Greek Fire – What Was It And How Was It Used

Key Point: Greek fire was a highly flammable liquid that was used by the Byzantine Empire during the 7th to 12th centuries.

Today we are taking a look at Greek fire. More importantly what Greek fire was and how it was used. And, was it even that effective?

But first, let’s define what it was. So, what is Greek fire?

Greek fire was a highly flammable liquid that was used by the Byzantine Empire during the 7th to 12th centuries. It was primarily used in naval warfare and was known for its ability to ignite even water, making it highly effective against enemy ships. It is believed to have contained a mixture of substances such as quicklime, petroleum, and sulfur.

That was the short definition. Now, let’s take a look at this weird naval weapon a little more in detail.

Origins Of Greek Fire

It is believed that greek fire was invented by a Byzantine named “Callinicus Of Heliopolis”.

And we do know that it was first used by the Byzantine Empire around the late 7th or early 8th century. While the exact composition of Greek fire was a closely guarded secret, it’s believed to have been a mix of various combustible ingredients, including petroleum, quicklime, and other chemicals.

It was on the water where Greek Fire really made its mark. Byzantine naval forces used Greek fire to devastating effect against their enemies, lighting their ships ablaze and creating chaos on the high seas. They used warships, known as “dromons,” that were equipped with pumps and nozzles to spray Greek fire at enemy vessels.

But Greek fire wasn’t just effective as a weapon, it was also a powerful psychological tool. Just a sight of Greek fire was often enough to intimidate enemy sailors and give the Byzantines a psychological advantage in battle.

So that was a short introduction to the origins of the greek fire. Now let’s see how it was used in battle.

How Greek Fire Was Used In Battle

Here is a short 2:25 video showing how Greek fire was used most often.

How Greek Fire was used

There were 2 main ways that Greek Fire was used in naval battles. The first and most famous way to simply spray it at enemy ships. So ships would carry pumps that would spray the flammable liquid at the enemy at sea. Igniting ships and the very water. Which was frightening to see if you are on the opposing side.

The second tactic was to fill the “greek fire” liquid in a jar with a burning fuse and throw it at the enemy. In both cases, the tactics were dangerous for the users as well. One small slip and you could be the one getting burned.

Is There Any Defense Against It?

Well according to this book: “The Venetians used wool soaked in vinegar to protect their vessels from Greek fire in the fourteenth century”

How Greek Fire Changed The Course Of History

One of the most consequential battles in world history involved Greek fire. It was the siege of Constantinople in 717-718 A.D. This is where the Muslim Umayyad forces laid siege to Constantinople for 2 years.

The Byzantines used greek fire to set the Invading fleet ablaze which messed up their supply lines. And this made it almost impossible to maintain an army from a logistical standpoint. Thus saving Constantinople and changing the course of history.

If Constantinople fell then the Crusades would likely have never happened. Plus a multitude of other historic events would have unfolded differently.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two. And I will see you at the next one.

Take care!

Sources: A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder