Swift

Greek Fire

What do you do when someone throws pots that will burn you alive - at you? Well, of course, you find out how to make a flamethrower to burn them alive! Seriously, that's what the Byzantines did.

Greek fire was an incendiary weapon typically used by the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

The Byzantines typically used it in naval battles to great effect as it could continue burning while floating on water. It provided a technological advantage, and was responsible for many key Byzantine military victories, most notably the salvation of Constantinople from two Arab sieges, thus securing the Empire's survival.


The impression made by Greek fire on the west European Crusaders was such that the name was applied to any sort of incendiary weapon, including those used by Arabs, the Chinese, and the Mongols. These, however, were different mixtures and not the Byzantine formula, which was a closely guarded state secret, a secret that has since been lost.


Incendiary arrows and pots containing combustible substances were used as early as the 9th century BC by the Assyrians, so technology for Greek fire was already in the world as early as 800 BC.

Thucydides mentions the use of tubed flamethrowers in the siege of Delium in 424 BC. In naval warfare, the fleet of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I (r. 491–518) is recorded by the chronicler John Malalas as having utilized a sulphur-based mixture to defeat the revolt of Vitalian in AD 515, following the advice of a philosopher from Athens called Proclus.
Greek fire proper, however, was developed in ca. 672, and is ascribed by the chronicler Theophanes to Kallinikos (Latinized Callinicus), an architect from Heliopolis in the former province of Phoenice, by then overrun by the Muslim conquests.
Since the formula for Greek fire has been lost, many people have attempted to recreate it. From these studies, it is believed that the speculated formula consists of pine resin, naphtha, quicklime, sulfur, or niter.

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