3 – Weaponry
The Byzantine Empire looked as if it was in dire straits by the 7th century as it lost Egypt, Syria and Palestine to Arab invaders in the space of a generation. Soon, these invaders set their sights on Constantinople but in 673, a man called supposedly called Kallinikos of Heliopolis discovered a weapon capable of incredible devastation. It became known as Greek Fire.
It was a liquid flame that was projected through siphons and it was capable of burning on water. Even today, there are arguments about the composition of this remarkable weapon. Potential ingredients include sulfur, niter, calcium phosphide and pine resin.
Its invention was timely as it was a key factor in warding off the incoming Arabs and helped Constantinople survive two sieges. Some historians compare the impact of Greek Fire to that of nuclear weapons in the 20th century; in both cases, those on the receiving end of these weapons had no idea what had just hit them. Greek Fire also proved useful against the Bulgarians and the Rus Vikings and even helped deal with internal squabbles. Without this weapon, perhaps the Arabs would have been successful during their 7th century invasions of Constantinople?
The counterweight trebuchet, first used during the 1097 Siege of Nicaea, is another prime example of Byzantine weaponry at work. Unlike previous models, this weapon could hurl projectiles without the need to use 30-40 men (who had to pull the ropes). It was easier to operate, more accurate and could toss projectiles further than its predecessor.
Ironically, it was a super-weapon that helped bring down the Byzantine Empire once and for all. In 1453, the Ottomans used the Bombard to finally smash through the walls of Constantinople. While this giant gun could only fire one round an hour, its 1,500 pound stone cannonballs ripped through the ‘impenetrable’ Theodosian Walls and reduced them to rubble by the end of the siege.