A Byzantine earthenware hand grenade featuring a hollow cylindrical 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 large groove runs horizontally across the lower section of the body, allowing for a secure grip to the vessel. The grenade is further decorated with a shallow grove above the grip, as well as two concentric ones at the shoulder. To the base, a stamped inscription comprised of three letters possibly indicates the workshop where the vessel was produced.
Date: Circa 9th-11th century AD Provenance: From a collection of a North London gentleman, latterly with a London gallery. Condition: Fine condition, some earthy encrustations remain on the surface. Minor chips to the rim and across the 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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