, 2022 8:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Jean,

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:
Mark Millman wrote:
. . . I rely on your thoroughness and precision. Don't let me down now.

You are right, when I noted there were two species in Spain, France and Portugal, I missed the one in Mallorca, though that wasn't always part of Spain. During the reign of Joao I (and prior) there wasn't even a kingdom called Spain. I believe Mallorca was part of Aragon until 1479. Is that precise enough for you?

Well, it's a simplification--and not an entirely accurate one--but it will do for now, as this isn't the thread's focus.

Quote:
I don't think that matters, of course, since obviously they could access any of the three, plus probably the species in Corsica and Sardinia, and in the various polities of Italy, the Alps, and the Balkans easily enough since trade was brisk all through this area.

True; there's no question of that.

I think the more interesting point is why, since arrow poison seems clearly to have had military use in the Classical world, which likewise continued in polities surrounding Latin Christendom at least through the Middle Ages, the medieval western European Christian sources arguably portray its use among members of that admittedly broad cultural category as an adjunct to hunting and there seem to be few if any unambiguous references to its being used in military contexts by medieval Latin Christians.

Quote:
J

Best,

Mark
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Thu 04 Aug, 2022 12:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree that is one of the interesting patterns which seems to be emerging here. I can think of a couple of reasons why.

It may not seem very chivalrous, or honorable etc., though this doesn't seem to curtail acknowledgement of things like throwing plague infested heads and body parts over walls during sieges (or offal and so on) or poisoning water supplies. Nor does it seem to be that much of a secret that people were using ingestible poisons and even contact poisons for assassination or murder.

The real question for me is, was the practice of the use of 'arrow poisons' or other kinds of poisoned weapons actually kept a bit discrete during the period (out of embarrassment or for legal reasons), or was it more the case of the modern filter?

Many things which actually were quite common in the medieval and Classical worlds did not make it into our historiography of these periods. We thought Greek statues were monochromatic white until pretty recently. Most people, including academics, were surprised to learn about the existence of indigenous European martial arts and fencing systems in the Latinized world even as late as the early 2000s. Until very recently almost all experts on Viking history and archeology thought the "Birka Warrior" was a man, but now we know better. (Even though the literary sources told us about female warriors for ages).

And I myself had no idea that there was a frequently used, apparently highly effective arrow poison used by hunters (and per the sources 'crossbowmen' in general) in the Iberian Peninsula and even, apparently, known in England. So ubiquitous in fact that the common name of one of the plants used is still "crossbowman's herb" in at least two countries. I have a half dozen books on hunting in the medieval world on my bookshelf and I've read them all, and I'd never heard of this until I started this thread.

I actually suspect there is a lot more to learn here and we have only scratched the surface. It's important to remember, only a very small percentage of the literature / documents from the medieval period have even been transcribed or scanned, let alone read and analyzed. We also have to keep in mind that previous generations put a filter on medieval history and many things were filtered out. In the last 20 years I've been researching the context of HEMA / WMA I've learned many quite surprising things which were basically 'hiding in plain sight" and had largely been ignored by Academia for various reasons.


One point a HEMA buddy made recently is that putting poison on a weapon would imply pre-meditation and intent to murder someone. The laws around things like fighting with swords, certainly in Central Europe, typically hinged on a kind of 'plausible deniability', in the sense of, "I felt threatened so I drew my sword and defended myself." Applying hellebore to a crossbow bolt or cobra venom to a dagger prior to use makes that notion far less plausible.

This wouldn't have relevance to war but it would make it relevant in the numerous low intensity personal and paramilitary conflicts which were constantly going on all over Latinized Europe from the Migration era through the Early Modern period.

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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Fri 05 Aug, 2022 5:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Jean,

On Thursday 4 August 2022, you wrote:
. . . The real question for me is, was the practice of the use of 'arrow poisons' or other kinds of poisoned weapons actually kept a bit discrete during the period (out of embarrassment or for legal reasons), or was it more the case of the modern filter? . . .

I agree that more research needs to be done to ensure that references to poisoned weapons in combat have not been overlooked, ignored, or concealed by earlier students.

