Who Was The Roman Emperor Valentinian I?

Oh, he was a swell guy. You often hear of these Roman tragedies about territories that have been split between brothers who would then fight and kill one another in order to accumulate as much wealth and power for themselves, but Valentinian loved his dear brother Valens so much that he made him co-emperor. He did a few other things too, but his reign only lasted about eleven years. Yes, he died in power after a somewhat short reign. You have to love it when that happens.

And that’s always what happens.

He was born in 321 A.D. in what you might know as Croatia, and he lived during the same period as when Constantine I and Constans I ruled the empire. His father was Gratianus Major, a commander in the Roman Empire. Valentinian probably didn’t grow up predicting he would become emperor. When Constans was assassinated in 350, a war began that would decide the future ruler of Rome. A long way into the conflict, the man who ousted Constans finally committed suicide when he realized he was a real bugger and chaos wasn’t getting anyone anywhere.

During a period of further unrest that lasted nearly fifteen years and another assassination or two, Valentinian had risen in the ranks of military service and was now a Tribune in command of an elite regiment of infantry called a Scutarii. When the last ruler in line was perhaps poisoned or perhaps died by accident (yeah right, this is Rome), there was an assembly called to propose candidates for a new emperor. After a couple rejections, Valentinian was chosen. There wasn’t really a great reason for this choice; it was mainly because he was hanging around in the right place at the right time when the other options were either jerks or too far away.

He ascended to the station of Emperor on February 26, 354 A.D.

As any great Roman emperor does, Valentinian fought to keep the empire’s borders as strong as possible for as long as possible. He is noted for sending men to venture across his own borders in order to build outposts in territories occupied his enemies, and also for successful military endeavors against the Sarmatians, Qadi, and Alamanni. In the midst of these conflicts, he also managed to leave the borders with improved fortifications.

During his reign, there was also an African revolt and a strong attack on Britain that he successfully repelled. Because of these acts, many historians believe that Valentinian is one of the last great Roman emperors to have lived. His sons went on to succeed his reign in the western parts of the empire, but the state of the Roman Empire after Valentinian passed away on November 17, 375 A.D. diminished quickly. He died of a burst blood vessel after getting angry with foreign envoys. He was a swell guy–just not very patient.

Second Council of Constantinople

In AD 449, under the authority of Emperor Theodosius II, the Council of Chalcedon had convened and ultimately regarded Pope Leo I’s definition of Christ as possessing two simultaneous natures, both human and divine, to be orthodoxy. This was later known as the Chalcedonian Definition by historians and scholars. Despite the decision of the Council, however, sects existed within the Christian world that still did not accept the idea of two natures existing in one body. Apart from Nestorianism, the belief that the Incarnation of Christ existed effectively as two separate bodies with exclusive natures, there were also groups identified as Monophysites, those that believed that Christ existed with only one will or nature, these groups having segregated themselves after the rejection of Eutychianism that branded Eutyches a heretic in AD 448. Despite being reinstated in 449, he and Monophysitism came under scrutiny again at the Council of Chalcedon after the establishment of the Chalcedonian Definition.

Over 100 years later, following the Three Chapters, a series of writings that opposed Cyril’s Twelve Anathemas that asserted the Chalcedonian Definition as well as Cyrillianism as a whole, Emperior Justinian issued an edict that condemned these writings and reinforced the opposition to Nestorianism. A lesser objective of this tactic was also an attempt to reconcile with Monophysites and bring them back into the fold of the Orthodox Church. These were brought to bear on his authority at the Second Council of Constantinople in AD 553.

While the council was meant to have Pope Vigillus, a resident of Constantinople at the time due to conflict in the West with the Visigoths, Vigillus refused, finding his priorities to be more focused toward trying to sway Justinian to send military aid rather than address the Three Chapters. Vigillus was personally excommunicated and imprisoned within Constantinople, through the entirety of the Second Council, before agreeing to condemn the Three Chapters in December of 553.

During the Council itself, the Three Chapters were condemned without the Pope presiding over the proceedings. The canons that were to follow outlined the Chalcedonian Definition in finer detail: that the two natures it once alluded to were now two sets of exclusive attributes maintained in one person.

The initial response was not felt until the Pope, in his captivity, acquiesced to agree to their condemnation. This sent shockwaves through the Western portions of the empire. As a result, several bishops in Italy broke communion with Rome, arguing strongly against the Pope’s condemnation of the Three Chapters and affirmation of the new Chalcedonian interpretation. This would be known as the Schism of the Three Chapters. These grievances would not be rectified in their entirety until the end of the 7th century, when Aquileia finally accepted the condemnation, although far from willingly.

