Best nonfiction book for fantasy writers ever!

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Biological & Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World

I have found the best nonfiction book ever for fantasy writers! This is a book describing nontraditional tactics of war actually used by ancient and medieval people. I bought it because I had a character in a Hearts & Thrones story shooting flaming arrows, and I wasn’t sure if that actually worked (even though these used magic). This book apparently covers flaming arrows. And it covers a whole lot more!

Even though I bought this for Hearts & Thrones (the Lucien/Vitala series beginning with Assassin’s Gambit), it may help me even more with my Bronze Age series. It’s already given me several ideas to use in Flood and Fire sequels.

One of the reasons I wrote Flood and Fire in the first place is that when I started reading about ancient peoples, I realized that we vastly underestimate them. Ancient peoples did incredible things. Flood and Fire was specifically motivated by my reading about an ancient civilization that blew my mind in terms of the things they were able to accomplish.

This book is blowing my mind, too!

Here’s clever tactic of war used by ancient peoples #1: diverting water.

In the 7th century B.C., Semiramis, the queen of Assyria, wanted to invade the city of Babylon (because the Assyrians, I’m sorry to say it, were assholes). The Euphrates River flowed through Babylon, so Semiramis had her engineers divert the river. Then her army marched right into the city in the dry riverbed.

Guys, think about that for a minute. This is the Euphrates River (photo from wikipedia):

This is no mere stream. The Assyrian engineers diverted this whole freaking river! And they didn’t take years to do it; it was part of a siege. HOW DID THEY DO THIS? I don’t know, but ancient peoples are way more sophisticated than we usually give them credit for.

Less impressive from an engineering standpoint but no less clever, the Roman commander Lucius Metellus was fighting Spaniards in 143 B.C. and he noticed his enemies were encamped in an easily flooded plain. He had his legionaries dam a stream and flood the plain, and then ambush the Spaniards as they ran from the floodwaters. Smart, huh?

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4 Responses to Best nonfiction book for fantasy writers ever!

  1. Oh, I have this book, but I haven’t read it. Your review makes me want to unearth it from the shelf it’s hidden on for years and get reading! And, yes, diverting the Euphrates is very impressive. Thanks for the review.

    • Amy Raby says:

      I’m glad my review encouraged you to unearth it 🙂

      I found it a fascinating read, and great for fantasy writers who can really spice up any battle scenes with these innovative tactics.

  2. Jill Archer says:

    Just checked this out based on your description and bought it. It sounds terrific. Have you read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel? Have a great Friday!

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