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Greek fire

Greek fire or Byzantine fire or liquid fire was a weapon used by the Byzantine Empire, said to have been invented by a Syrian Christian refugee named Callinicus of Heliopolis. It was capable of discharging a stream of burning fluid, and was very effective both on sea and land, but it was used primarily at sea. It is rumored that the key to Greek fire's effectiveness was that it would continue burning under almost any conditions, even under water. Enemy ships were often afraid to come too near the Byzantine fleet because once within range the fire gave the Byzantines a strong advantage.

The secret of manufacturing the fluid was very carefully guarded--so well that today we still do not know how it was made. Various sources speculate that its consituents may have included sulfur, quicklime, and liquid petroleum.

One other incendiary substance, perhaps that "secret ingredient," may have been magnesium, which will burn under water, and is a principle constituent in incendiary bombs of modern warfare.

These materials were apparently heated in a cauldron, and then pumped out through a siphon.

Byzantine fire was largely responsible for many Byzantine military victories, and partly the reason for the Empire surviving as long as it did, particularly near the end of the Empire when there were not enough inhabitants of Byzantium to effectively defend it. It was first used in 672 against an attacking Arab fleet, and it quickly become one of the most fearsome weapons of the medieval world; the mere sight of any sort of siphon, whether it was used for Greek fire or not, was often enough to defeat an enemy. However, it was hard to control, and often accidentally set Byzantine ships on fire as well.

It was in a general way similar to the modern flamethrower. See also napalm to learn about a flammable substance which has been used in modern warfare, notably the Vietnam War.