Crusade-era hand grenades found in Jerusalem

(ORDO NEWS) — A new study of pottery remains from the 11th-12th centuries has shown that the soldiers in the Holy Land could use exploding ammunition.

During excavations in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem, archaeologists found fragments of four sphero-conical vessels.

These are such small ceramic vessels with very thick walls, a narrow neck and a conical bottom, so that they do not stand upright, but lie on their side, while the contents do not flow out. The layer in which the ceramics were found was dated to the 11th-12th centuries, the time of the first Crusades.

Scientists led by Carney Matheson from Griffith University (Australia) examined the remains of the contents of these vessels, traces of which were preserved on the shards.

Crusade era hand grenades found in Jerusalem 2
Example of a spheroconical vessel

The remains were studied using optical microscopy, biochemical analysis, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and atomic emission spectroscopy. As a result, traces of various compounds were found on the ceramics, including fatty acids, as well as mercury, sulfur, aluminum, potassium, magnesium, nitrates and phosphorus.

The contents of all four vessels are different. In addition, they differ in design. Oils were stored in one, aromatic substances in the other, medicinal mixtures in the third. The fourth vessel is distinguished by especially thick walls and lack of decoration. And its contents were far from being as peaceful as in the previous ones: scientists found a set of chemical ingredients for an explosive mixture.

In general, sphero-conical vessels are often found during excavations in the Middle East and date from the period from the 9th to the 15th century. By trade routes they went to the north, up to the Volga Bulgaria. They were made from different materials, decorated in different ways.

The wall thickness varies from three to more than 15 millimeters. They were made using a wide variety of firing technologies, from low-temperature firing to specialized, very high-temperature firing, which makes it possible to obtain extremely durable ceramics.

The latter also includes a vessel with traces of an explosive mixture from Jerusalem. In 1874, the French archaeologist Félicien de Solcy suggested that the sphero-conical vessels he found in Tripoli served as hand grenades. He referred to the description of the siege of Acre by the Crusaders in 1189, left by the Arab historian Ibn al-Athir.

Crusade era hand grenades found in Jerusalem 3
The remains of a spheroconic vessel, on which traces of explosives were found

But, judging by this description, the grenades of the soldiers of Salah ad-Din were incendiary: with their help, they set fire to the siege towers of the Crusaders. Later, in the 30s of the last century, during excavations in Hama (Syria), archaeologists found a workshop where such spherocones were made and filled with naphtha .

Then there was an assumption that the Egyptian Mamluks could make grenades not only with incendiary, but also high-explosive action. To do this, they used black powder, invented in China. However, all evidence suggests that black powder did not reach the Middle East until the 13th century.

The work of the Matheson group proved that long before the appearance of Chinese black powder, recipes for explosive mixtures for hand grenades already existed in these lands – and all the elements for them were of local origin.

All four spherocones were found in a place that could be the palace of the rulers, located near the Temple Mount. This is consistent with the availability of luxury items (oils and fragrances) and medicines. Who destroyed the palace and whether he did it with grenades is hard to say.

Initially, the crusaders did not use such weapons, but the road to Jerusalem was long and included the sieges of Nicaea and Antioch – the First Crusade began in 1096, and the knights came under the walls of Jerusalem only in the summer of 1099.

But with a high degree of probability it was still the weapon of the defenders. This is indirectly indicated by the absence of the tradition of making vessels of this kind in Europe, as well as the mention of gunpowder production there during this period.

In addition, we know that after the crusaders managed to break through the walls of Jerusalem, they staged a massacre: they killed everyone in a row – both Jews and Muslims.

They destroyed the mosque on the Temple Mount and slaughtered all the townspeople who had taken refuge in it, and burned the synagogue along with the people hiding inside. It is not surprising that in urban battles of this kind, the defenders used hand grenades.


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