Nursery Rhymes

Greek Fire

Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Description of Greek Fire
The weapons used during the Middle Ages include the Greek Fire. Fire caused havoc in a besieged castle or city and a variety of fire missiles were thrown from a trebuchet - none more terrifying than Greek Fire. Greek fire was a liquid that ignited on contact with water. Greek Fire had the property of developing intense heat, spreading in all directions and burning on water!

The use of the trebuchet and Greek Fire was featured in the 2003 movie Timeline, based on the book by Michael Crichton. This movie depicted the making of Greek Fire and how it was used, to devastating effect, during  siege warfare between the English and the French.

Greek Fire Recipe / Formula / Ingredients
Greek Fire was such a devastating weapon that the exact composition of a Greek Fire Recipe was a closely guarded secret. There were various formula for creating Greek Fire. Some accounts of Greek Fire suggest that petroleum and oil was used as an ingredient. Other Greek Fire recipe or formula which seems far more likely include a combination, or composition of ingredients such as Quicklime, Saltpeter, Bitumen, Sulphur, Resin and Pitch. No one, to date, has been able to successfully recreate the exact composition. This terrifying fiery substance stuck like glue to almost any surface and was nearly impossible to extinguish except with sand, salt, or urine. Throwing water alone on Greek Fire only fanned the flames.

Greek Fire Recipe - the Ingredients
The Greek Fire recipe for Greek fire included the following ingredients which are defined as follows:

  • Quicklime - Quicklime also known as calcium oxide (white, caustic, lumpy powder )
  • Saltpeter - Saltpeter aka Sodium nitrate is a type of salt which has long been used as an ingredient in explosives
  • Bitumen - Asphalt and tar are the most common forms of bitumen. The city of Carthage was easily burnt down due to extensive use of bitumen in construction.
  • Sulpher (Sulfur) - Sulfur is a soft bright yellow solid. Unlike most other liquids, increases with temperature due to the formation of polymer chains. Because of its flammable nature, sulfur also finds use in matches, gunpowder, and fireworks.
  • Resin - Resin is a sticky liquid produced by most plants. Some reins contain heptane which is explosively flammable
  • Pitch - Pitch is a thick, dark, sticky substances obtained from the distillation residue of coal tar, wood tar, or petroleum and used for waterproofing

Understanding the properties of the ingredients which were possibly included in the recipe or formula for Greek Fire explains why its exact composition was kept such a closely guarded secret.

History of Greek Fire
The history of Greek Fire is believed to date back to the 7th century and invented by a Byzantine engineer called Kallinikos (or Callinicus). It was first used against the Arabs at the siege of Constantinople of 673.

Siege Weapons
Middle Ages Index

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