Greek Fire’s Burning Questions

Greek fire – Manuscript from the twelfth century | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

During the Middle Ages, everyone who knew the Byzantines considered their Greek fire to be the most destructive weapon known to mankind. Wielded by the Byzantines in Constantinople, soldiers used a hose to burn naval ships, which would spread rapidly across water. On land, the Byzantines used Greek fire as a primitive portable flamethrower and was even thrown like grenades. What made Greek fire so unique was its ability to burn and float in water. Because of its power, the Byzantines went to great lengths to keep the recipe a secret. As a result, only a handful of people knew the exact ingredients and its contents were never written down. By the time the Byzantine empire fell in the 15th century, the recipe to creating Greek fire had been lost and forgotten. Ever since then, nobody has ever been able to truly recreate the weapon. If you’re interested to learn more about the history of Greek fire, I wrote an article last year that goes more in depth on it’s creation and its effects on the invading Muslim army.

So how is it possible that mankind was able to create the internet, build atomic weapons and send a satellite outside our solar system, but not be able to make the same fire that the Byzantines created over a thousand years ago? Not many people are aware of Greek fire to begin with, and we have long since surpassed the necessity of swords and crossbows, so why do we need Greek fire if we have far more effective combat weaponry like guns, rockets, drones and nuclear warheads? Should we even try to bring back Greek fire? What would we gain?

Constantinople/Istanbul location | Courtesy of Wikispaces

Is it even possible to replicate Greek fire? Well, the closest we’ve come is in the form of napalm, but since the exact contents of Greek fire is currently unknown, we can’t exactly compare the two. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to fully recreate Greek fire (and who’s to say it hasn’t already been secretly rediscovered?), but if we are successful, what happens next? Will we start using it again as a weapon of war, or will we manage to keep it preserved? I would say it depends on which country or organization gets a hold of it. In my opinion, we should limit the usage of Greek fire to performances; perhaps as a part of a tourist attraction? I would imagine this could work great in a Byzantine museum in Istanbul (modern day Constantinople), since it was here that Greek fire was created and used. Greek fire was only used by the Byzantine army to defend against Muslim invaders, so it may be difficult to showcase the Byzantine’s weapon on a city that is now mostly Muslim, as it could show a bias view against the Muslims in favor of the Christian Byzantines. I say this hesitantly since I do not know about the public opinions in Istanbul, Turkey. Would Turkish officials be okay with this? How tolerant are they towards the Byzantine empire? But I can’t get ahead of myself, as who knows how long it’ll take to bring back the same Greek fire that the Byzantines had once possessed? We’ll just have to wait and see.

5 Replies to “Greek Fire’s Burning Questions”

  1. I’m seriously glad you brought this up, it seems to escape my mind that this is one of those mysteries lost to time. The danger that existed in fire that would not go out when splashed with water was very real at one time. And it is a curious thing that humanity created the internet, rockets and cars but can’t recreate greek fire. I wonder who was the last person to know the recipe, or if it somehow fell out of favor, because of tech advances.

  2. This technique really is interesting and i wonder really where all of this went weary. Did it become more ineffective then people thought it to be? It really bring into play how little history we have sometimes. How history is about a constant strive for discovery not just a recollection in the past.

  3. It’s really interesting how humans were able to create so many things. From Greek fire all the way to a thin phone that we can do so much with. I never heard about this, but it really grabbed my attention because of how far the human race has come. We can create weapons of mass destruction very easily, yet we can’t recreate something that might or might not be very simple?

  4. Mario! You keep hitting on topics that interest me. Greek fire is an amazing invention lost through time and i believe it is one of the most interesting weapons in history due to its secret and lost origin and application in battle. Fire that could burn on the surface of water is no joke.

  5. This topic is very intriguing to me because I never knew how naval battles took place in old times. I had always been interested in the old weaponry, but this is something I have never heard of before. It is fascinating how people invented things such as this. I wonder what went into making the fire have the effect of floating on water. Was it Oil? Whatever the case may be bringing it back would illuminate another part of how humans waged war before the use of more modern and conventional weaponry.

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