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During the centuries between the fall of Rome and the Third Crusade, there emerged a substance known in English-speaking circles as "Greek fire". Although the actual composition for this incendiary weapon has been lost to time, we know that it was made from a variety of flammable substances, most likely sulphur and naphta, forming something like a mediaeval version of napalm and would have been the bane of many fleets, which were predominantly built of wood. Chinese military manuals of the Song dynasty also speak of a somewhat similar substance that could be pumped out that was called "huo you" or "fire oil", which could be used in a similar fashion as that used by the Byzantines.

There were two methods of deploying this weapon. The first, as the Greek author Anna Comnena notes, was to build ships with special metal containers and nozzles to administer it to the offending hull. The other was to pack it into containers then load it onto a vessel, which was then left to float into an enemy vessel (as used by the mediaeval Chinese). Despite this formidable reputation (Greek fire was said to have repelled a Russian attack on Constantinople), Greek fire on its own didn't win battles — it was highly volatile, and thus used mostly at sea. Further, as a weapon, it was at best unwieldly and often didn't have the results desired by the user: one Chinese account reports of a fleet accidentally being consumed by its own weapons when it tried to use it against the wind. There were also countermeasures that could be used by opponents: Arab fleets made it a habit not to engage Byzantine fire ships from up close, and if it came to that, water-soaked hides would be used as a form of fire-resistant ship armour.

A more intricate and ingenious manner of destroying enemy ships was devised by the Syrian engineer and arms manufacturer, Hassan ar-Rammah, near the beginning of the 14th century CE. The Arab text Liber Ignis (or rather, the Kitab Al-Furusiyya wa Al-Manasib Al-Harbiyya) describes a weapon which he called "the egg which moves itself and burns", which was a metal shell containing flammable material propelled by a rocket utilising explosive material. Unfortunately, the industrial capacities of Islamic civilisation prevented making these weapons in sufficient numbers, and so the "burning egg" of ar-Rammah eventually slunk into obscurity, whilst the use of old boats as wooden bombs, packed either with oil, naphtha, or gunpowder, continued unabated until the mid-19th century.

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