Greek Fire

Prior to the development of ironclads, ships were extremely flammable. However, since they also had ready access to water, exploiting this required something special. Enter the Byzantine Empire, who developed the Trope Namer. Ever since, many works involving pre-gunpowder navies involve some form of it.

Numerous naval incendiaries exist, but to properly qualify as Greek Fire they must possess certain characteristics.
  • It must manifest as a burning liquid or putty.
  • It must be sticky, so it cannot be scraped off skin.
  • It frequently burns sickly green or another nonstandard color
  • Optionally, the method of manufacture may be a closely guarded secret.
  • Most critically, it must be impossible to extinguish with water. Smothering it with sand or similar may or may not work.

Greek Fire is usually also universally feared for obvious reasons.

Note that it is not exclusively used at sea, but a combination of relative ease of employment due to era boarding tactics and the ability to destroy ships entirely through secondary wood fires, leaving nowhere to escape, make it far more effective and terrifying at sea.


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  • Wildfire from A Song of Ice and Fire is unquenchable by water, lights anything used to smother it on fire, and burns brilliant green. It was used in the battle of the Blackwater and was essentially the only reason Tyrion won. Its production is a secret well-guarded by the Alchemists' Guild, but there are strong implications that some sort of magic is involved. Storage is extremely dangerous, and it's eventually revealed that the Pyromaniac former "Mad King" Aerys II had thousands of pots of it buried in secret throughout the city in order to burn the whole place down if it was captured, and that this discovery was the reason Jaime Lannister killed him before he could give the order.
  • Leviathan has Phosphorus rounds, which display all of the characteristics, though they're used against hydrogen filled fliers
  • The Recluse saga includes Chaos fire, which is magically generated. It is especially feared because, in addition to the standard characteristics, it can be created inside steam engines and loaded cannons.
  • The Council Wars series fills this role with Napalm, although after the first couple uses they get extinguisher foam on all ships, somewhat reducing both effectiveness and the terror factor
  • The Akkadian fire in the Dragon Jousters book Sanctuary
  • Eldest: green fire is used on an arrow fired at Roran's ship, forcing the crew to hack away ignited portions.
  • The honeyfire demonstrated by the Herders in the Obernewtyn Chronicles appears to be this.
  • The blazebalm used in the Tortall Universe fits most of the requirements. It is a flamable jelly-like substance that is often used as an explosive weapon; it is particularly useful against spidrens and other immortals.
  • Used literally in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and its sequel, in which Greek Fire is a magical substance that burns green and is lethal to monsters and demigods alike.
  • Timeline: Professor Johnston is forced to recreate Greek Fire for Lord Oliver, he succeeds in making something that ignites when exposed to water.
  • Metamor Keep: the Kingdom of Whales has Greek Fire, the name "Greek" was eventually retconned to be the name of the inventor.
    • Phil, a Whalish prince who was visiting Metamor at the time of the Battle of Three Gates, attempted to assist in the fight with Greek fire, but there was an accident and he was covered in the stuff. The flames disappeared when the Curse transformed him into a rabbit, but if the Curse is ever removed or suppressed the fire returns. And the experience traumatized him so badly he reverts to a feral state every night.
  • The Gentleman Bastard universe lacks gunpowder and firearms, yet "alchemy" has devised a type of inextinguishable incendiary bomb which burns white hot like blazing sun and can burn a large man-of-war in minutes. It's so destructive that warship captains avoid its use in combat since storage aboard ship would be too dangerous.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Fluff occasionally mentions the High Elves of Warhammer having a substance called "Alchemist's Fire" designed for use against other ships (though it can be utilised for other purposes) which burns white and whose recipe is a closely-guarded secret.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has alchemist's fire, though most versions are not waterproof it is still sticky and burns when exposed to air. Some supplements do have waterproof versions.

     Video Games 
  • Age Of Empires I and II had fire-ships that used the historical Greek Fire, projected from hoses. Although short-ranged, they did deal substantial damage to enemy ships
  • Assassin's Creed: Revelations: Ezio burns down a good part of the Ottoman navy because it was blocking the port.
  • Medieval II: Total War has fire ships for the Byzantine Empire. The Crusades campaign in the expansion also has Greek Firethrower units that use it in handheld flamethrowers.
  • Civilization V: Gods and kings has the fire-shooting Dromon as one of the unique units of Byzantium.

     Real Life 
  • The Byzantine Empire developed the Trope Namer, which proved instrumental in major naval victories, including two sieges of Constantinople. Nobody is sure exactly what the original recipe wasnote , and "Greek fire" seems to have become something of a catch-all term for any Fire-Breathing Weapon, but the original stuff was some sort of liquid that ignited spontaneously in contact with water. It was a complete Game Breaker in naval combat well into the early days of Wooden Ships and Iron Men, only being obsoleted when cannon that could reliably hit a target outside its very short range became widespread.
  • White Phosphorus is a modern example, although it is used for smokescreens as well as incendiaries.
  • The infamous napalm fits this trope all too well.