When it comes to the history of medieval weapons, the Chinese will be credited with a hugely important invention: gunpowder. Historians around the world have now recognized gunpowder as an invention dating back to the Tang Dynasty, that is, around the 9th century AD.
The Chinese at that time knew how to mix sulfur with charcoal and potassium nitrate to make a mixture that ignited without the presence of oxygen. They then use this mixture to make fireworks.
But it wasn’t until about the 10th century that gunpowder was stuffed inside porcelain flasks or metal canisters with detonators, to become a weapon the Chinese called. “pi li huo“, mean “a fiery orb that makes thunder”.
Historians say these were the first hand grenades of mankind:
But a new study published in the journal PloS ONE could change that. Archaeologists seem to have found evidence of a type of grenade, which appeared earlier in Jerusalem’s Old City from the 8th century.
If the discovery is true, it would turn speculations about the history of an important weapon from the East to the West. The warriors of the Eastern Roman Empire were accordingly the first to invent the hand grenade.
The new study was carried out by archaeologists from Griffith University, Australia. In it, they found a series of small ceramic vases ranging from a few centimeters to 20 centimeters in diameter, dating from the 9th century AD.
These ceramic vases have a conical base and a spherical body. With this shape, archaeologists can come up with a variety of theories about their uses: from tying plumes, weighing looms, a spray of liquid to igniters, straws or a set part of the distillation apparatus.
Vase can also simply be a container for wine, beer honey, medicine, perfume, mercury or even perfume. But their prevalence in many excavation sites throughout the Middle East suggests that whatever the vases were used for, this was a “quite mature technology“, suggesting their appearance may be even earlier than a century.
As usual, to really know the use of this strange ceramic vase, archaeologists have to examine the remaining matter and sediment in it. And in a piece numbered 737, they found important tracks.
This jar has quite thick walls and its size is suitable to hold in the palm of the hand. Inside the 737 fragment remains a mixture of sulfur and mercury. It also contains magnesium, nitrate, phosphorus, lead and iron.
In addition, archaeologists also found traces of vegetable oil, animal fat along with turpentine, salt and a little sodium in fragment number 742. All these ingredients suggest an explosive mixture stuffed with explosives. inside, and the bottles of 737 and 742 were actually a hand grenade.
The thing is, if they are grenades, the weapons are actually four centuries earlier than gunpowder was introduced into the Middle East from China. Is there any explanation for the premature appearance of this grenade?
Archaeologist Carney Matheson, study author from Griffith University said: “Some researchers suggest that these jars were used as grenades, but they were stuffed with gunpowder, an explosive invented in China and introduced to the Middle East in the 20th century. 13”,
“However, our study suggests that what was stuffed in these grenades was not gunpowder, but was likely an explosive device invented by the natives.”
Matheson said it is based on a mixture called “Greek Fire”” (Greek fire), an incendiary weapon that has been in use since the 7th century in the Eastern Roman Empire. Greek fire is a mixture of turpentine, naphtha, quicklime, calcium phosphide, sulfur and nitre (a mineral form of potassium nitrate).
It is usually tied at the front of the boat, activated by a reaction between water and quicklime to ignite and burn the opponent’s boat.
The difference between Greek Fire and Chinese gunpowder is that gunpowder can burn without oxygen while Greek Fire needs oxygen to burn. As a result, the power that gunpowder produces is greater, allowing it to be stuffed into sealed tubes and create ejection, propelling the projectile forward – something Greek Fire cannot do.
But Matheson thinks an upgrade of the mixture found in medieval hand grenades in the West allowed it to become a primitive form of gunpowder. If stuffed with the right proportions, they can also generate great pressure, detonate, and deal damage.
These grenades were probably in common use in the Eastern Roman Empire, and during the Crusades of the 11th-12th centuries. “In documents describing the events of the Crusades, there are details that show grenades being thrown into the stronghold, creating loud noises and dazzling lights.“, Matheson said.
In short, this could be early evidence that the grenade was an early invention of the Eastern Roman Empire, although gunpowder that burns without oxygen is still a recognized achievement for the Chinese. The key is that grenades do not have to be filled with gunpowder to explode as we once thought.
Refer to Arstechnica