But I am wary of the assumption that because prior ages and surrounding cultures used poisoned weapons, medieval Latin Europeans must also have done so on a significant scale. For example, the injunction in Exodus 22:18 of the King James version of the Bible, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" uses "witch" to translate Hebrew mekhashepha, which is a derivative of kashaph, which has been translated both as "to mutter" and "to cut". The first would imply the muttering of spells, while the second would refer to the cutting of herbs. In the Septuagint, a translation into Greek made by Jewish scholars in the third century B.C.E., mekhashepha is rendered as pharmakeia, which can be translated as "herbalist". (In the Latin Vulgate Bible, the word becomes maleficos, which simply means "evil-doer" without being specific about the nature of the evil done--or, for that matter, the sex of the evil-doer, as it's a neuter form.) Although the translation "witch" or "sorceress" does in fact correctly render the Hebrew (which uses a feminine form in that passage; the masculine form is used elsewhere), the use of pharmakeia has led some people to consider that it's meant to be a more specific injunction against poisoners--Reginald Scott is a well-known example, although he's later than the period we're discussing. For people who had heard of the Septuagint's version--never unknown in Latin Europe, and the text used in Greek Christianity--it may have been felt among soldiers that the use of poisoned weapon was an unnecessary threat to their salvation, and thus eschewed.

Best,

Mark
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Ryan S.




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PostPosted: Fri 05 Aug, 2022 10:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Apparently, poison arrows might go back to the stone age:
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1040618215014111

I guess if they can test stone arrow heads for evidence of poison, they could probably test some middle age and ancient arrowheads.

I think if the use of poison arrows in war is omitted, then it is because they were too normal. I believe in general the ancient Greek sources don’t get into many details regarding weapons and ignore archery in particular. According to Mayer, Dioscorides said that the Greeks don't use poison arrows, but he was writing between 40 and 90 AD. So even if it was true in his time, it might have not been earlier. Mayor relies mostly on myth to suggest that the Greeks used poison arrows, at least at some point. If the Trojan War took place, it was around 1260–1180 BC, Homer is estimated to have lived in the 8th century BC. Herodotus wrote his Histories around 450 BC. So right there, that is a lot of time. I am not sure if the Hercules legend is older as the Trojan War stories, but he is supposed to be older as his descendents fight in that war.

One reason, I think that a taboo or moral reasons were not that the reason for abandoning, or reducing the use of poisoned arrows in warfare, is that it would take an activist campaign to stop it, and that would lead to a lot more evidence. It would be much more easily to develop a taboo for something that was only done by foreigners. Also, when one compares it to the modern ban on biological and chemical weapons, they were first used by everyone and then banned. Part of the reason they were banned, is that they weren’t so effective. Gas masks work (if they are worn) and gas can be affected by the wind, so that it blows the gas back to the attacker.

Self poisoning is a risk with arrow poisons too, and also in an indirect way. Most of the arrow poisons were also used as medicine as well as poison for murder (apparently the Greek word for drug/poison is ambiguous if it is supposed to be helpful or harmful). Here is an interesting article about poison and drugs in Rome: https://brewminate.com/poisons-poisoning-and-the-drug-trade-in-ancient-rome/ Here is a quote:
Quote:
At the end of the 1st century AD the satirist Juvenal and others denounced their decadent society, claiming that poisoning had become a status symbol, an accepted way for mothers to get rid of husbands and stepchildren, and for children to get rid of rich fathers who lived too long
Now if the potential victims of poison are seen as rich fathers and husbands, then, that describes the Roman Senate, not to mention the Emperor. So any ruler would have to balance having a large supply of poison for his archers, against the risk that someone uses that supply to poison him. This explains why monkshood/wolfsbane was banned in Rome. The same issue could exist with snakes. Mayor mentions people complaining about foreign handlers bringing snakes to Rome, a general fear of snakes might have discouraged the development of a snake venom industry.

The article from Brewminate makes it sound like that most of the plants were collected from the wild by professionals and mentions certain people groups that were supposedly skilled with drugs as well as snakes.

I think a good direction for research is the pharmaceutical perspective. There might be some list of drug prices, that for example give us an idea of how much these poisons cost. I wonder if the usage of poison arrows by the Chinese is tied to their drug industry, or if they just documented it better.

