Byzantine Hand Grenade with Decorative Band


A Byzantine earthenware hand grenade, hollow and tapered to a pointed base. The top of the vessel displays a short, thick-rimmed neck 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. The widest part of the vessel is decorated with a band of concentric circles and small dots. Below this band, the vessel’s body is incised with horizontal grooves wrapping around its entire body to help with grip.

Date: Circa 9th - 11th century AD
Condition: Fine condition, with some surface encrustation and minor chipping on the upper body and neck. The neck has been repaired.


Greek Fire, also referred to as liquid fire (ὑγρόν πῦρ, hygron pyr), 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. A vessel, such as this example, would be filled with the highly flammable compound, consisting of naphtha and quicklime, then plugged with a fuse through its mouth. When lit and thrown, these pieces became very effective hand grenades in battle, particularly against an enemy’s wooden ships since ‘Greek Fire’ was resistant to water. Such weaponry was tailored to the location of Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium, since its coastal position required frequent defence against naval attacks.

To find out more about Byzantine hand grenades please see our relevant blog post: Byzantine Fire Grenades

Weight 619.4 g
Dimensions L 8.4 x W 8.4 x H 14.2 cm

Pottery and Porcelain


Reference: For a similar item,Bonhams, London, Antiquities including property from the collection of Sir Daniel Donohue, April 2011, Lot 218

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