What Is Greek Fire? Inside The Secret Weapon Of The Byzantine Empire -7th century

Greek fire was a potent incendiary weapon used by the Byzantine Empire to protect itself against its enemies.

This complex, built in the 7th century, was utilized by the Byzantine people to ward off Arab attacks for many years, notably at sea. Greek fire wasn’t the very first incendiary weapon, but it’s widely considered the one with the most significant historical impact.

One of the most interesting aspects of Greek fire is that the forces that took possession of the liquid concoction could not reproduce it on their own. They were also unsuccessful in recreating the device used to deliver it. Nobody, not even the people who made the concoction, has ever identified all the components that went into it correctly.

A Terrible and Powerful Weapon from the Past

Greek fire was a type of liquid weapon developed by the Byzantine Empire, which was the Greek-speaking half of the Roman Empire that survived after the empire’s fall.

It was heated, then compressed before being fed through a tube known as a siphon. The Byzantines referred to it as “sea fire” and “liquid fire.” Greek fire was employed primarily to set enemy ships ablaze from a safe distance.

The ability of the weapon to keep blazing even when submerged in water set it apart from other similar weapons and contributed to its effectiveness. It prevented adversarial combatants from extinguishing the flames during maritime battles. It’s possible that the flames became even more ferocious after they came into touch with the water.

To make matters even worse, Greek fire was a liquid mixture that adhered to whatever it touched, whether it was a ship or human flesh. It made the situation even direr. The only thing that could put out the fire was an odd concoction made of vinegar, sand, and pee that had been sitting about for a while.

The Origin And Development Of Greek Fire

The invention of Greek fire is generally attributed to Kallinikos of Heliopolis, who lived in the 7th century. Greek fire was used at that time. Jewish architect Kallinikos was forced to flee Syria and make his way to Constantinople because he feared the Arabs would take over the city he worked in.

According to the legend, Kallinikos spent a lot of time experimenting with different materials before he came up with the optimal combination for an explosive weapon. After that, he forwarded the recipe to the emperor of Byzantium.

Once the authorities had all the necessary components, they devised a siphon that functioned like a syringe and directed the lethal weaponry toward an adversary’s vessel.

Not only was Greek fire very effective, but it was also very scary. It was said to have generated a loud roaring noise and massive amounts of smoke, similar to how a dragon would exhale.

The recipe for constructing the weapon was a well-guarded secret due to the deadly nature of the weapon itself. It was a secret only known by the Kallinikos family and the emperors of the Byzantine empire, and it was passed down from one generation to the next.

This strategy was undeniably successful, as evidenced by the fact that adversaries, even when they had Greek fire, were clueless regarding how to reproduce the technology on their own. On the other hand, this is also why the knowledge of making Greek fire was eventually lost to the annals of history.

Greek Fire: The Deliverer of the Byzantine Empire

The most likely motivation for Kallinikos’ development of Greek fire was straightforward: he wanted to protect his newly acquired territory from being conquered by Arabs. It was initially used to protect Constantinople from attacks by Arab naval fleets to achieve this objective.

The weapon was so successful at driving away enemy ships that it significantly contributed to the conclusion of the First Arab Siege of Constantinople in the year 678 A.D.

The Second Arab Siege of Constantinople, which lasted from 717 to 718 A.D., was similarly successful and again caused tremendous damage to the Arab naval.

The Byzantine Empire continued to utilize the weapon for hundreds of years in confrontations with outsiders and conflicts within the empire itself. These conflicts included civil warfare. It was a crucial factor in the long-term survival of the Byzantine Empire in the face of many adversaries. This factor emerged as more time passed.

Greek fire, according to the arguments of certain historians, had a significant role in preventing a huge invasion of Western civilization by ensuring the safety of the Byzantine Empire for hundreds of years. It, in turn, prevented the collapse of western civilization.

Flamethrower of the Greek Fire

Even though the Byzantines used Greek fire mostly in maritime contexts, it was used in various inventive ways. In his military treatise Tactica, written in the 10th century, Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise famously cites a hand-held variant of the weapon called the thermosiphon, which was essentially an archaic form of a flamethrower.

It is said that this weapon was utilized both offensively and defensively during sieges, specifically to torch siege towers and defend oneself against adversaries. Some contemporary authors suggested utilizing it on land to disrupt forces there.

Additionally, the Byzantines stuffed clay jars with Greek fire, giving them the ability to act in a manner analogous to that of grenades.

Trying to Recreate the Formula

Throughout the years, numerous other people have sought to replicate the Greek fire formula. During the Seventh Crusade in the 13th century, there are even a few historical accounts of the Arabs employing their version of the weapon against the crusaders. It took place in the region of the Holy Land.

It’s interesting to note that the crusaders were the ones who first referred to it by that name, which is why it’s still known as Greek fire today.

Since the Byzantines were a continuation of the Roman Empire, other people who experienced its mysterious force commonly referred to it as “Roman fire.” It is because the Byzantines were a successor state to the Roman Empire. Arabs, Bulgars, and Russians were some examples.

However, none of the knockoffs could ever live up to the quality of the genuine article. To this day, no one is entirely sure of the components that went into creating such a potent weapon.

Even while sulfur, pine resin, and gasoline have been suggested as the components that make up Greek fire, it is extremely difficult to verify that this is, in fact, the correct recipe. Some people continue to believe that quicklime was included in the concoction because it ignites when it comes into contact with water.

Historians and scientists alike are still captivated by the enigma surrounding the composition of Greek fire, which they have yet to unravel fully. It’s such an intriguing puzzle that George R.R. Martin almost certainly took some influence from it when writing the wildfire scene for the Game of Thrones books and the show based on those books.

But regardless of how it was created, one thing is certain: Greek fire was undoubtedly one of the most important military developments in the history of the human race.