From whistling arrows and trumpeting elephants to battle cries and eerie horns, ancient soldiers used sound to frighten and confuse their enemies

As if the tumultuous din of battle is not horrendous enough, over the ages humans have discovered plenty of ways to exploit sound in warfare. I found an astonishing variety of ancient acoustic weapons while researching my bookGreek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Unconventional Warfare in the Ancient World.” Deploying sound in war has evolved over millennia, from natural animal sounds and music to today’s advanced sonic devices.

Calling a jig in the midst of battle

In antiquity, cavalry horses were trained to endure the piercing pipe music that led armies to battle. But a clever reversal of this training could spell victory.

In the seventh century B.C., the Kardians of Thrace, who lived in what is now northwest Turkey, were renowned for their cavalry. For entertainment, the mounted soldiers taught their horses to dance to pipes played at drinking parties. Rearing up and pawing the air, the horses kept time to the lively music.

Captured as a boy from Bisaltia in northeastern Greece, a prisoner named Naris heard about the marvelous dancing horses in the Kardian barbershop where he worked. According to the story recounted by the ancient Greek writer Athenaeus, Naris escaped, returned to Bisaltia, and prepared to make war on Kardia.

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