Byzantine gunpowder

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Byzantine gunpowder, fire tubes and rocketry Byzantine gunpowder, fire tubes and rocketry existed since early middle ages.

Byzantine gunpowder and fire tubes

At about 668 AD engineer Kallinikos presented a variant of the older incendiary substances which consisted of nitric acid, carbon, tar, petroleum, lime (material), sulfur and resin, and used as a means of launching the cannon and siphon of Ctesibius (286-222 BC) to which he applied an air pump. The use of the air pump (which was also Ctesibius invention) obviously belonged to an older period, as it eliminated the need to use chemicals and especially ammonia which was so scarce to find in mineral form. It is certain that Kallinikos had the writings of Ctesibius with the general title "Υπομνήματα" ("Memos") from which he utilized various pumping mechanisms and the cannon, as well as works of Heron and Philo.

Although the exact composition of the incendiary substance remained unknown as the later Byzantine engineers and military successfully kept its secret sealed, emperor Leo III the Isaurian (717-741 AD) delivered another variation which consisted of carbon, niter and sulfur, which in reality was nothing else than the later blackpowder. Kallinikos incendiary substance was the well known "υγρόν πυρ" ("liquid fire") also known as "Ελληνικό πυρ" ("Elliniki fire" or "Greek fire") and was used mainly by the fleet of the Byzantines, but the other incendiary substance that was described by emperor Leo III differed that it was not a sea weapon (because it deactivated in the water) and was probably linked to a later report by pope pope Leo VI (929 AD) that described methods of destroying ships from the land with incendiary weapons which were launched with smoke and loud noise. The use of two different incendiary substances in composition shows that the cannon and siphon of Ctesibios was utilized to launch the early type of gunpowder as a simple fire tube with a sealed rear end, while to launch the liquid fire as a siphon it was combined with an air pump. There are countless reports on the use of the fearsome effective liquid fire which was a basic weapon of the marines who were specially trained in the use of portable hand fire tubes (also known as portable hand cannons) and portable "χειροσίφωνων" ("hand siphons", also known as portable flamethrowers).

This paradoxical expression came from an anonymous Byzantine author of the 10th century AD that attempted through a concise to gather in one book the main body of technical manuals which refer to weapons systems of ancient writers Heronos Alexandros, Apollodorou Damaskinou, Athineou Mihanikou and Philonos Byzantiou. Obviously the portable hand cannon was a portable hand fire tube, despite the fact that pope Leo VI claimed to be an invention of his time at the end of the 9th century AD it was a much oldest weapon, an element that was amplified from the almost parallel time information that was preserved by the anonymous Byzantine author. The handcannon operation was based on the principle of the movement through reaction, while the hand siphon operation was based on the principle of the air pump.

Byzantine gunpowder and rocketry

Roberto Valturio at about 1450 AD in his work with the title "De re militari" supported that at the reign of pope Leo VI (886-911 AD) the Byzantines used fire tubes that were opened at both ends to launch rockets. However a detailed description of the rockets was provided by Marcus Graecus in his treatise with the title "Liber ignium ad comburendos hostes' ' that was dated between the years 1225-1250 AD. The treatise dealt extensively with the incendiary substance (the gunpowder) which for the first time was mentioned by emperor Leo III, emphasizing that the proportion of the substances were two pounds of carbon, six pounds of niter and one pound of sulfur which were pulverized in a marble mortar. For the transport of fire the device should have flight capabilities, while the pulverized substance was placed pressed into a narrow and elongated case.

Marcus Graecus instead of the term rocket adopted the characterization flying fire "ignis volatilis in aere" and the expression casing intended for flight "tunica ad volandum" and emphasized that when the rocket was fired it moved lightning fast towards its target "evolat ad quemcunque locum volueris". The casing was full of incendiary pulverized substance, thinned at the ends and flattened in the middle, it also had some folds "implicaturas" when intended to be launched at high altitude or much more folds when intended to cause an explosion (obviously through the folds was attempted to undo the smooth burning of the gunpowder and cause violent release of the produced gases).

In the specific treatise were described and other types of rockets that operated with a solution of nitrate and sulfur in linseed oil. This solution was a charge of special tubes that were launched when fired, while another type of tube had a charge of pulverized substance of carbon, niter and sulfur with papyrus fuse for firing (these were the well known incendiary tubes of the Ellenistic era). Marcus Graecus noted however that the methodology and the technical knowledge of rocketry was very old and already known since emperor Leo III.


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