Greek Fire

Greek Fire: What Was This Powerful Ancient Weapon?
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Centuries later, the chronicler Anna Comnena recorded that the fire was indeed used. She understood other incendiary weapons used by her fellow Byzantines.

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Greek fire was an incendiary weapon used by the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire beginning c. Used to set light to enemy ships, it consisted of a. Greek fire – regarded as one of history's most devastating and secretive weapons of warfare – wasn't actually developed by the Greeks.

The majority of modern scholars who have studied it believe the liquid used was probably a combination of quicklime and naphtha or turpentine. Quicklime becomes incredibly hot in contact with water. On contact with sea water, it created enough heat to ignite the inflammable naphtha or turpentine.

Greek Fire was a devasting weapon

Lighter than water, this burning liquid would have stayed afloat and burning as the Arabs struggled to put it out. Little is known about the invention of Greek fire. One thing that seems clear is that it was not invented by the Greeks, but was imported from the Middle East.

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The arrival of Greek fire in Constantinople is attributed to Callinicus, an architect from Heliopolis in Syria. Having seen his home region overrun by the fast and aggressive expansion of the early Islamic empire, he fled to Constantinople.

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Arriving there in AD, he brought the recipe with him. Only a few decades old, Islam and its adherents were tearing through the eastern Mediterranean at an incredible rate. To men like Callinicus, it looked as if this new faith-fuelled empire threatened the existence of Christendom.

He hoped his weapon could turn the tide. He provided the Byzantines with the recipe, and they were able to halt the Arabs. Writing centuries after the event, she described how the ships were specially fitted out for the battle of AD. Each ship was equipped with a metal sculpture of a lion or other beast at its prow.

How was Greek Fire Made?

These were composed of iron and brass, with terrifying visages around open mouths. To an approaching enemy, they would have looked like a piece of elaborate Byzantine ornamentation, meant to unnerve enemies and emphasize the strength and ferocity of the fleet.

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Rather than wait for the invaders to come to them, the ships sailed out of the harbor to prevent the Arabs getting into the city. The ships with the metal sculptures took the lead.

Greek Fire - TV Tropes

As the fleets grew close, Greek fire was pumped along tubes running through the gilded beasts, spraying out of their mouths and across the Arab ships. The animals seemed to spew fire across the startled invaders. Many ships were set alight. Unable to extinguish the flames, the survivors turned and fled. Constantinople was saved. In the days before modern weapons technology, bows and slings were the only alternatives to deadly close quarters melees.

The psychological effect of Greek fire was as devastating as its physical impact. Jonathan Blessin. It is possible the Greek Fire was a petroleum product, maybe even one similar to napalm.

From the Ancient World

The Chemistry of Technical Swimming Suits. As it was reputed to be inextinguishable and burned even on water, it caused panic and dread. The Chemistry of Grass. Although the presence of either quicklime or saltpeter in the mixture cannot be entirely excluded, they were consequently not the primary ingredient. The Chemistry of iPods.

The Byzantines did have access to crude oil from spots around the Black Sea and other parts of the Middle East. We do know that in the 9th century, the Abbasids people used crude oil as a weapon of warfare. Specially trained soldiers carried copper containers filled with burning oil that was flung into the enemy lines. An ancient Latin manuscript from the 9th century even seems to give a recipe for Greek Fire that can be used in a type of flame-throwing apparatus.

A Real Life Weapon Of Legend: Greek Fire

Most likely, resins, tar, animal fat and pine sap were added to the petroleum to help maintain the fire and to help the fire burn hotter. Since one of the alternative names for Greek Fire was sticky fire, one can surmise that it is because of the resin additive. Still, other experts believe that Greek Fire may have been calcium phosphide.

Calcium phosphide is made by boiling crushed bones and urine over a hot fire in a sealed metal vessel.

How was Greek Fire Made?

When calcium phosphide comes into contact with water, a chemical reaction starts that released phosphine which then spontaneously combusts. While it is chemically possible to recreate this reaction, it is far less intense as the written descriptions of Greek Fire. Greek Fire was an Effective Weapon Although we are not sure how Greek Fire was made, we do know how effective it was as a military tool.

For the Byzantine Empire, Greek Fire was the biggest factor in repelling the Muslim invaders who had attempted to seize Constantinople. Greek Fire was mentioned as being used in in a naval battle against the Pisans and during the Fourth Crusade during the siege of Constantinople. In fact, the use of Greek Fire is mentioned frequently in various skirmished during the Crusades. Sansom, all of whom reference the magical properties of Greek Fire in their writing. Toggle navigation. History Daily. Olds's Flatbed Truck.