Biological Warfare

12 June 2013 by Annelie Wendeberg, posted in Biological Warfare

The History of Biological Warfare, Part 1

And soon the rotting corpses tainted the air and poisoned the water supply, and the stench was so overwhelming that hardly one in several thousand was in a position to flee the remains of the Tartar army”. Gabrielle De’ Mussi, 1348, on the Siege of Kaffa.

Mongol siege. Edinburgh University Library via Wikipedia Commons.

Long before weapons of mass destruction had been invented, disease ravaged battlefields and killed more soldiers than arrows, bayonets, and bombs did together. In times of war, disease can spread rapidly; either through a lack of hygiene and malnutrition, or by using germs as biological weapons.

Spreading disease on enemy territory is a warfare practice with a long history. Before the rise of microbiological research in the late 19th century, infected corpses, bodily fluids, and even insects have been used as vectors of disease. Remarkably, soon after Robert Koch’s and Louis Pasteur’s revolutionary first steps into microbiological research, military and fiction writers alike warmed to the idea of using bacteria for warfare. For the first time in history, deadly microorganisms could be isolated and produced in large amounts, to be used in an organized and systematic fashion. Flinging corpses over city walls was soon outdated.

H.G. Wells “War of the Worlds” 1898 Martians - dead! - slain by putrefactive and disease bacteria […] the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this Earth.” “…and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Already when I watched them they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable.

See also: Monty Python's Cow catapult (via Sophia Ushinsky)


This is the teaser to a series on biological warfare.


Sources & further reading:

“The Fourth Horseman“ by Robert Koenig

“The history of biological warfare” by Friedrich Frischknecht

“Biological Warfare at the 1346 Siege of Caffa” by Mark Wheelis


“War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells

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