Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I Am Not Making This Up: Weaponized Honey

Written By: Tracy - Jan• 22•18

Honey is not just a sweetener for your tea. It has been used for everything from mummies to medicine. Honey has even been used as a weapon in war.

The first account we have of honey in warfare comes to us from Xenophon of Athens, a historian, soldier, mercenary and student of Socrates. Xenophon wrote that in 401 BCE, he was leading a group of Greek soldiers back after a battle in which they had defeated the Persians.

Near the Black Sea, in present-day Northeastern Turkey the men foraged (stole) honey from local beehives (as armies then would do). Hours after consuming the honey, the men began to vomit, suffered diarrhea and hallucinations.

Xenophon recounted that the men became disoriented and lost the ability to stand. The effects wore of the next day. Whereupon the men continued back to Greece.

Xenophon’s men had an encounter with mad honey. Mad honey occurs when bees collect nectar from some species of rhododendron flowers, which contain a neurotoxin. These flowers are native to that area of Turkey.

They honey that is produced is dark red. The Turkish people call it deli bal. In small amounts, mad honey is like a drug. Some even use it to treat conditions ranging from hypertension to erectile disfunction.

But larger quantities can make one sick, cause seizures and in rare cases can be fatal. The honey has no effect on bees.

Mad honey would pop up again, this time as a weapon of war. In 67 BCE, Pompey the Great and his men were pursuing King Mithridates along the Black Sea. The Persians, savvy to the effects the local honey had, gathered pots of it and left them behind. As of the fleeing army had abandoned them in their haste to get away.

A Roman’s food rations while on campaign included a ration of grain, salted meat and whatever they could forage for. So free honey would have seemed like a treat.

The men ate the honey and succumbed to it’s effects. Disoriented and unable to fight, the men were easy pickings. The Persians returned and killed over 1,000 Roman troops.

While ultimately Mithridates would lose to the Romans, he would be remembered as one of Rome’s most formidable enemies.

Mad honey is still produced in Turkey. It sells for more than $100/pound.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.