Before the end of the Schism’s effects, Monophysites had developed compromises to their beliefs in the forms of monoenergism (the belief that Christ existed with two natures, but one “energy”) and monotheletism (the belief that Christ existed with two natures but one divine will). These compromises were not sufficient enough to reunited them with Orthodox Christianity that believed in two distinct natures and wills respectively. The schisms that remained between Monophysites and non-Monophysites would only expand further between the conquests of Muslims as well as the Third Council of Constantinople.

The Vienne Dioscurides: Early Pharmacology

There was a time where innovations in medicine moved slowly, but there were also brilliant men who set foundational standards that were not questioned for hundreds of years.

Before Big Pharma and complex machinery, society was quite simple and, shall we say, organic. Much of the medicine in the world to help the sick came in the form of various plants and herbs found natively, and that was the case up until the Renaissance period in Europe.

For 15 centuries, in fact, healing agents really didn’t change much after a comprehensive manuscript was formed and compiled by a Roman military surgeon by the name of Dioscurides. Dioscurides lived in the first century A.D. and served in the military of the Roman Empire under Emperor Nero, and as a military officer in an expansive empire, Dioscurides was a heavy traveler, according to Herman Law.

As he traveled throughout the Empire, we started taking notes on the various plants and herbs he came across that were native to the areas in which he traveled. He would create accurate illustrations of the herbs and plants, describe each and give their medicinal values either as sanative or harmful. Hundreds of these species were observed and described in this manuscript, making it the most comprehensive “medical book” up to that time, and – it turned out – the most dependable resource for about 1,500 years, known in the early years as De Materia Medica (Materials of Medicine).

Dioscruides’ work was published sometime around 70 A.D., but the oldest known copy of the manuscript comes from the sixth century A.D. and was first called the Anicia Juliana codex, named for the Byzantine princess for whom the manuscript was created as a gift of gratitude. The princess was the daughter of the Byzantine emperor Olybrius, and was a patron and supporter of many of the arts that were occurring in the empire, and this codex (about 1,000 pages) was a gift specifically for her support of the building of a church in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey).

After that time, the manuscript went missing for most of the next nine centuries, until a monk in Constantinople named Nathanael asked John Chortasmenos to rebound the work in 1406. In 1423 was another sighting, as Aurispa, a traveler from Sicily came through Constantinople and witnessed the codex. Thirty years later, the city fell to the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, and the codex that had been solely in the original Greek had some Arabic and Turkish entries added to it.

Then, a century later, Hebrew names were added to the codex when Hamon, physician to Suleyman the Magnificent, came to be in possession of the manuscript. Finally, however, in 1569, Emperor Maximilian II received the manuscript and he dedicated it to what is now the Austria National Library in Vienna, where it gathered its current name of Vienna Dioscurides, though it is in the library as Codex Vindobonensis med. gr. 1.

The manuscript was also used as the basis of the Pope Alexander VII Dioscurides, which is currently housed in the Vatican Library. For its historical significance, it was listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme Register in 1997.

Byzantine Cuisine

Originating from both Greek and Roman traditions, the history of Byzantine cuisine offered variety as a cultural experience as well as within the various strata of the empire’s social hierarchy. The rise of the empire itself brought exotic ingredients to Greece from across Asia Minor, including spices, sugar, and vegetables that had not yet been introduced into Greek culture. This encouraged cooks within society to experiment with the new ingredients at their disposal, leading to the development of a new style of cuisine simply styled “Eastern,” consisting mostly of Asia Minor and Eastern Aegean recipes, which would eventually become the primary basis for Byzantine cuisine as a whole.

In the upper echelons of society, the nobility and those of the Imperial palace indulged themselves and their guests with a great variety of exotic foods ranging from fresh fruits to what are often referred to as “sweetmeats,” a term generally used to refer to confections. They could afford lamb, one of the more common domestic meats available within the empire as many did not butcher cattle for the sake of utilizing them as beasts of burden for the fields. The Byzantine elite also hunted for meat that was not so commonly available on market, making it an extremely expensive commodity that was nearly unavailable to the common folk and peasantry. They often supplemented these lavish meals with wines that were regarded through the known world. Macedonia in particular was well-regarded for the wine it exported, along with the islands of Cyprus and Crete, which used muscal grapes. Many other wines of great renown circulated throughout the Byzantine and Roman empires, including variants from the western Peloponnese and Monemvasia.

