Greek Fire

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It is possible the Greek Fire was a petroleum product, maybe even one similar to napalm. The Byzantines did have access to crude oil from spots around the Black Sea and other parts of the Middle East. We do know that in the 9th century, the Abbasids people used crude oil as a weapon of warfare. Specially trained soldiers carried copper containers filled with burning oil that was flung into the enemy lines. An ancient Latin manuscript from the 9th century even seems to give a recipe for Greek Fire that can be used in a type of flame-throwing apparatus.

Most likely, resins, tar, animal fat and pine sap were added to the petroleum to help maintain the fire and to help the fire burn hotter. Since one of the alternative names for Greek Fire was sticky fire, one can surmise that it is because of the resin additive.

Still, other experts believe that Greek Fire may have been calcium phosphide. Calcium phosphide is made by boiling crushed bones and urine over a hot fire in a sealed metal vessel. When calcium phosphide comes into contact with water, a chemical reaction starts that released phosphine which then spontaneously combusts.

While it is chemically possible to recreate this reaction, it is far less intense as the written descriptions of Greek Fire. Greek Fire was an Effective Weapon Although we are not sure how Greek Fire was made, we do know how effective it was as a military tool. For the Byzantine Empire, Greek Fire was the biggest factor in repelling the Muslim invaders who had attempted to seize Constantinople.

Greek Fire was mentioned as being used in in a naval battle against the Pisans and during the Fourth Crusade during the siege of Constantinople. In fact, the use of Greek Fire is mentioned frequently in various skirmished during the Crusades.

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