The Truth About The Secret Weapon Of The Byzantine Empire

The flamethrower is a weapon often associated with 20th-century warfare, having seen immense utilization in World War II and comparatively minor use in World War I and the Vietnam War. While officially banned in modern warfare, its capacity for destruction has been immortalized in historical records and pop culture, with people such as Elon Musk producing their own. However the flamethrower as we know it is, objectively, not an entirely new concept.

The use of incendiary weapons dates back thousands of years to ancient "fire-pots" and "fire arrows" meant to defend and attack walled cities (via Erenow). The chemical compounds used in these munitions varied over the centuries until the Byzantines, isolated as both Arab and Crusader encroachment threatened their sovereignty, came up with their own infamous concoction in the 7th Century (via Britannica). Greek Fire became a staple of Byzantine warfare, as the Empire used this revolutionary substance against its enemies in surprisingly recognizable ways.

Greek Fire was a weapon that terrorized land and seaborne enemies

The Byzantines initially used Greek Fire as a naval weapon. With the likely use of a bronze pump, Byzantine ships would approach enemy vessels and douse them in the flammable liquid (via Erenow). By this, point the nightmare would begin for the enemy crew. A normal fire on a ship could typically either be doused with water or, if the flames proved too much the crew, could abandon ship. Neither was an easy option with Greek Fire. Not unlike napalm, it is described as having stuck to its victims, and evidently, not even the sea could stop it as the fire even burned on the water's surface.

Land armies were not safe from it either. Clay containers were filled with Greek Fire and hurled at the enemy once an attached wick was lit (via Daily Mail). These were either small and thrown by hand, or large and launched by trebuchet. For close-up use, flame-projectors like those on ships were either positioned on walls or small enough to even be carried by one person. In either case, they exposed land armies to the mixture's horrific efficacy as well. While knowledge of Greek Fire's composition was lost with the 1453 Fall of Constantinople, it left a lasting impression on those who faced it.