For the lower classes of the Byzantine empire, cuisine and diets were a much simpler process with simpler ingredients. Where the nobility feasted on sweet treats and fruits, commoners’ diets consisted more closely to breads, vegetables, pulses (grain seed) and cereals prepared in a number of ways. They also ate salads on a fairly regular basis, a common part of Byzantine diet. Commoners also took to slaughtering pigs as the alternative to the nobility’s penchant for hunting, preparing sausages, salted pork and lard for their families. Through the empire, boiling food was the most common form of cooking at all. Fermented sauces such as garos (fermented fish sauce) and murri (fermented barley sauce) were often used to give cooked meals their flavor. These sorts of flavors were less than appealing to the nobility. Historians make note of Liutprand of Cremona, an ambassador to Constantinople on behalf of Emperor Otto, commenting on his meal tasting of “exceedingly bad fish liquor.” Even the cheaper brand of wine, Retsina, was labeled as “undrinkable” by the same ambassador.

Taking from garos, Byzantine cuisine made heavy use of seafood: fish and shellfish, fresh and saltwater alike. They also developed Greek cheeses such as anthotiro and kefalotyri. Sphoungata were omelettes famously regarded within the empire, meaning “spongy.” Because of its strategic location in terms of cuisine influences, some historians believe that modern baklava and tiropita derive themselves from Byzantine recipes. The long list of cultural influences (including Italy, Persia and the Arabic empire) that shifted Byzantine cuisine also may just be the reason that it persevered through the downfall of the empire itself: influencing the Ottoman empire and stretching into modern cuisines such as Turkish, Balkans and even recirculating back into Greek. Look at this video from our friend Ben Bronston

Third Council of Constantinople

With the rise of the Chalcedonian Definition that stated Christ existed as one being with two natures and two corresponding wills, both human and divine, Orthodox Christology had become fairly well-established after the Council of Chalcedon, the fourth Ecumenical Council in Orthodox Christian history. However, with its rise also came the rise of separatist factions such as Nestorianism, which opposed the idea of Christ possessing any human qualities whatsoever, lest he be considered fallible and devoid of his divine nature. Other sects included Monophysitism and its branches such as monoenergism and monotheletism, which believed with variations that Christ existed as one man with two natures, in accordance with the Chalcedonian Definition, but also maintaining an energy or will of divine origin that superseded his human qualities. While the former Nestorianism had been denounced time and again through the Council of Chalcedon as well as the Second Council of Constantinople, With the Second Council, Emperor Justinian had attempted to strike a compromise with Monophysites to bring them back into the fold of Orthodox Christianity. For the most part, the compromise seemed to appease many through the Byzantine empire, although it upset the balance greatly in parts of northern Italy, who would not accept it in its entirely for almost a century and a half after the Second Council had concluded. This hostility carried until the rise of Constans II in AD 641. He saw the rift in opinion over the doctrine to be a threat to the empire’s stability, and he outlawed open conversation either for or against the doctrine simply for the sake of keeping the peace. By the time his son, Constantine IV, came to power and drove back the Muslims’ siege of Constantinople in AD 678, he was of the mind to make recompense with Rome over the doctrine. Between the Pope and the Emperor, bishops under their jurisdiction convened for the Third Council of Constantinople in AD 680.

The Council discussed matters almost exclusively pertaining to monoenergism and monotheletism, condemning them and branding them heretical as they went against the beliefs of Western tradition and the original Chalcedonian definition (elaborated upon in a letter from Pope Agatho), that Christ existed with two natures and two wills, both human divine with the human aspect being in subjection to the divine. The Council also branded Pope Honorius I, now long deceased at this point, as well as four previous patriarchs of Constantinople as heretical for supporting monoenergism and monotheletism. The schism between Constantinople and Rome seemed to have been rectified, as the decrees were reported back to Pope Leo II, the successor to Pope Agatho.

Pope Leo II would later write in support of the Council’s decision to brand Pope Honorius a heretic and to anathematize him posthumously. Pope Leo criticized Honorius of his silence while monotheletism too root around him and he allegedly did nothing to stop it or stem its flow, whether or not he actually shared in its beliefs.

