Fantasy Weapons: Fire On The Water
Last week, I wrote about a historically relevant weapon. This week, I wanted to focus on a fantasy weapon that is far more important: Greek Fire.
It burns on water. When you read about Greek Fire (and there are lots of little articles written about it), that’s what you hear again and again: it burns on water. This fascinated and terrified ancient soldiers. Used by the crusading Byzantine Greeks against their enemies, Greek fire was a liquid or gaseous conflagration that could be lobbed at targets in pots or projected through a tube.
Imagine a fire hose filled with actual fire. Imagine a mechanical dragon. Imagine, too, 1.5 millennia of scientists attempting to recreate it and failing. It is because of these failed attempts that Greek Fire has fallen into the categories of myth and fantasy weapons.
Its formula was such a closely-kept secret that its owners only used it twice. It was ultimately lost to history with the death of its inventor.
But in creative consciousness of scientists and fantasists it persists. The ancient step-father of grenades, napalm, flamethrowers, and numerous other inventions, it is re-imagined in Game of Thrones as wildfire, the magical green substance used by Tyron Lannister to annihilate Stannis’ fleet. It also appears in stories like Pirates of the Caribbean and Assassin’s Creed.
In every iteration, it’s a wildcard, a fantasy weapon that can’t lose but terrifies even its handlers.
Just as the most sadistic world leaders hold back their nukes for fear of being nuked, the Byzantines kept their wildfire largely to themselves. Terrified that enemies might discover the secret and use it against them.
Though it did kill, reportedly, upwards of 60,000 soldiers in its brief period of use.
As we pour out a bit of whiskey for the fallen, we reflect: history might have told a different story had Greek generals been a little less careful. The balance of power, even the fate of the Crusades, could have been radically altered. This fantasy weapon is an example of the downside of our human nature. When we have an advantage we often keep it to ourselves and fail to use it.