Nursery Rhymes

Greek Fire

Medieval life and Times

Definition of Greek Fire
Greek Fire was used as a deadly weapon during siege warfare. It was projected by a siege weapon, such as the Trebuchet.

History of Medieval Greek Fire
The history of Medieval 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.

Description of Medieval Greek Fire
The weapons used the Medieval times include the Medieval 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 Medieval Greek Fire. Medieval Greek Fire was a liquid that ignited on contact with water. Medieval Greek Fire had the property of developing intense heat, spreading in all directions and burning on water! The use of the trebuchet and Medieval Greek Fire was featured in the 2003 movie Timeline, based on the book by Michael Crichton. This movie depicted the making of Medieval Greek Fire and how it was used, to devastating effect, during  siege warfare between the English and the French.

How to make Greek Fire - Recipe / Formula / Ingredients
Medieval Greek Fire was such a devastating weapon that the exact composition of a Medieval Greek Fire Recipe was a closely guarded secret. There were various formula for creating Medieval Greek Fire. Some accounts of Medieval Greek Fire suggest that petroleum and oil was used as an ingredient. Other Medieval 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 Medieval Greek Fire only fanned the flames.

How to make Greek Fire -  Greek Fire Recipe - the Ingredients and Formula
How to make Greek fire. The Medieval Greek Fire recipe for Medieval 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 Medieval Greek Fire explains why its exact composition was kept such a closely guarded secret/

First Hand History of Medieval Greek Fire
The Memoirs of the Lord of Joinville provides a fascinating description of Medieval Greek Fire. Born in 1225, John, Lord of Joinville, Seneschal of Champagne was only twenty-three when he joined the French King Louis in the disastrous Seventh Crusade when Medieval Greek Fire was used by the Saracens.

"... the tail of fire that trailed behind it was as big as a great spear; and it made such a noise as it came, that it sounded like the thunder of heaven. It looked like a dragon flying through the air. Such a bright light did it cast, that one could see all over the camp as though it were day, by reason of the great mass of fire, and the brilliance of the light that it shed.

His companion, Lord Walter of Cureil wrote:

"Sirs, we are in the greatest peril that we have ever yet been in. For, if they set fire to our turrets and shelters, we are lost and burnt; and if, again, we desert our defences which have been entrusted to us, we are disgraced; so none can deliver us from this peril save God alone. My opinion and advice therefor is: that every time they hurl the fire at us, we go down on our elbows and knees, and beseech Our Lord to save us from this danger."

Medieval Greek Fire fighters stated:

"We put out the fire, and before we had got it under, we were covered from head to foot with the fire-darts that the Saracens shot across the river."


The devastation caused by the use of Medieval Greek Fire is well illustrated in the above fascinating descriptions and first hand history of Medieval Greek Fire by John, Lord of Joinville.

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