Crusader-Era Hand Grenade Found Among Archaeological Artifacts Collected By Electric Company Worker

The unique legacy left behind by late Marcel Mazliah is something to boast about when it comes to a historical scope. Over the years, the electric company worker had made a personal collection of priceless artifacts (with one of the items being around 3,500-years old) that were salvaged from the Mediterranean Sea bordering Israel. And fortuitously, his family has now decided to hand over the incredible treasure trove to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which would earn them a good citizen award from the state. But beyond ownership and recognition, one particular artifact from the collection stands out – and it entails an actual Crusader-era hand grenade that rather showcases its medieval brand of fine craftsmanship.

From the perspective of etymology, the term ‘grenade’ was most probably derived from Old French ‘pomegranate’ (possibly influenced by Spanish granada) circa 1590 AD, since the fruit resembles the fragmented-form of the weapon. As for the historical side of affairs, grenades in their rudimentary designs were probably used in the 8th century AD Eastern Roman armies, with Greek Fire concoctions sometimes being stashed inside pots and jars, to be thrown at enemies.

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Credit: Diego Barkan, Israel Antiquities Authority

Greek Fire in itself is said to be originally created by a Syrian Engineer named Callinicus (who was a refugee from Maalbek). The technology was sort of a precursor to napalm, and it entailed vicious ‘liquid fire’ that continued to burn even while floating in water. In fact, some writers have gone on to explain how the viciously efficient Greek Fire could only be mitigated by extinguishing it with sand, strong vinegar or old urine.

As for the hand grenade in question here, the embellished metal-made bomb-like item probably harks back to the period circa 13th century AD, thus coinciding with the time-frame of the Crusaders, Ayyubids and early Mamluks. The military forces of this time possibly used some variation of an inflammable substance, including a combination of materials like naphtha, pitch (obtained from coal tar), sulfur and resin – for their grenades. On the other hand, a few scholars believe that as opposed to chemical warfare, these ‘grenades’ only had ornamental purposes for storing perfume.

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Credit: Diego Barkan, Israel Antiquities Authority.

In any case, archaeologists from the IAA were pleasantly surprised by a slew of other metal objects that were stashed by Mazliah. According to his family, the electric company worker got hold of the artifacts from under the sea, as a result of numerous ancient and medieval shipwrecks that dot the Israeli coast. Ayala Lester, a curator with the IAA, stated –

The finds include a toggle pin and the head of a knife from the Middle Bronze Age from more than 3,500 years ago [see above]. The other items, among them, two mortars and two pestles, fragments of candlesticks, and so on, date to the Fatimid period. The items were apparently manufactured in Syria and were brought to Israel.

Lastly beyond the scope of the treasure trove accumulated by Mazliah, the occurrence of shipwrecks around the coastal regions of Levant could be attested by a fascinating find in May of this year. Touted to be the largest hoard of marine-based objects in the last 30 years in Israel, IAA announced that the treasure stash contained both bronze statues and coins, along with other assorted stuff. And interestingly enough, the discovery was made quite by chance when two divers identified the remains of the ancient ship and reported back to the authorities.

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Credit: Amir Gorzalczany, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Source: Haaretz