Greek fire

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Greek fire was an incendiary weapon used by the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines typically used it in naval battles to great effect as it could continue burning even under 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 European Crusaders was such that the name was applied to any sort of incendiary weapon,[1] 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, whose composition has now been lost. As a result, its ingredients are a much debated topic, with proposals including naphtha, quicklime, sulphur, and niter. What set the Byzantine usage of incendiary mixtures apart was their use of pressurized siphons to project the liquid onto the enemy.

Although the term "Greek fire" has been general in English and most other languages since the Crusades, in the original Byzantine sources it is called by a variety of names, such as "sea fire" (Greek: πῦρ θαλάσσιον), "Roman fire" (πῦρ ῥωμαϊκόν), "war fire" (πολεμικὸν πῦρ), "liquid fire" (ὑγρὸν πῦρ), or "processed fire" (πῦρ σκευαστόν).[2][3]

Contents

History

Incendiary and flaming weapons were used in warfare for centuries prior to the invention of Greek fire. They included a number of sulphur-, petroleum- and bitumen-based mixtures.[4][5] Incendiary arrows and pots containing combustible substances were used as early as the 9th century BC by the Assyrians, and were extensively used in the Greco-Roman world as well.

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