[O]n the prow of each ship he had a head fixed of a lion or other land-animal, made in brass or iron with the mouth open and then gilded over, so that their mere aspect was terrifying. And the fire which was to be directed against the enemy through tubes he made to pass through the mouths of the beasts, so that it seemed as if the lions and the other similar monsters were vomiting the fire.

— Anna Comnena, The Alexiad (Cap XI)

Naphta Vessel: Vital statistics

Unit type

Light ship

Built/trained at


Damage and weapon type


Production cost

  • Pop cost: 1
  • Resource cost: ?Log; ?Coin
  • Ramp cost: 1 ?


  • None
  • Poor LOS

Unit move and creation speed

  • Unit movement speed: fast
  • Creation speed: fast

Unit HP


Technological requirements


  • Darkage
  • Com1 Pecunia


  • Operatio

Upgrade of Fire Barque

Factions available

Byzantines China

While most players have to build fleets of fire ships to cow heavy ships, the Byzantines and Chinese instead have a better option: the cheirosiphon, or the flamethrower. With sufficient supplies of naphta distilled from the Eastern provinces, the Naphta Vessel is a menace to enemy ships and shorebound units and structures alike, capable of causing untold destruction to any unit which strays upon its path, and unlike the Fire Barque which it replaces, it also can cripple and destroy enemy heavy ships with general ease, although it is a whole lot costlier and takes some time to build. Further, with substantially better hitpoints and some limited degree of armour, three Naphta Vessels can do the work of seven fire ships, and perhaps more. Also note that control of sulphur patches in the game will decrease the cost of constructing these warships.

The Naphta Vessel's appetite for destruction, however, does not stop with ships alone: towers and castles are also no match for a fleet of fire-spewing warships - they will easily set them aflame, eventually destroying them in the process. Any units that stray too close to the shore are also fair game for this destructive vessel. Yet, these units, strong as they may be, are also potentially weak: they have slower speed than most fire attack vessels, and also have extremely limited range, making them useful only as long as they can get as close as they can to their targets. Also, a fire vessel will always cause the Naphta Vessel to explode, destroying the ship instantly. Enhanced gunpowder weapons will make short work of the Naphta Vessel, too, making them sitting targets due to their lack of range - although it will be said that the Naphta Vessel may take on slow-moving Carracks rather well, once it gets to its target.

During the centuries between the fall of Rome and the Third Crusade, the Eastern Roman Empire was a major naval power throughout the eastern Mediterranean, known for its use of what is known in English-speaking circles as "Greek fire". Although the actual composition for this incendiary weapon has been lost to time, we know that it was made from a variety of flammable substances, most likely sulphur and naphta, forming something like a mediaeval version of napalm, which would have been the bane of many fleets, which were predominantly built of wood. Chinese military manuals of the Song dynasty also speak of a somewhat similar substance that could be pumped out that was called "huo you" or "fire oil", which could be used in a similar fashion as that used by the Byzantines

Despite this formidable reputation (Greek fire was said to have repelled a Russian attack on Constantinople), Greek fire on its own didn't win battles - it was highly volatile, and thus used mostly at sea. Further, as a weapon, it was at best unwieldly and often didn't have the results desired by the users (one Chinese account reports of a fleet accidentally being consumed by its own weapons when it tried to use it against the wind). There were also countermeasures that could be used by opponents: Arab fleets made it a habit not to engage Byzantine fire ships from up close, and if it came to that, water-soaked hides would be used as a form of fire-resistant ship armour. Eventually, Byzantine naval superiority was supplanted by those of the Arabs, who were later in turn replaced by the Italians until the Ottomans finally took Greece once and for all, becoming the lords of the eastern Mediterranean.

Unit summaryEdit

  • Quirky flamethrower ship with a strong attack vis-a-vis naval units and static targets, such as buildings or massed infantry, but somewhat slow and vulnerable to attack with fire ships.
  • Unconventional Weapon — Unlike conventional fire vessels, Naphta Vessels are not consumed when used, and are much more sturdy and have some armour.
  • Fire Starter — The strong flame attack of the Naphta Vessel means that buildings are also potential targets: build these units in sufficient numbers to assault shorebound fortifications, such as Asian Naval Cantonments.
  • Cold Comfort — Slower speed and poor range makes Naphta Vessel useless against units with rapid fire capability, although tactica micro-management can help.
  • Keep Away From Naked Flame — Fire ships can bring a Naphta fleet to grief; keep them off at all costs.
  • Like a Brimstone Cowboy — Because in coding it is flagged as a "siege vessel", any Byzantine or Chinese player with sulphur can raise these units at a discounted price.

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