We talk loudly today about leather being a high performance material, but it has clearly been a key material in many technologies going back millenia. My university tutor, Stanley Briggs, used to enjoy telling us that leather had been a vital element in almost every aspect of the development of civiliation. It had been used in boats, in carrying vessels, to put around the edges of the first wheels, in clothing and footwear, as an essential item in warfare (was that part of the evolution of civilised society?) and in thousands of other essential uses.
I have just been reading a curious book called The Oil Road which tracks the flow of oil from the Caspian to Europe and seems to blame BP for everything, including the crusades. What it does mentionn is how the Byzanitums had Greek Fire – which was a material which burned without needing lots of oxygen and could burn on water. It was actually quite a divers material and often involved saltpetre, naphtha and other elements but certainly did often use, as the book asserts, “crude oil brought from the pits of Balakhani, near Baku”. During battle the liquid was pumped from pipes on ships and set on fire close to enemy vessels destroying them. The book makes the point that the Venetians found a way to treat leather so as to resist the Greek Fire and they consequently beat the Byzantiums at Constantinople. This was in 1204 and is simply explained in a 2005 Journal article from Montrose Associates which is linked here: TIGERS BURNING BRIGHT: BUT DOES THE EAST HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS? by NORMAN STONE, PROFESSOR OF MODERN HISTORY, KOÇ UNIVERSITY It is an interesting article on technology, well worth reading for other reasons than just about this battle in 1204.
We do know that those wielding the Greek Fire wore heavy leather armour to give themselves a level of fire protection, and we also know that hides soaked in water, urine or vinegar were often used as a fire protective cover over timber in times of siege, but I have not been able to find out what was the “special treatment” given to leather by the Venetians to protect ships against the Greek Fire. It would be good to fully understand what made leather truly fireproof 800 years ago.
All suggestions very welcome.