Byzantine grenades, dating as far back to the 8th century AD, are one of the earliest recorded use of grenades. They are filled with an explosive liquid known as ‘Greek fire’ (ὑγρόν πῦρ, hygron pyr) – one of the most famous weapons of the Byzantine arsenal. The Byzantine writer, Theophanes had attributed the invention of the mixture to Callinicus of Heliopolis. However, modern historian suggest that it was not the creation of a single person. Nevertheless, the invention of Greek fire came at an opportune time when the Empire was plagued by wars and internal strife. It was swiftly employed against the Arab sieges of Constantinople, in the civil wars of 727 AD and the famous revolt led by Thomas the Slav in 821-823 AD. Other inflammables like Roman fire and fire of war were also used to fill the hand grenades. Although the ability of Greek fire to burn on water made it particularly flavoured for naval battles. Byzantine grenades continued to be popular during the crusades (11th-13th century AD) and were used up till 16th century AD. However, the formula for Greek fire was lost after the collapse of the Byzantine Empire and the precise composition remains unknown to this day, though modern research suggests that petroleum or naphtha could have been the main ingredient.
To find out more about Byzantine hand grenades please see our relevant blog post: Byzantine Fire Grenades