Greek fire
1. an incendiary mixture of unknown composition, used in warfare in medieval times by Byzantine Greeks.
2. any of a group of inflammable mixtures; wildfire.
[1820-30]

* * *

Any of several flammable mixtures used in ancient and medieval warfare, particularly a petroleum-based mixture invented by the Byzantine Greeks in the 7th century.

Flammable materials such as pitch and sulfur had been used in war since ancient times, but true Greek fire was especially deadly. Thrown in pots or discharged from tubes, it apparently caught fire spontaneously, and water could not put it out. Greek fire launched from tubes mounted on ship prows wrought havoc on the Arab fleet attacking Constantinople in 673. Its effectiveness was a prime reason for the long survival of the Byzantine Empire. The recipe was so secret that its precise composition remains unknown.

* * *

      any of several flammable compositions that were used in warfare in ancient and medieval times. More specifically the term refers to a mixture introduced by the Byzantine (Byzantine Empire) Greeks in the 7th century AD. The employment of incendiary materials in war is of ancient origin; many writers of antiquity refer to flaming arrows, firepots, and such substances as pitch, naphtha, sulfur, and charcoal. But true Greek fire was evidently a petroleum-based mixture. It was invented during the reign of Constantine IV Pogonatus by a Greek-speaking Syrian refugee from the Arab conquest of Syria. It could be thrown in pots or discharged from tubes. The substance apparently took fire spontaneously and could not be extinguished with water.

      Greek fire launched from tubes mounted on the prows of Greek ships wrought havoc on the Arab fleet attacking Constantinople in 673. Greek fire was later employed effectively by Leo III the Isaurian against an Arab attack in 717 and by Romanus I Lecapenus against a Russian fleet in the 10th century. Its deadliness in combat, especially at sea, has been cited as a prime reason for the long survival of the Byzantine Empire in the face of many enemies. The art of compounding the mixture was a secret so closely guarded that its precise composition remains unknown to this day.

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Greek fire — was a burning liquid weapon used by the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines typically used it in naval battles to great effect as it could continue burning even on water. It was largely responsible for many Byzantine military victories, and partly… …   Wikipedia

  • Greek fire — Fire Fire (f[imac]r), n. [OE. fir, fyr, fur AS. f[=y]r; akin to D. vuur, OS. & OHG. fiur, G. feuer, Icel. f[=y]ri, f[=u]rr, Gr. py^r, and perh. to L. purus pure, E. pure Cf. {Empyrean}, {Pyre}.] 1. The evolution of light and heat in the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Greek fire — Greek Greek, a. [AS. grec, L. Graecus, Gr. ?: cf. F. grec. Cf. {Grecian}.] Of or pertaining to Greece or the Greeks; Grecian. [1913 Webster] {Greek calends}. See under {Greek calends} in the vocabulary. {Greek Church} (Eccl. Hist.), the Eastern… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Greek fire — Greek′ fire′ n. anh an incendiary mixture of unknown composition, used in warfare in medieval times by Byzantine Greeks • Etymology: 1820–30 …   From formal English to slang

  • Greek fire — n. [from its first use by Greeks of Byzantium] an incendiary material used in medieval warfare, described as able to burn in water …   English World dictionary

  • Greek fire — noun a mixture used by Byzantine Greeks that was often shot at adversaries; catches fire when wetted • Hypernyms: ↑mixture, ↑weapon, ↑arm, ↑weapon system * * * noun Usage: usually capitalized G 1. : an incendiary composition used in warfare by… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Greek fire — noun A flammable substance first used by the Greeks of to set fire to enemy ships, buildings etc. “There is yet spirit in him,” said Malvoisin apart to Mont–Fitchet, “were it well directed but, like the Greek fire, it burns whatever approaches it …   Wiktionary

  • Greek Fire —    Napalm like substance that could be squirted under pressure from specially designed ships, used for the first time with devastating effect on the Arab fleet besieging Constantinople (q.v.) in 678. Tradition attributes its invention to a Greek… …   Historical dictionary of Byzantium

  • Greek fire — /grik ˈfaɪə/ (say greek fuyuh) noun a flammable mixture used by the Byzantine Greeks to set fire to enemy ships, etc …   Australian English dictionary

  • Greek fire — noun historical a combustible composition first used by the Greeks besieged in Constantinople (673–8), used to set fire to enemy ships …   English new terms dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”