Sunday, 2 February 2014

Byzantium's Secret Weapon: Greek Fire

Greek Fire

Throughout its existence, Byzantium faced many foes and challenges, pivotal in helping it to survive was the state weapon Greek Fire. Greek Fire was a sticky liquid flame that was helpful in both land and naval engagements. Methods of deployment vary, however primarily use were tubes which would be used to spray the fire. To enhance the effect of Greek Fire figureheads of animals were placed on ships, such as a lion's head, and it would appear as if they were spewing fire. Other methods of deployment, include a hand-held projector, comparisons could be made to a modern flame-thrower, and grenade-like deployment methods, possibly using a light catapult.
                                                                   Handheld method of deployment.

Though the precise ingredients for Greek Fire are unknown, suggestions for ingredients have included combinations of Pine Resin, naptha, quicklime, sulphur or niter. As the weapon was so powerful and gave them such an edge over their opponents, no foreigner could hope to learn the state secret and its importance also meant that it was a well guarded state secret. It was such a potent weapon, that it still burnt on water. This potency, however, also lead to safety measures for Greek Fire's use. Firstly, men who used the fire in battle, wore fireproof leather armour. Ships and equipment also remained fireproof by using a unique mixture of vinegar, alum and talc. City defences and building also received treatment to remain fireproof.

The origin of Greek Fire, has in some instances been attributed to Kallinikos, an engineer from Syria, which had been conquered by the Muslims. However, it is possible that chemists and alchemists in Constantinople may have discovered the weapon. However, despite it being a potent weapon, Greek Fire was not a super weapon. The Byzantines had to be careful to not burn their own men and the weapon also had a maximum range, and when enemies were used to the weapon, they could simply move around it. Also, the weapon could only be used effectively at sea with a calm sea and with favourable wind conditions. The Muslims also adapted to Greek Fire by protecting their ships by using methods such as felts of hides soaked with vinegar Furthermore, it should not be though it was only Greek Fire that allowed the Eastern Empire to survive so long, many factors contributed to its long survival. However, Greek Fire was certainly helpful in allowing the legacy of Rome, Byzantium, to survive for centuries.

Image Credit:,_medieval_illumination_(detail).jpg

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