Callinicus: the importance of scientists, knowledge, and innovation

The weapon

The role that scientific advances and technological innovations play on the fate of civilisations is illustrated by numerous examples, including food-related developments (improved species in agriculture and livestock), health (hygiene and the discovery of antibiotics), and lifestyle (popularisation of the internet). However, none of these examples triggers immediate effects on the nation’s evolution as those innovations related to military technology.

Maybe the best example to consider is the Greek fire, a set of incendiary weapons mounted on warships, consisting of a boiler system and siphons to project flammable material into enemy ships describing the first flamethrower and the precursors of Molotov cocktails. However, the appearance of this technology is not accidental, nor did from one day to another in a magical “Eureka!” moment. According to chronicles of the Byzantine Empire, it came off the experimentation conducted by engineers, chemists, and pyromancers with naphtha, quicklime and sulphur, experiments from which more innovative and efficient formulas were obtained.

The use of these ammunition dates back to 513 AD, but the dominant design in which bronze boilers and siphons projection were used as vessels are documented for the siege of Constantinople by Muslim fleet in the battle of Cyzicus during the year 673 AD. Thanks to this, the Byzantine Empire successfully repelled the attack, having similar results in the following attempted invasions. Not only the scaling up of the system was considered in this innovation, but also the formula used in combat. This one is not clear, but scholars estimated that used thickening agents such as wax, accelerators components and explosives compounds such as saltpeter and turpentine, which not only allowed the mixture burn on flammable surfaces, but could keep burning when it spilled on water. This technological leap is attributed to a Jewish engineer of Syrian origin named Callinicus of Heliopolis.

Different versions refer to the arrival of Callinicus to Constantinople; some sources affirm that he flew from Syria escaping from Arab invasion. Others say that he came as a weapons dealer to the Caliph Mu’awiya first, who was in charge of the siege, but his offer was rejected because the siege had so far the desired effects. So Callinicus decided to come into the enemy lines to find a better client: The Byzantine emperor Constantine IV, who impulsed the use of the weapon. The outcome of Callinicus arrival otherwise is clear; the empire was able to prevail for centuries thanks to the technology.

In any of these scenarios, the fact that Callinicus brought his knowledge into the Byzantine Empire was critical to the result of the war; he was a refugee in the first one and some sort of entrepreneur in the second. But what is explicit in any case is that a single person who carries a unique and advanced know-how allowed to change the course of history.

The modern Callinicus

Nowadays the valorisation of knowledge is as critical as in any point in history, the nation´s development and economic prevail is also drastically affected on how technology advances and how based on this they consolidate their competitive advantages. Solutions to the most relevant issues of the world are current challenges for several scientific disciplines. The relevance of people who perform the experimental advance in these disciplines is the key factor to obtain results that can lead to these solutions, and as well people in charge of the intermediary translational steps to transform these results into a deliverable pack applicable to the society needs

Those who are not boosted by their homelands indeed consider migrating to other places where their know-how matters, generating the phenomena called “brain drain” which is associated with the loss of value and competitiveness. Researchers addressed this concept, but explicit figures on how much countries lose with this drainage is yet to be done. Is necessary to make clear (especially for underdeveloped countries) what measures to take and guarantee the in-house development.

One of the most common indicators considered in this discussion is the investment on R&D based on GDP size. But is far beyond this that professional migration is motivated, factors as social security, career stability, cultural environment and professional ethics are needed to be considered by policy makers to protect their science and technology task force and avoid the leak of value, royalties, and know-how.

Mobility for scientists is an important part of their personal and professional development, and attraction to more friendly environments is an inevitable consequence of the opportunity for a better lifestyle. Those who emigrate to find a better place utterly contribute generating competitive advantages to the fostering country.

The modern Callinicus is making a change, but, who will benefit from it? History suggests that those who invest wisely on them.

Sergio Diez de Medina Roldán
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3 thoughts on “Callinicus: the importance of scientists, knowledge, and innovation”

  1. Great update! It is awesome getting a geographical allocation of countries that believe in research as the promotor of development.

  2. Very interesting the analysis of how people with ideas, supported by other people who believe in them, manage to reach a profit for the whole society.
    Imagine that Google and it’s search engine, were the inventors of great ideas that bring many benefits for the users who use Internet today. And with the time, they started to support some ideas different. But, it’s not enough because the world needs more people that believe in the persons with new ideas and new dreams.
    Patricio KIm