Historically, the Byzantine Empire used ship-mounted Greek Fire throwers to defend Constantinople. These weapons were pretty advanced and horrifying for the enemy.

The existence of these historic vehicle mounted flame throwers made me wonder if there is any good reason why the Byzantines couldn't have developed "Flamer Tanks".

Think two heavily armored horses, a driver, a gunner and two pumpers in a small, armored war wagon. They drive up to the enemy with infantry support and unleash hell, literally, on the Muslim scourge before the melee. Send in some cavalry to help with the clean up afterwards.

I think that the biggest issue would be to develop the tactics that would make Flamer Tanks useful, since even war elephants, the closest thing to a pre-tech tank, would not be analogous in application. (What about flamethrowers mounted on war elephants...?)

The idea of tanks only became viable because of compact heavy cannons with decent reload capabilities and machine guns with decent fire rates. Yet a flamethrower offers something very similar to a machine gun, tactically speaking.

So could the Byzantine Empire theoretically have deployed Flamer Tanks?

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    $\begingroup$ Didn't the chinese do just this? I think they were carts, but same difference... $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented May 27, 2020 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ one issue that I can point out is the fire itself, animals usually get panicked near a fire. You don't want your elephant ramming your own army just because it's scared of fire, or could not withstand the heat. $\endgroup$
    – V.Aggarwal
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 6:16
  • $\begingroup$ @V.Aggarwal I think you can train the animals to be calm in the presence of fire. $\endgroup$ Commented May 28, 2020 at 7:07
  • $\begingroup$ According to Wikipedia article they din't used it just on water, but also on land, be it in siege or in the field. It could be a hand grenade, or a "cheirosiphōn", hand-held projector. On Battle, it wasn't used to kill, but to repel ennemies and break formations. $\endgroup$
    – Kepotx
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 7:21
  • $\begingroup$ Greek fire was extremely effective against ships because, a) flammable and b) can't get away. A portable flamethrower would not be an especially awesome weapon against a force of armored infantry with shields, especially if it's a Byzantine short-ranged, hand-pumped variety. Good for scaring horses and discouraging people from getting close. $\endgroup$ Commented May 28, 2020 at 15:56

2 Answers 2


Yes! The Chinese developed something very similar, although it's disputable if they actually were made. Since the Greeks were already ahead of the curve with Greek fire projectors on ships, the basic engineering could have existed. The Chinese designs were a little more technically developed, but there's nothing there that couldn't have been invented by another Archimedes or Heron of Alexandria. I'd say the hardest part of it would be to have a chariot if you wanted the flames to go forward instead of backwards. Likely a side-mount flame would work very well as you rode across a formation of troops and sprayed them with Greek fire or the equivalent. "Illustrations and descriptions of mobile flamethrowers on four-wheel push carts were documented in the Wujing Zongyao, written in 1044 AD (its illustration redrawn in 1601 as well)" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fierce-fire_Oil_Cabinet Flame thrower cart

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    $\begingroup$ The advantage of push-carts would be they would be more tank-like, since the operators could be enclosed unlike horses, and the thing could be pushed forward in an offensive manner. Chariots would get raked by arrows. Once an armored cart was an established thing, I bet it would rapidly get used for multi-fire ballistas as well en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polybolos $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented May 27, 2020 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ The problem is stability. Speed for pushcarts would be much slower than the pull types. And maneuverability would be horrendous. $\endgroup$ Commented May 28, 2020 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ Chariots often got knocked over on the battlefield, didn’t they? One of these things spilling its payload would be.. spectacular. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 13:22

I would like to point out that the "Byzantines" did use medieval flamethrowers on land, although I know little about such use.

I once read in a history of the city of Baghdad a description of a "Byzantine" emissary to the Caliph. There was mention of a flame thrower mounted on an elephant being demonstrated to the envoys.

So there was at least a prototype of a flame thrower mounted on a possibly armor wearing elephant, though I don't know whether that weapon was ever used in combat.

DWKraus's answer mentions a Chinese design for fire spitting carts, although they don't know if such carts were ever built.

So a fantasy or alternate universe version of a flame throwing tank is a fairly plausible idea.


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