Byzantine Music

This is brought to you by Noland Law Firm: Like many traditions and customs within the Byzantine empire, its music derives much of its method and technicality from Greek civilization. Most of the music composed early on were songs and hymns specifically created to Greek texts and used predominantly for court, festivals and most famously for religious functions and ceremonies. These latter sorts of music persevered through tradition even after the fall of Constantinople, when Sultan Mehmed annexed the Patriarchate of Constantinople and granted responsibility and authority of Orthodox Christians. Once the Ottoman empire eroded, several sects broke away, but took similar traditions of Byzantine music with them. Thus Byzantine music is associated with many traditions of Eastern Orthodox traditions and chants.

Beyond the utility of music in worship and religious functions, however, there was mystical belief in the use of song in worship that spiritually united a congregation with angelic choirs during the singing or chanting of hymns in the early church. This was known as angelic transmission of sacred chant. The second was the concept of koinonia, or communion. The act of participating or partaking as part of a whole. Though regarded as less potent than allegedly being unified with choirs of angels, the idea of actively participating in musical celebration with a whole congregation of worshipers was important in Byzantine religious ceremony. It was thought to reinforce a sense of oneness and cohesion by being all-inclusive rather than restricting the role of singing and chanting a smaller choir.

Although Byzantine music survives predominantly in hymns and songs of religious significance, music itself was prominent throughout the empire in all aspects. Music pervaded dramatic arts, pantomime and ballets. It was present in social events such as banquets and festivals of political or religious natures, even including pagan festivals. Music was even a distinguishing part of the Olympic Games, and it was especially prominent at functions of the Imperial Court. While chanting was mostly heard in religious settings, secular settings often employed song as well as a variety of instruments: an organ (known as an urghun) was used in the Hippodrome during chariot races, while the lyra and shilyani – similar to the violin and lyre, respectively – were also popularly used. They even employed wind instruments such as the aulos, plagiaulos, and askaulos (most similar to modern oboe, flute and bagpipe).

Expanding into the formal and ritual, two genres of Byzantine music existed specifically for court and formal use. The first was polychronia, a chant used in the liturgy that announced monarchs and other secular representatives as well as church officials, guests for special events, or even simply to address the congregation as a whole. The more exclusive are the acclamations, reserved specifically to announce the entrance of the Emperor: be it in receiving representatives at court or entering a social event such as the Hippodrome or a cathedral. Acclamations are distinct from polychronia in that, while polychronia are solemn praises to individuals, acclamations are a call-and-answer method of singing the entrance of the emperor by utilizing claquers to sing a line while the congregation tends to sing all or part of it back in repetition.

Second Council of Nicaea

During the period of Byzantine history known as Iconoclasm, Emperors Leo III and Constantine V had banned the worship of religious icons and figures, believing these to be in direct violation of one of the Ten Commandments and in support of idolatry. The Council of Hieria, convened in AD 754 under Emperor Constantine V and initially claimed to be the Seventh Ecumenical Council, had decreed that the veneration of religious icons should be banned, ushering in the Iconoclasm which saw many displays of religious art destroyed. The Iconoclasm also enforced persecution of those who worshiped religious icons as well as monks on a general scale.

When Patriarch Tarasius had succeeded Paul IV in AD 784, he attempted to enter into communion with other churches and believed that religious imagery should be reestablished. In order to overturn one Ecumenical Council, another would need to convene. Pope Adrian I responded to the Patriarch’s request and sent a legate to attend this council, though it would be interrupted by Iconoclastic soldiers in 786. The locale for the council would be moved to Nicaea in AD 787, assembling in the Hagia Sophia.

By the end of the proceedings, the Second Council of Nicaea had overturned the proceedings of the Council of Hieria by declaring that figures such as Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, angels and all other manner of religious figures existed as symbols and embodiment not dissimilar to the cross in terms of their importance to Christianity. Thus, they deserved to be revered and venerated in a similar manner as the cross itself, although they were explicit in reserving worship for the Divine Being. The Council also found that the Council of Hieria was not ecumenical in its nature, as representatives from the Western parts of the Empire had not been present to convene, and all of its decrees and rulings were effectively null and void.

