The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch… was a Thing?

One of the more entertaining scenes, at least for a WeaponsMan, in the old cult film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, involves the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

For decades we’ve believed it to be a fiction, but it turns out that it might have been a real thing. Fox News reports on donations to an Israeli museum from a powerplant worker who collected artifacts that washed up on the beach,for his hobby. He passed away, and his survivors donated the items — which turned out to be older than anyone expected:

A centuries-old hand grenade that may date back to the time of the crusaders is among a host of treasures retrieved from the sea in Israel.

Some of the artifacts. The 'nade is the heart-shaped object at center.

Some of the artifacts. The ‘nade is the heart-shaped object at center. The needle and knife blade at bottom center date to the Bronze Age.

The metal artifacts, some of which are more than 3,500 years old, were found over a period of years by the late Marcel Mazliah, a worker at the Hadera power plant in northern Israel.

Mazliah’s family recently presented the treasures to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Experts, who were surprised by the haul, think that the objects probably fell overboard from a medieval metal merchant’s ship.

The hand grenade was a common weapon in Israel during the Crusader era, which began in the 11th century and lasted until the 13thcentury, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Grenades were also used 12th and 13th century Ayyubid period and the Mamluk era, which ran from the 13th to the 16thcentury, experts say.

Haaretz reports that early grenades were often used to disperse burning flammable liquid. However, some experts believe that so-called ancient grenades were actually used to contain perfume.

The Haaretz story that Fox links is unfortunately off limits to goys and other nonsubscribers.

Sam Bostrom at tried to provide some technical background on the little bundle of joy illustrated here.

Close up of the 'nade.

Close up of the ‘nade.

One of the most striking gems the family had hung onto is a beautifully decorated hand grenade, of a type commonly used during the Crusader, Ayyubid and Mamluk periods.

Hand grenades filled with Greek fire (burning naphta) was a Byzantine invention that spread to the Muslim armies in the Near East.

They were filled with Greek fire and sealed so that all a soldier needed to do was throw the grenade toward the enemy to eliminate him. Characteristics that made it singular include its ability to burn on water and stick onto surfaces, extinguishable with sand, vinegar, or–bizarrely–old urine. Some historians believe it could be ignited using water.

Although the technology has changed over the centuries, the concept remains that all the soldier need to do was to hurl the grenade toward the enemy and it´s disseminate burning naphtha at impact. The hand grenades we have now are a direct descendent of these contraptions; we’ve just updated the concept by using explosives instead.

Here’s a worker with the Israeli antiquities office, holding the milennium-old weapon.


Bottom line: Three is the number you shalt count. Five is right out. And perhaps your enemies will snuff it.

20 thoughts on “The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch… was a Thing?

  1. Aesop

    Dulce et decorum est that Mssrs. Chapman, Cleese, Gilliam, Jones, Idle, and Palin get the last laugh.
    But I expect if archaeologists unearth “Romani Ite Domum on the walls of ancient Jerusalem in letters 10 feet high, it will be hushed up to levels beyond Top Secret.

    It will, however, conclusively and beyond argument prove that God has quite a sense of humor.

  2. W. Fleetwood

    I for one never doubted the Holy Hand Grenade, not a bit. It was that chopping down the tallest tree in the forest with a herring that I must confess I thought to be an exaggeration. Now I doubt my doubts and await further archaeology.

    Sua Sponte.

    1. Quill_&_Blade

      I guess the Descartes thing is contagious; I settled the quandary in the abstract…one uses a FROZEN fish!
      Speaking of contagious, the movie lingers in our culture… just this morning I had a rather futile attempt to explain to a young lady how very funny the writing on the wall scene was “He wouldn’t write arrrrrgh”

  3. Bert


    I have sat back stage at productions of “Spamalot”, waiting to fire the grenade effect SO many times… Plus whatever other stage pyrotechnics the show’s autistic director thought were required. It starts out so nice, a production where 60% of the dialogue is known to the whole audience before ever they enter the theatre. And like the Sex Pistols, becomes a bitter joke that crawls up your ass and purefies by the end of the run. Leaving much time to ponder.

