May 24th


PREMO Member
Is that still a mystery or do they know how it was done? THAT was fascinating.

The information available on Greek fire is exclusively indirect, based on references in the Byzantine military manuals and a number of secondary historical sources such as Anna Komnene and Western European chroniclers, which are often inaccurate. In her Alexiad, Anna Komnene provides a description of an incendiary weapon, which was used by the Byzantine garrison of Dyrrhachium in 1108 against the Normans. It is often regarded as an at least partial "recipe" for Greek fire:[36][37][38]

This fire is made by the following arts. From the pine and the certain such evergreen trees inflammable resin is collected. This is rubbed with sulfur and put into tubes of reed, and is blown by men using it with violent and continuous breath. Then in this manner it meets the fire on the tip and catches light and falls like a fiery whirlwind on the faces of the enemies.
At the same time, the reports by Western chroniclers of the famed ignis graecus are largely unreliable, since they apply the name to any and all sorts of incendiary substances.[30]

In attempting to reconstruct the Greek fire system, the concrete evidence, as it emerges from the contemporary literary references, provides the following characteristics:

  • It burned on water, and, according to some interpretations, was ignited by water. In addition, as numerous writers testify, it could be extinguished only by a few substances, such as sand (which deprived it of oxygen), strong vinegar, or old urine, presumably by some sort of chemical reaction.[39][40][41]
  • It was a liquid substance, and not some sort of projectile, as verified both by descriptions and the very name "liquid fire."[39][40]
  • At sea, it was usually ejected from a siphōn,[39][40] although earthenware pots or grenades filled with it or similar substances were also used.[42]
  • The discharge of Greek fire was accompanied by "thunder" and "much smoke."[39][40][43]
Theories on composition[edit]
The first and, for a long time, most popular theory regarding the composition of Greek fire held that its chief ingredient was saltpeter, making it an early form of gunpowder.[44][45] This argument was based on the "thunder and smoke" description, as well as on the distance the flame could be projected from the siphōn, which suggested an explosive discharge.[46] From the times of Isaac Vossius,[2] several scholars adhered to this position, most notably the so-called "French school" during the 19th century, which included chemist Marcellin Berthelot.[47][48] This view has been rejected since, as saltpeter does not appear to have been used in warfare in Europe or the Middle East before the 13th century, and is absent from the accounts of the Muslim writers—the foremost chemists of the early medieval world[49]—before the same period.[50] In addition, the nature of the proposed mixture would have been radically different from the siphōn-projected substance described by Byzantine sources.[51]

A second view, based on the fact that Greek fire was inextinguishable by water (some sources suggest that water intensified the flames) suggested that its destructive power was the result of the explosive reaction between water and quicklime. Although quicklime was certainly known and used by the Byzantines and the Arabs in warfare,[52] the theory is refuted by literary and empirical evidence. A quicklime-based substance would have to come in contact with water to ignite, while Emperor Leo's Tactica indicate that Greek fire was often poured directly on the decks of enemy ships,[53] although admittedly, decks were kept wet due to lack of sealants. Likewise, Leo describes the use of grenades,[54] which further reinforces the view that contact with water was not necessary for the substance's ignition.[55] Furthermore, C. Zenghelis pointed out that, based on experiments, the actual result of the water–quicklime reaction would be negligible in the open sea.[56] Another similar proposition suggested that Kallinikos had in fact discovered calcium phosphide, which can be made by boiling bones in urine within a sealed vessel.[57] On contact with water, calcium phosphide releases phosphine, which ignites spontaneously. However, extensive experiments with it also failed to reproduce the described intensity of Greek fire.[58][59]

Consequently, although the presence of either quicklime or saltpeter in the mixture cannot be entirely excluded, they were not the primary ingredient.[59][46] Most modern scholars agree that Greek fire was based on either crude or refined petroleum, comparable to modern napalm. The Byzantines had easy access to crude oil from the naturally occurring wells around the Black Sea (e.g., the wells around Tmutorakan noted by Constantine Porphyrogennetos) or in various locations throughout the Middle East.[44][60][61] An alternate name for Greek fire was "Median fire" (μηδικὸν πῦρ),[2] and the 6th-century historian Procopius records that crude oil, called "naphtha" (in Greek: νάφθα naphtha, from Old Persian 𐎴𐎳𐎫 naft) by the Persians, was known to the Greeks as "Median oil" (μηδικὸν ἔλαιον).[62] This seems to corroborate the use of naphtha as a basic ingredient of Greek fire.[63] Naphtha was also used by the Abbasids in the 9th century, with special troops, the naffāṭūn, who wore thick protective suits and used small copper vessels containing burning oil, which they threw onto the enemy troops.[64] There is also a surviving 9th century Latin text, preserved at Wolfenbüttel in Germany, which mentions the ingredients of what appears to be Greek fire and the operation of the siphōns used to project it. Although the text contains some inaccuracies, it clearly identifies the main component as naphtha.[2][65] Resins were probably added as a thickener (the Praecepta Militaria refer to the substance as πῦρ κολλητικόν, "sticky fire"), and to increase the duration and intensity of the flame.[66][67] A modern theoretical concoction included the use of pine tar and animal fat along with other ingredients.[68]

A 12th century treatise prepared by Mardi bin Ali al-Tarsusi for Saladin records an Arab version of Greek fire, called naft, which also had a petroleum base, with sulfur and various resins added. Any direct relation with the Byzantine formula is unlikely.[69] An Italian recipe from the 16th century has been recorded for recreational use; it includes coal from a willow tree, alcohol, incense, sulfur, wool and camphor as well as two undetermined components (burning salt and pegola); the concoction was guaranteed to "burn under water" and to be "beautiful."[70]


PREMO Member
What I got out of that, is that there are merely theories as to what it was, and not the actual formula. I like the fact that it's still a mystery - some things should remain that way.

Pretty Much .... only speculation