Greek Fire

Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium, a port city of thriving trade and the secular jewel of the middle east was a hotly contested territory long held by the Greek people known as Byzantines.  One of the reasons for the duration of time they held this city was their knowledge of the recipe they used to make their legendary Greek fire.


Image courtesy of

As with Damascus steel, Greek fire was a closely guarded middle eastern secret. The recipe for the form of this pyrotechnical weapon which gave the name the respect or perhaps fear that it has today comes from the Byzantine naval recipe for Greek fire.  This recipe seems to have been an especially effective mixture which burned without fail and for a long duration.  There are accounts of a battle in which the Byzantine navy was able to destroy an entire Muslim navy with Greek fire (678 AD).  After this point it became the deterrent of the day.  Few enemies of the Eastern Roman Empire were willing to risk the flames.

The inventor of this source of fire is believed to be a man by the name of Callinicus as the Roman records read, a refugee from Maalbek or Heliopolis in Judea.  While various forms of pyrotechnical weapons had been used up until the time Greek fire was created, c. 673 AD, nothing had yet been seen which had the same effect as this new weapon.

While Greek fire can refer to many different flammable mixtures, the legend of the name comes from the effect it had at the siege of Constantinople in 672 AD.  The fleets of the Byzantine empire engaged the Muslim fleet with this weapon and destroyed them and by accounts some 30,000 men.

The discovery of this secret, especially effective pyrotechnical weapon gave the Byzantines the edge they needed to control the seas around their capital city for many years.