Byzantine Hand Grenade with Rouletted Designs


A Byzantine greyware hand grenade featuring a hollow spherical body with a pointed base. To the top, a substantial neck with a rouletted decoration which 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. The vessel is further decorated with a raised band around the shoulder. On the upper section of the body, two shallow continuous bands run horizontally with a frieze of specular rouletted motifs above.

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 minor chip to the rim.


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.

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

Weight 672.6 g
Dimensions L 15.7 x W 9 cm


Pottery and Porcelain

Reference: For a similar item, please see The V&A, item 1750-1898 and item 1300-1893