Via The Straight Dope, I came across this page which claims that Lord Jeffrey Amherst, commander-in-chief of the Brits in America seriously considered distributing blankets infected with small-pox to Native Americans:

P.S. You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blanketts, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race. I should be very glad your Scheme for Hunting them Down by Dogs could take Effect, but England is at too great a Distance to think of that at present.

While it is not known if the plan was carried out or not, is this the earliest known example of bacteriological warfare?

  • 3
    I have a plan for wiping out hostile aliens by means of a MacBook. Am I the first known example of interstellar cyberwarfare?
    – DVK
    Nov 14 '12 at 22:34
  • @DVK well it was a virus...good thing a Mac integrates with alien technology
    – MichaelF
    Nov 15 '12 at 13:12

The earliest recorded example of bacteriological warfare seems to be the Hittite plague (1715 BC):

A long-lasting epidemic that plagued the Eastern Mediterranean in the 14th century BC was traced back to a focus in Canaan along the Arwad-Euphrates trading route. The symptoms, mode of infection, and geographical area, identified the agent as Francisella tularensis, which is also credited for outbreaks in Canaan around 1715 BC and 1075 BC. At first, the 14th century epidemic contaminated an area stretching from Cyprus to Iraq, and from Israel to Syria, sparing Egypt and Anatolia due to quarantine and political boundaries, respectively. Subsequently, wars spread the disease to central Anatolia, from where it was deliberately brought to Western Anatolia, in what constitutes the first known record of biological warfare. Finally, Aegean soldiers fighting in western Anatolia returned home to their islands, further spreading the epidemic.

The Medical Management of Biological Casualties Handbook of the USAMRIID has a short chapter on the history of biological warfare, also identifying the Hittite Plague as the earlier example:

During the 1212 - 15th centuries BC, the Hittites are known to have driven diseased animals and people into enemy territorry with the intent of initiating an epidemic.

The next earlier example is Solon's use of hellebore to poison the wells of Kirrha, during the First Sacred War (595 BC-585 BC).

Further reading:

  • 1
    Ooops. You added nearly the same answer as me, nearly simultaniously. My personal rule in such situations is that the answer is clearly displaying independent genius, so +1 for you. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 14 '12 at 22:58

According to wikipedia, the current title for the earliest documented use would be the Hittites with the bacterial disease Tularemia in the mid second millenium BC. According to the texts, infected people were sent into enemy territory to help spread the plague there.

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