Back to the idea of a taboo, I definitely could see that, if snake charming was seen as a pagan religious practice, that it would have been abandoned by the Christians.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Fri 05 Aug, 2022 7:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mark Millman wrote:
Dear Jean,

On Thursday 4 August 2022, you wrote:
. . . The real question for me is, was the practice of the use of 'arrow poisons' or other kinds of poisoned weapons actually kept a bit discrete during the period (out of embarrassment or for legal reasons), or was it more the case of the modern filter? . . .

I agree that more research needs to be done to ensure that references to poisoned weapons in combat have not been overlooked, ignored, or concealed by earlier students.

But I am wary of the assumption that because prior ages and surrounding cultures used poisoned weapons, medieval Latin Europeans must also have done so on a significant scale. For example, the injunction in Exodus 22:18 of the King James version of the Bible, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" uses "witch" to translate Hebrew mekhashepha, which is a derivative of kashaph, which has been translated both as "to mutter" and "to cut". The first would imply the muttering of spells, while the second would refer to the cutting of herbs. In the Septuagint, a translation into Greek made by Jewish scholars in the third century B.C.E., mekhashepha is rendered as pharmakeia, which can be translated as "herbalist". (In the Latin Vulgate Bible, the word becomes maleficos, which simply means "evil-doer" without being specific about the nature of the evil done--or, for that matter, the sex of the evil-doer, as it's a neuter form.) Although the translation "witch" or "sorceress" does in fact correctly render the Hebrew (which uses a feminine form in that passage; the masculine form is used elsewhere), the use of pharmakeia has led some people to consider that it's meant to be a more specific injunction against poisoners--Reginald Scott is a well-known example, although he's later than the period we're discussing. For people who had heard of the Septuagint's version--never unknown in Latin Europe, and the text used in Greek Christianity--it may have been felt among soldiers that the use of poisoned weapon was an unnecessary threat to their salvation, and thus eschewed.

Best,

Mark


I've heard this before, and I think it's quite plausible that the prohibition / death sentence against 'witches' was actually against poisoners, especially since so called cunning folk (what many people today would consider 'witches') were for the most part tolerated or even thriving all through the medieval period and even into the period of the post medieval Witch Burnings in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Which is an indication that dabbling in sorcery or herbal remedies and so on was not in and of itself considered a problem, most of the time and in most places.

However, because the bible prohibits something like poisoning, doesn't necessarily hold that it mattered that much to people in Latin Europe. As I recall, the making of graven images, taking the lord's name in vain, failing to keep the Sabbath or to honor your father and mother, murder, adultery and theft are all prohibited in the Ten Commandments. If you want to go down to books like Leviticus, you may want to avoid combining certain textiles and eating shrimp.

But we know that these mortal and venal sins did not disappear from humanity once they were baptized as Christians. In fact people certainly continued to steal, kill, commit adultery, take the lord's name in vain, fail to keep the Sabbath, make graven idols and so on. We know that in particular they used all kinds of gruesome means to homicide in warfare, as I've pointed out several times in this thread, everything from tossing plague ridden heads over castle to poisoning wells, to setting attackers on fire with various murderously cunning pyrotechnic weapons and so on. They also massacred prisoners and civilians in cases too frequent to count. All often with the direct and sometimes literal blessing of Church priests and prelates.

And perhaps most relevant, we certainly know quite well that using poison to murder people by putting it in their food, drink, and even clothing was probably just as common in Renaissance Italy (and elsewhere) as it was during Classical times. The Borgia family, who included a Pope and several Cardinals in their ranks, were specifically known for poisoning rivals. The Medici family (among many others) was known to have cultivated numerous poisonous plants in their gardens.

So unless you are suggesting "Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch / Poisoner To Live" somehow really means "Thou Shalt Not Put Poison on an Arrow" then I don't think it's really pertinent.

Speaking of the Medici, I have learned that Don Antonio de' Medici, who died in 1621, had a recipe for "The herb for the crossbow" made from white hellebore in his papers.

It's like learning a new word, you start seeing it everywhere.

