Napalm was an invention of 20th-century warfare, but the deadly incendiary substance had an ancient and mysterious ancestor. Greek fire, developed in the Byzantine Empire of the seventh century, was a devastating weapon capable of being fired through tubes like a flamethrower, or hurled grenade-style in pots. It stuck to and burned everything, and couldn’t be doused by water, making it especially useful in naval battles.
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In the AD 670s, the Byzantines repelled an Arab fleet attacking Constantinople with siphons mounted to their ships – the beginning of its dominance in its arsenal, which helped the empire survive until the 15th century. But then Greek fire disappeared.
After being created, supposedly by a Jewish refugee called Callinicus of Heliopolis, its ingredients became a state secret. The recipe was eventually lost. While petroleum, naphtha, quicklime and sulphur are educated guesses, the exact composition of Greek fire remains unknown. That’s probably for the best.