A Byzantine earthenware hand grenade featuring a hollow bulbous body with a pointed base. To the top, the vessel leads to a short 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 decorative band features on the body, comprising of carved concentric circles and triangles. Some narrow circular incisions run around the lower section of the vessel’s body and the base point.
Date: Circa 9th-11th century AD Provenance: From a collection of a North London gentleman, latterly with a London gallery. Condition: Very good condition. Some earthy encrustations on the surface. A few chips to the rim and body.
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. The formula for the flammable mixture was closely guarded for centuries and irredeemably 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 making the liquid impervious to 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.
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