    So, Greek fire. WTF. Tenney Davis his own bad self never felt that this chemical weapon had been adequatley nailed down, and he came. Loser than any others I know of to ordering and defining the beginning stages of gunpowder and projectile/chemical explosive weaonry in China and the near East. So, we consider the available known resources… Naptha. Crude petroleum, and bitumen, nateon and such. Oxidizing salts? Perhaps an analogue to certain NAPALM formulations? Quick lime, to somehow fire it on contact with water?? Perhaps someone beat Hennig Brand to the isolation and collection of white Phosphorus by 6 or 8 centuries, even discovering a volatile carrier and an analogues to “fenian fire” of white P and carbon disulfide- and then we lost the knowledge of the process, somehow??? STALE URINE AS AN EXTINGUISHING AGENT???!

    Wish I knew. Meanwhile, I can watch Fawlty Towers re-runs…

    1. Claypigeonshooter

      Maybe they could do a chemical analysis on the artifacts? Or would they be too contaminated.

      1. Tierlieb

        > Maybe they could do a chemical analysis on the artifacts? Or would they be too contaminated.
        The girl is handling the thing without gloves, so I assume this thing has been scrubbed and stabilized already. After been washed up on a beach and being in the collection of someone who died before it showed up at a museum. Chances are pretty much nil.

        Note to self: What’s wrong with me? Pretty girl handling an ancient grenade and the first thing that comes to my mind is “Gloves!!!”?!

        1. Toastrider

          Getting old like the rest of us, I guess. I was watching a music video involving a number of scantily clad ladies, and my mind kept wandering to ‘how the hell does her top stay on? Is she using tape or spirit gum?’

  4. DSM

    It’s interesting to see the ornamentation on the exterior of the grenade. If it is indeed a grenade it wouldn’t be a far stretch to conjecture it was not just ornamentation but scoring for fragmentary effect not unlike the Mk2 or “pineapple” frag. That’s a bit of intriguing problem solving ancient style.
    Looking at it with contemporary eyes however it could just as well be a container for oils or some other such ancient ointment or cooking stuffs. Not unlike some of the older and larger amphora there may have been a ringed base, long since lost to time, that it sat in.

    1. Loren

      Or perfume or……….
      I sometimes think most of what we think we know about ancient history is an educated guess and consensus. Neither is real science or especially history but does make good reading and funds further grants.

      1. Aesop

        For your edification (and anyone else’s), I commend to you “Motel Of The Mysteries”, a tongue-firmly-in-cheek look at a 1970’s-era no-tell motel excavation, as seen and explained through the eyes of archaeologists some centuries hence, penned and illustrated by David MacAulay, the Caldecott-winning progenitor of such classics as “Castle”, “Cathedral”, and the jet-powered wooly mammoths of “The Way Things Work”.

          1. DSM

            That’s hilarious! As a very amateur part time hobbyist student of archeology I’ve already learned to rely strictly on “ritual” as the use for any object.

          2. Aesop

            Glad somebody YouTubed the book.

            There are PBS versions of Castle, Cathedral, etc., which Macaulay hosts, and the guy’s works are fantastic, in either book or video versions.
            But his wit in MOTM was so bone dry you could see the dust rise from each page as you read it.

        1. John Distai

          I haven’t seen this video yet, but your mention reminded me of something similar.

          There was an “adult bookstore” that had occupied a particular building for at least a decade. It was a popular spot for gay men who would seek “entertainment” in video booths and glory holes. At some point it went out of business.

          The building sat vacant for some time. Some unfortunate souls had to strip the interior and rebuild it. I hope they wore biohazard suits.

  5. Sommerbiwak

    At the great wall in China they have found grenades chiseled from stone. Looked like thick stone tubes.

    I wonder what else is still hiding in some private collections that nobody knows of? Maybe even the owner does not know?

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