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Sat 06 Aug, 2022 6:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just for some context regarding the moral authority of the Church in the Late Medieval period - at any one time thousands of individuals and dozens or hundreds of communities or regions all over Latin Europe were either excommunicated or under interdict. I'm working on a paper right now about an incident in Wroclaw / Breslau from the 14th Century, in which that town was placed under interdict by the regional bishop, which the townfolks ignored, the bishop then got permission to send an inquisitor, who was run out of town, so the Pope placed the town under excommunication, which the townfolks also ignored, and later during a conference in Prague the city councilors paid two guys to assassinate the would-be inquisitor.

In one of the most extreme cases I ever heard of, in 1460 (some sources say 1462) a Condottiere prince, lord of Rimini, and noted art patron Sigismondo Malatesta, who had already been excommunicated (to little effect), was Canonized by the Church as a Devil during his own lifetime (and burned in effigy). This was allegedly triggered because after a long list of other misdeeds, he had allegedly raped a (14 year old) papal envoy in front of his laughing troops. They also launched a "Crusade" against him which was joined by the Duke of Milan, the King of Naples, and the Pope. Though it did affect his reputation, and coincided with a major military defeat, even this extreme measure did not end his career. Sigismondo went on to serve as a condottiero for Venice after this, and briefly plotted to assassinate another Pope in 1467. He finally died in 1468.

Presumably, based on all the very bad things he did in his lifetime, Sigismondo is indeed burning in hell, but while he walked the earth life fear of sin did not seem to give him much pause. Nor did his more or less open and extreme flouting of both Christian and secular law and moral standards, serve to sufficiently isolate him from his peers so as to 'cancel' him.

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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Sat 06 Aug, 2022 7:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Ryan and Jean,

On Friday 5 August 2022, Ryan S. wrote:
. . . One reason, I think that a taboo or moral reasons were not that the reason for abandoning, or reducing the use of poisoned arrows in warfare, is that it would take an activist campaign to stop it, and that would lead to a lot more evidence. It would be much more easily to develop a taboo for something that was only done by foreigners. Also, when one compares it to the modern ban on biological and chemical weapons, they were first used by everyone and then banned. Part of the reason they were banned, is that they weren’t so effective. Gas masks work (if they are worn) and gas can be affected by the wind, so that it blows the gas back to the attacker. . . .

And later, Jean Henri Chandler also wrote:
. . . But we know that these mortal and venal sins did not disappear from humanity once they were baptized as Christians. In fact people certainly continued to steal, kill, commit adultery, take the lord's name in vain, fail to keep the Sabbath, make graven idols and so on. We know that in particular they used all kinds of gruesome means to homicide in warfare, as I've pointed out several times in this thread, everything from tossing plague ridden heads over castle to poisoning wells, to setting attackers on fire with various murderously cunning pyrotechnic weapons and so on. They also massacred prisoners and civilians in cases too frequent to count. All often with the direct and sometimes literal blessing of Church priests and prelates. . . .

The postulate--which I offered as a hypothetical example of a way that an avoidance of poisoned weapons might spread--treats the worry about the Biblical injunction as a piece of soldiers' folklore rather than an explicit ecclesiastical prohibition. Neither an activist campaign nor any great respect for the Church would be necessary for something like it to be informally transmitted and widely current. Nor, on the other hand, would it have universal effect; there are always people who ignore or repudiate commonly held beliefs. Further, evidence for such a belief would be subtle at best, because of the general lack of non-elite records surviving from the Middle Ages. In any case--and I evidently did not emphasize this enough when I originally floated the idea--there is currently no hint of evidence for it and I do not suggest that this actually happened. I constructed it as a plausible example of a potential way in which a disinclination from widespread use of poisoned weapons in military contexts might arise. If research cannot discover clear evidence of military use of poison on weapons in medieval Latin Europe it seems necessary to explain why, and this could be one possible avenue of investigation, along with economic factors, convenience, worries about accidental self-poisoning, failure or loss of records, etc. An equally plausible--and, again, thoroughly hypothetical--idea is that soldiers felt that they might have had some chance of escape or survival after losing a battle, but if their enemies knew them to have used poisoned weapons any such chance would be lost because those enemies would make a point of hunting them down for using poison. A perhaps more plausible idea is that by the Middle Ages, the benefits simply weren't perceived as outweighing the costs of large-scale use.

Best,

Mark
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