The papal legates did not hesitate to support the findings of the Second Council of Nicaea, and a full transcript of its proceedings were sent to Pope Hadrian I. This gathering is regarded as the true Seventh Ecumenical Council and is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Despite the Second Council of Nicaea being regarded as the last of the First Seven Ecumenical Councils, its efforts at reinstating veneration and adoration of holy figures to counteract Byzantine Iconoclasm were short-lived. Under Emperor Leo V in AD 815, Patriarch Theodolos ordered to convene at the Hagia Sophia regarding the reinstatement of the rulings found in the Council of Hieria. This event had brought the beginning of the Second Iconoclasm. The ruling as well as the Iconoclasm itself was maintained through the rule of Leo V, his successor Michael II, and finally through Theophilus. Upon the death of Theophilus, however, the throne passed to his heir, Michael III. Acting as regent on her son’s behalf, Empress Theodora called for and presided over a gathering in AD 843 that was meant to reinstate icon veneration and the rulings decreed in the Second of Council of Nicaea, this time for good.

Macedonian Dynastry

Starting in AD 867 and continuing until 1056, the Byzantine empire was ruled under a stretch of emperors known as the Macedonian dynasty. Initiated by Basil I the Macedonian, this period of rule saw the Byzantine empire expand its territory to its greatest point since the Muslim conquests of the early 7th and 8th centuries. It also ushered in what was regarded as the Macedonian Renaissance, which caused a profound interest in classical scholarship and utilizing motifs of the same nature within Orthodox Christian artwork.

Though there is controversy as to his ethnic origin, the influence that Basil I had on Byzantine history is undeniable. Born a peasant in AD 811 and persevering through a series of fortuitous events, he eventually came into the favor of Emperor Michael III, esteemed as a confidant, bodyguard, and even co-emperor, a title he received in AD 866. When he learned of Michael’s intent to grant the Imperial title to another courtier, Basiliskianos, Basil orchestrated the assassination of both me and came to rule the Byzantine empire, undisputed.

Ruling as emperor for the next 19 years until his death in AD 886, Basil oversaw great expansion of the Byzantine empire and developed it into what was regarded as a great world power with its territories stretching as far as the eastern Mediterranean. Despite possessing no formal education, he maintained amicable relations with the Holy Roman Empire despite historical schisms that separated the East from the West in many religious aspects, even allying with Rome in battle against Arab forces. In domestic policy, he was regarded as the second Justinian, codifying laws within the empire that lasted until its downfall to the Ottoman empire. His reign solidified the foundation of the Macedonian dynasty in Byzantine archives.

The crowning event during the Macedonian dynasty was its nurturing of scholastic achievements and, led by the examples of Basil I, a reform in law, education, and artistic endeavors during the Macedonian Renaissance. Where artists were banned from depicting religious figures, icons and classical themes thrived under the Macedonian dynasty. Some believe this even gave inspiration as far as Italian artists before the Italian Renaissance even took place. Along with art, website literature saw a great revival. Works such as De Ceremoniis outlined government, diplomacy and major customs of the time, Chronographia written by the scholar Michael Psellus documented the histories of fourteen separate Byzantine rulers. Education flourished in the University of Constantinople and Magnaura, the latter overseen by Leo the Mathematician. Law reform further protected the citizens of the Byzantine empire, some laws regulating growth through the use of trade guilds headed by the state to counter large land owners’ efforts to monopolize growth opportunity.

The line of the Macedonian dynasty ended in AD 1056 with the death of Theodora, who had assumed sole power for one year after the death of Constantine IX, despite the efforts of his advisers to convince him to grant the title to the Duke of Bulgaria. Theodora had supposedly retired to a convent by this point, following the death of her sister, with whom she co-ruled as empress for two months in 1042 before Zoe’s marriage to Constantine. Upon the news of Constantine’s illness, Theodora returned and asserted her authority to rule, followed quickly by the dismissal of several high-ranking officials, most of whom were speculated to oppose Theodora’s rule. When she became ill and passed, the Macedonian line was broken and the Byzantine empire fell into turmoil as rising houses within the nobility attempted to stake their claim for the Imperial throne. This matter would not see itself settled for another 25 years, when the beginning of the Komnenian dynasty took root.

What Is The Archimedes Palimpsest?

Only one of the great “overwrites” in world history.

We all get the look of despair in the computer world when we don’t save a file and it gets overwritten by some other information and we lose the original file. Or if there is a hard drive that crashes, wiping out all of your important photos and documents. That would be considered an “overwrite” into nothing.

But just as technology has greatly mitigated the file overwrite that so terrified us back in the day (thank you AutoSave!), technology has also gone a long way toward restoring the original “file” that is known as the Archimedes Palimpsest.

