Greek Fire, also referred to as liquid fire (ὑγρόν πῦρ), was one of the most famous weapons of the Byzantine arsenal and its use played a crucial role in the defence of the Empire, ensuring its long survival. The formula for the incendiary mixture was closely guarded for centuries and deemed forever lost after the collapse of the Empire. Its precise composition thus remains unknown to this day, though research suggests that petroleum was a vital ingredient, allowing the substance to burn on the surface of water. Greek fire was first used at sea where it was particularly effective against wooden ships; it was later delivered via clay grenades, either by hand or by launching with a catapult.
Byzantine Hand Grenade with Circular Designs
A Byzantine earthenware hand grenade featuring a hollow bulbous body with a pointed base. To the top, the vessel leads to the neck and splays out slightly into a thick rim with a small mouth. This allowed the item to be filled with an explosive liquid known as ‘Greek fire’ and used as a hand grenade in battle. The mouth would have also accommodated a fuse to instigate the explosion. As typical for Byzantine grenades, this piece displays geometric patterns to its outer surface. A band of carved circles decorates the body. Below it, two shallow grooves run around the vessel, fading into the lower section of the body.
Provenance: From a collection of a North London gentleman, latterly with a London gallery.
Condition: Very fine. Some minor chips and earthly encrustations.