Byzantine Clay Hand Grenade

£ 275.00

A Byzantine, hollow, spheroconical vessel made from thick clay. This vessel has a bulbous body and wide shoulders which narrow to a thinner short rounded spout. The base of the vessel tapers to a point. Most likely this closed vessel would have been used as a hand grenade. Small and easily held, they were instrumental to the Byzantine army. This grenade is decorated with four linear bands of engraved ‘S’ shapes, two abreast running down the length of the vessel, and a single ‘S’ ring around the spout . The clay vessels were thought to have been filled with a secretive substance known as ‘Greek fire.’ A cloth fuse would have been poked through the small spout. Because of how small they are, it has been assumed that Byzantine hand grenades were either thrown by hand or launched from small catapults.

Date: Circa 9th -12th Century AD
Provenance: From a collection of a North London gentleman, latterly with a London gallery.
Condition: Good Condition. There are some ships and small scratches over the body, and some earthly encrustations remaining especially around the spout.
Product Code: BS-42
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‘Greek fire’ is known as one of the great mysteries of the Byzantine military. The chemical weapon was introduced into by a chemist and engineer called Kallinikos of Heliopolis. He also supplied the military contraptions that the formula could be used in. It has also been suggested that Emperor Constantine had this secret formula whispered to him by an angel, and he instructed that ‘Greek fire’ would become a state secret, with Kallinikos’s family being its only producers. Contemporary accounts of the fire being used in battle have described the fire to be able to burn on water and to let out loud and frightening sounds whilst burning.

The formula was maintained as a highly secretive item among the Byzantine army, even among its own producers. Workers would only know one aspect of how to make the liquid. The intense mystery which surrounded the weapon has been suggested to be its downfall. It’s also been shown that any attempts to recreate Greek fire after its disappearance have been insufficient. ‘Greek fire’ and the weapons used to wield it, have been credited to be the reason the Byzantine empire held power for such a long period in the face of its enemies.

Weight 50.48 g
Dimensions L 13.9 x W 8.20 cm



Near East (Western Asiatic), Southern Europe

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