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Scientists rediscover ancient Greek 'weapon of war' snake in Sicily

The Javelin Sand Boa was used as a projectile against enemy ships

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The Javelin Sand Boa.
Photo: ANSA

04 September 2017

The rediscovery of an Ancient Greek snake species in Italy was announced on Thursday in the scientific journal Acta Herpetologica.

Scientists in Italy have come across the Javelin Sand Boa, a type of snake that the ancient Greeks used to hurl at their enemies as a projectile to create panic and confusion during sea battles.

The Javelin Sand Boa, officially known as Eryx jaculus, has been recorded in Italy for 80 years, however sightings by locals suggested its presence in the region of Licata, on Sicily's south coast.

According to the researchers, said snake (among other species) was introduced to places conquered and settled by the ancient Greeks for “religious cults or war rituals”

"The Greeks used to use snakes as projectiles, hurling them at enemy ships before attacking in order to create confusion and fear," Dr Gianni Insacco said.

“In general they used vipers that had had their venom removed. Alternatively they would use similar species, like the sand boa.”

Eryx jaculus can grow up to 20 inches in length, and mainly feeds on lizards, mice and snails while it is also found in Greece, the southern Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East.

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