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A fragment of the sphero-conical vessel that was identified as containing a possibly explosive material to make an ancient hand grenade.	Source: Robert Mason, Royal Ontario Museum. Griffith University

Crusaders Were Attacked With These Ancient Hand Grenades in Jerusalem

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Archaeologists have for a long time unearthed clay pots in medieval Jerusalem. But now, a new study shows that some of them were likely ‘ancient hand grenades’.

Residues sampled from inside a collection of 11th–12th century ceramic vessels discovered in Jerusalem suggest they were potentially used as ‘hand grenades during the Crusades.’ Until now archaeologists have suggested the sphero-conical artifacts were beer drinking vessels or containers for mercury, oils and medicines. But a new study presents some of them as early explosive weapons.

The new research was conducted by Associate Professor Carney Matheson of Griffith University . The researcher confirmed that some of the clay vessels did indeed contain scented oils and medicines, however, his research has determined that some of the vessels contained a flammable and probably explosive material. He concluded that the devices may have been used against the Crusading Europeans as ‘ancient hand grenades’.

A 700-year-old ceramic grenade previously found off the coast of Northern Israel. (Amir Gorzalczany / Israel Antiquities Authority)

A 700-year-old ceramic grenade previously found off the coast of Northern Israel. (Amir Gorzalczany / Israel Antiquities Authority)

A Diverse Collection Of Explosive Hand Grenades

The new study is titled ‘Composition of Trace Residues from the contents of 11th–12th century sphero-conical vessels from Jerusalem, ’ and the paper was published in the Journal PLOS One . An article on PHYS.org explains that Associate Professor Matheson said the explosive material he analyzed within the vessels suggested that they may have been ‘a locally developed ancient explosive.’

This new research has also shown the ‘diverse use’ of these unique explosive ceramic vessels, and Associate Professor Matheson said some of them were sealed using resins.

This sphero-conical sherd (742) was found to be a container for medicinal or scented materials. (C. Matheson et al./PLOS ONE)

This sphero-conical sherd (742) was found to be a container for medicinal or scented materials. (C. Matheson et al./ PLOS ONE )

Primitive grenades were reported during the Crusades that were thrown against Crusader strongholds. The devices were noted as having produced loud noises and bright flashes of light. These details have led many historians to believe the vessels may have held ‘black powder,’ an explosive invented in ancient China, but this is not the case, says Matheson.

Thus sherd (744) was found to be a container for medicinal material. (C. Matheson et al./PLOS ONE)

Thus sherd (744) was found to be a container for medicinal material. (C. Matheson et al./ PLOS ONE )

A Local Variant Of Chinese Black Powder

It is generally agreed that black powder was imported into the Middle East and Europe in the early 13th century. But because these vessels date from the ninth to 11th century, it suggests it was possible that black powder was introduced to the Middle East much earlier. However, the new research shows that the powder was not classic black powder and that local tribes defending their land against the Crusaders had invented their own explosive material.

Gunpowder is the first explosive chemical to have been developed and it is often listed as one of the ‘Four Great Inventions’ of China along with papermaking, printing and the compass. Explosive powder was first invented during the late Tang Dynasty (923 to 937 ) while the earliest recorded chemical formula for gunpowder dates to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The earliest surviving chemical formula of gunpowder dates to 1044 AD in the military manual Wujing Zongyao , or in English, the Complete Essentials for the Military Classics , detailing Chinese weaponry.

Explosive Battles In The Holy Land

Art Gallery Stormbroek recently sold a Medieval grenade’ that had been used in battles between the Crusaders and the Saracens between the 11th - 12th century AD. Measuring 14 centimeters with a 9 millimeter diameter. They were recorded being used in battles and sieges in 1167 AD when the Christian crusader king of Jerusalem, Amalric I tried to take over Cairo.

The Saracen warriors were recorded using thousands of so-called ‘naphtha pots’ during the siege of the Frankish crusaders. In fact, Cairo was in the end completely destroyed by explosive naphtha pots, so that the Crusaders couldn’t reuse the site. It was said that these pots were filled with a mixture of oil and Naphtha (a clear gasoline liquid). Associate Professor Matheson said more research on these vessels and their explosive content will offer researchers a deeper understanding of ancient explosive technologies deployed during the Crusades in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Top image: A fragment of the sphero-conical vessel that was identified as containing a possibly explosive material to make an ancient hand grenade. Source: Robert Mason, Royal Ontario Museum. Griffith University

By Ashley Cowie

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