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Author Topic: Greek Fire  (Read 401 times)

Offline Oldboy

  • Bookworm
  • Posts: 87
Greek Fire
« on: September 18, 2020, 07:38:24 AM »
Dear All
I have heard mention of Greek fire in the various medieval books I am reading. I can see on google that it is an incendiary liquid or substance fired from a device and often used in naval battles.
I believe it was not overly effective in land battles. Despite this I would like to see a picture of the device used, especially for land battles. Please can you point me to a website or book.
many thanks

Offline Mick_in_Switzerland

  • Supporting Adventurer
  • Scatterbrained Genius
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  • Posts: 2104
Re: Greek Fire
« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2020, 08:54:23 AM »
The manuscript pictures on the Wikipedia page is the only ones that I know about.


Offline sukhe_bator

  • Mastermind
  • Posts: 1581
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Re: Greek Fire
« Reply #2 on: September 18, 2020, 09:55:32 AM »
The greek fire siphon was a cumbersome contraption that was dangerous and vulnerable to damage. A ship provided both protection and mobility. On land a siphon would have been a liability - hence it was far more effective against dry timber targets... The only other scenario where it would have been useful is in sieges.
The Smithsonian channel have this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPUgvYZ5UDk
However, trebuchets and other siege engines were far more effective at lobbing incendiary missiles at longer ranges and greek fire encapsulated would have been far more effective used by them while greek fire siphons would have been more of a close quarter wall defender along with the hot sand, hot oil and stones.
Warriors dreams, summer grasses, all that remains

Offline HappyChappy439

  • Mad Scientist
  • Posts: 826
Re: Greek Fire
« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2020, 09:56:58 AM »
My understanding is that the device used to actually fire the uh...fire gets referred to as a "Siphon," which is essentially a 'tank' of the fuel, attached to a bellows to provide air pressure, with a tube to launch it. There's an illustration in the Osprey "Byzantine Naval Forces 1261-1461" of a hand-held siphon if that helps! And illustrations in manuscripts like the Madrid Skylitzes show the larger naval version attached to the fronts of ships

There's a description in the Alexiad of Greek Fire being used from the walls of Dyracchion to burn the Norman siege engines in 1108 as well, along with a (possibly anecdotal) description for how the Byzantines prepared it:

I'd assume most of the time it was confined to defensive sieges and naval battles though, just because dragging the equipment around would be pretty impractical in a fast-moving battle, especially where you can't reliably assume wind direction!

The Wikipedia article Mick_in_Switzerland linked has a lot of the main sources about it mentioned, with some contemporary depictions, so it's definitely a good start if you're doing some research

Offline Oldboy

  • Bookworm
  • Posts: 87
Re: Greek Fire
« Reply #4 on: September 18, 2020, 11:05:29 AM »
Thank you all, once again, for being so helpful.


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