The Archimedes Palimpsest is one of the most well-known “overwrites” ever. It is a manuscript originally written by Archimedes, the famed Greek mathematician in the 3rd century B.C., and compiled in the 10th century, during the Byzantine Empire. It is a manuscript that is believed to be the only copy of two Archimedean works, known as The Method of Mechanical Theorems and Stomachion.

In the 13th century, however, this manuscript was “overwritten” by some monks who turned it into part of a prayer book.  For centuries, it seemed that some of Archimedes’ work was going to be legend or a full-out myth. That is, until 1906, when a Danish expert on Archimedes’ work, Johan Heiberg, discovered the book and noted some of Archimedes’ writing under the prayer texts – the previous work had only been partially “erased.”  He could only read bits and pieces of the work, and then the prayer book went missing for more than 90 years, until it showed up at a Christie’s auction in 1998.

An anonymous American made a $2 million bid for the book, and a short time later it found its way to a museum in Baltimore, Md., where it has continually been studied and researched. A variety of technologies have been employed to try to extract more and more of the original Archimedean text. Ultraviolet, infrared, raking light as well as X-rays have been used to dig under the Christian prayers to find these original works.

Isidore of Miletus is credited with the first full compilation of Archimedes’ works, but the fu;l Method and Stomachion had been lost over the centuries. What has also been missing was the original Greek copy of On Floating Bodies, another mathematical treatise. The Palimpsest also contains On the Equilibrium of Planes, Measurement of a Circle, Spiral Lines, and On the Sphere and Cylinder.

One of the highlights of the recent scholarly work has been the revelation that Archimedes seems to postulate a concept of what is called actual infinity in math, which was a concept that had only been known in the 19th century, though Archimedes was working 22 centuries earlier on an idea that essentially set the tone for the field of calculus.

The value of the information being culled from this work seems to far outweigh the $2 million bid, and interest in the Palimpsest over the last 15 years has grown within the math world and curiosity has continued to expand in science and in art.

Greek Fire

The Byzantine Empire was under pretty constant assault for most of its existence, mainly from native Turkish and eventual Ottoman forces that continued to try to take out the Byzantine capital of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey).

Considering the excellent seaside location and its relation to the Mediterranean Sea, it was a vitally important port that saw its share of navies aim at the mighty walls.  Most of the time, however, Constantinople withstood the barrages. Part of it was the training of the men in battle, and the solid walls and how they were built. But a key role in the protection and defense of the city came from a weapon that wreaked a lot of havoc among the ships in the water outside the city’s walls.

This technological marvel was begun in the seventh century and was never truly duplicated, though various other cultures and empires tried to emulate it because of its crippling power. It had several names, but it was most commonly called “Greek fire.” The first known use of the weapon was late in the seventh century and was an important key in saving the city of Constantinople from a couple of massive Arab sieges prior to the rise of the Ottoman Empire.

Greek fire was a flammable liquid, which had a chemical composition that is still unknown today, and it was shot out of what were called siphons, or tubes, that were on some Byzantine naval ships as well as a shot from some of the towers along the wall of Constantinople that faced the sea. What made this weapon so dangerous to navies was that it was on fire as it traveled through the air toward the ships, but it did not extinguish once it hit the water; ships were still vulnerable if the weapon missed in the air but still could catch the wooden vessels ablaze if they got too close.

Believed to be a petroleum-based concoction, Greek fire was supposedly developed by a Jewish Syrian refugee named Callinicus of Heliopolis for Emperor Constantine IV. It was used against an Arab fleet in 673 under Constantine, another Arab siege in 717 under Leo III, and in the 10th century under Romanus I against a Russian attack fleet.

Even after some of these Byzantine weapons were captured by enemies and they investigated Greek fire and its sipons, no one could determine the exact composition of the mixture, nor could anyone fully duplicate the weaponry that fired the sticky liquid. Several tried their own combinations, including the Chinese, Mongols and Arabs.

There had been combustible and incendiary weaponry dating back hundreds of years before the Byzantine Empire, but Greek fire (also called “liquid fire” or “sea fire”) was perhaps the most effective such weapon, as some variant of it was used for hundreds of years.

The concept, in fact, has even carried forward into more modern warfare, as it could reasonably be an inspiration for the modern-day flamethrowers that are used in some war zones. But again, the actual composition of the original Greek fire was so secretive that even today we don’t really know what was in it and in what proportions. But it was perhaps the most feared weapon in naval warfare for a millennium.

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