Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Greek Fire
fire; and this probably was the destructive agent of the Assyrians, Persians, and other Eastern nations, springs of naphtha abounding in their territories. According to the author of L'Espirit des Croissades, Greek fire was compounded of the gum of the pine and other resinous trees reduced to powder, with the addition of brimstone, naphtha, and other bitumens. Fanciful substances were included, such as the water of a particular fountain in the East, duck's grease, &c. Friar Bacon mentions two of the ingredients, saltpetre and sulphur, but conceals the rest. Giambattista Porta states that Greek fire is made by boiling together willow charcoal, salt, ardent aqua vitæ, sulphur, pitch, frankincense, threads of soft Ethiopian wool, and camphor. In a Spanish MS. of the 13th century in the Bodleian library a different receipt is given; and others will be found in the Liber ignium a Marco Greco præscriptus, &c., Sloane MS. (Brit. Mus.) 323; in the Sloane MS. 7, Modus faciendi ignem græcum, &c. From all that has been said it appears that naphtha—otherwise petroleum, rock oil, or Rangoon tar—and sulphur, and sometimes nitre, were the principal constituents ; and the use of these, or two of them, in varying quantities, with the charcoal mentioned by Porta, no doubt gave birth to gunpowder. An invention by Niepce comprised benzol and potassium, in the proportion of 600 to 1, placed in a glass vessel; and Disney's is believed to have included a solution of phosphorus in sulphide of carbon or chloride of sulphur. But of all the spontaneously combustible liquids, Bunsen's kakodyl, As₂(CH₃)₄, is probably the most deadly, while it is far in advance of the old Greek fire as a destroyer of life. A combustible used at the siege of Charleston, U.S., in 1863 consisted of (1) saltpetre, sulphur, and lampblack, pressed into small tubes, and (2) coal tar naphtha, placed in shells or pumped through hose. The best military authorities appear now to agree that Greek fire is unsuitable for purposes of war, and comparatively little use has been madeof it in recent times.
For further details see Recepta varia de præparatione ignis Græci, Sloane MS. 232; also Arundel MS. 164; Beckmann, Gesch. der Erfindungen; Dufresne L'Esprit des Croissades, Amsterdam, 1780; Gibbon; Grose, Mil. Antiq.; Hoefer, Hist. de la Chimie; Joinville, Memoirs, 1807; Libri, Hist. des sciences math. en Italie; Mechanics' Magazine, 18th August 1844; Napoleon III., Études sur . . . . l'Artillerie; Poggendorff, Gesch. d. Physik, 1879; Roy. Instit. Quart. Journ., xiv.; Scoffern, Projectile Weapons, 1858; and the writings of the Byzantine historians.