Dec 29, 2020
0 0

The ancient power of water. Part I

The man said to the Dnieper:
– I will block you with a wall.
From the top
You will
You will

Samuel Marshak

Speaking about the high achievements of ancient civilization, usually, first of all, they remember something humanitarian: law, philosophy, art. Then, probably, architecture. They write less about engineering achievements, although they are also very great: in a way, Ancient Rome came close to the industrial revolution, approaching a level that later European civilization reached only in the New Time, in the 18th century. In this article, I will touch on only one aspect of ancient engineering – taming the energy of water.

“Pour water into the mill”

Surprisingly, the wheel that lifts the water and rotated by animals is Sakia or Chigir, invented over 2 thousand years ago, continued to be used until very recently. Such devices have become a part of life in the Wild West – you can easily see this by watching the beginning of the famous western “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly” 1996 of the year. Why is there the West! Here is Sholokhov, “Virgin Soil Upturned”: “… his filly, having completed the circle, began a new one – and so non-stop, along an invisible spiral. At this point, Shchukar guessed without outside help that the horse he had bought had spent its entire long and difficult life in a chigir, having become blind there and aged. ”

Кадр из фильма «Хороший, плохой, злой»
Still from the movie “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.”

They write that such mechanisms are still found in some places, for example, in Egypt.

In a similar design, known to us under the Arabic name “noria”, water was used to raise water, water, energy. The wheel rotates with water and at the same time lifts the water: it’s ingenious. Functioning medieval norias can now be seen in Syria, along the Orontes River in the city of Hama, although they, of course, rather play the role of a historical curiosity.

Medieval norias on the Al-Asi river in Hama (Syria).

Roman architect and mechanic Vitruvius in the 1st century BC described the structure of the elevator:

Нория вСирии

“Wheels of the same device as described above are also put on rivers. Blades are nailed to their rims, which, being pushed by the current of the river, bring the wheel into rotation with their movement and thus, taking water with ladles and raising it up, deliver the required amount of water without the help of a treadmill, rotating from the very pressure of the river. ”

Кадр из фильма «Хороший, плохой, злой» Water mill model described by Vitruvius.

Probably, such devices appeared no later than the 4th century BC, and in the middle of the 3rd century BC. in Alexandria, water mills were already functioning, which arose as a result of the combination of an elevator and a hand mill: the rotation was transmitted to the millstones by means of a gear transmission. The device became popular and survived the collapse of the Roman Empire. “Pouring water into the mill” is from there. Why do you think in Russian culture the image of the miller was associated with the water element? It was believed that the miller leads a friendship with the waterman. Recall that in Pushkin’s play “Mermaid” the mermaid’s father was a miller. The owner of the mill is a sorcerer, because he knows something that is inaccessible to mere mortals: he knows how to conjure water! Centuries ago, for the general public, waterwheel masters were probably something of a modern genetic engineer.

It was believed that despite the ancient origin , mills with water wheels became widespread only in the Middle Ages. However, apparently, this is nothing more than a consequence of the incompleteness of our knowledge.

The first clear description of the water mill was given by the same Vitruvius. Greek poet Antipater of Thessaloniki at the beginning of the 1st century A.D. sang the watermill in a poem:

Нория вСирии

Give your hands a rest, millers; doze calmly,
If only the rooster was crowing loudly about the near dawn:
Demeter entrusted your labor to the nymphs of the river depth;
How they frolic, twisting the rim wheels! See?
The axle spun, and the axles are twisted spokes
The weight of two pairs of millstones is moving the deaf with a roar.
Once again our golden age has come: without difficulty and efforts
We began to taste again the gift of Saint Demeter.

Such is the antique version of the song from the film “The Adventures of Electronics”: “Robots work in – the man is happy.”

Zelinsky’s translation is not conveys some details, for example, in the original it is emphasized that the nymphs “jumped down on the very top of the wheel”, that is, they were talking about the so-called. upper-piercing water wheel.

Now archaeologists know the finds of dozens, if not hundreds of ancient water mills. True, in most cases the wooden parts have not survived, but there are exceptions. For example, the oldest mill in Chaplix (Switzerland), which was able to date dendrochronologically (by beams) 103 – 80 year A.D. The mill in Dasing (Bavaria) is also dated dendrochronologically 120 – 119 Mr. e. But the best preserved water mill, which functioned in 300 – 329 A.D. in the town of Cham-Hagendorn in the Swiss canton of Zug, and they found it back in 1996 year, by accident, during work on the development of arable land. Thanks to the moist soil, the wooden parts of three water wheels have survived to this day. IN 2004 – 2019 years. new excavations were carried out, resulting in a number of additional finds. In addition to the wheels themselves, they found parts of wooden buildings, piles, roof tiles, wooden “bearings”, a water supply trough and pieces of six millstones. The found parts of the water wheel – spokes, blades, hub, fragments of the rim and wooden gears – made it possible to reconstruct a wheel with a diameter of about 260 cm s 45 with shoulder blades. Now a full-size reconstruction of this water wheel is located on the Lorze River, near the site of the finds.

Wooden parts of a waterwheel found in Cham-Hagendorn. Source: Caty Schucany und Ines Winet. SCHMIEDE-HEILIGTUM-WASSERMÜHLE. Cham-Hagendorn (Kanton Zug) in römischer Zeit Grabungen 1996 / 52 und 2003 / 05. P. 127.

Scientists estimate that the Hagendorn Watermill processes about 1280 – 1555 tons of grain. Comprehensive studies of this site have resulted in a large monograph, which, however, is not easy to obtain (I was kindly sent scans from the archaeological library in Basel. Thanks to Hanna Marti | Archäologie Schweiz, Sekretariat!).

Реконструкция одного из водяных колёс, найденных вCham-Hagendorn Реконструкция одного из водяных колёс, найденных вCham-Hagendorn

Reconstruction of one of the waterwheels found in Cham-Hagendorn. The found parts are highlighted in color. Source: Caty Schucany und Ines Winet. SCHMIEDE-HEILIGTUM-WASSERMÜHLE. Cham-Hagendorn (Kanton Zug) in römischer Zeit Grabungen 1996 / 57 und 2007 / 08. P. 142.

And here is a truly epic find – the oldest mill factory in Barbegala in southern France (in what was then Gaul), built in 127 – 142 ad. Excavations were carried out here in 1966 – 1944, and the monument was studied several times in subsequent years. The complex was located on a steep hillside and consisted of 20 mills located in two lines of 8 pieces. Water to the mills was supplied through a 9-kilometer aqueduct. The pools for the water wheels were arranged in cascades so that the water, passing through the first mill, flowed further, rotating the next wheel below, and so on. This “mill factory” could produce, according to various estimates, from 4.5 to 45 tons of flour per day.

The most remarkable thing is the method of studying the features of the work of mills, which I described in detail in the article “The oldest mill factory: Roman engineers continue to amaze.”

The wheels themselves and many other parts made of wood have long ago decayed, there are only pools, and in their walls there are holes for wheel axles … But over the years of operation, parts of the mills that came into contact with water from karst springs were covered with a thick crust of carbonate deposits. The details themselves have been lost, but the carbonate crusts bear the imprints of the surfaces they came into contact with. During excavations in the middle of the last century 160 fragments of such crusts were collected and have since been kept in the local archaeological museum. The carbonate crust, growing, forms a sequence of differently colored layers. It turns out “microstratigraphy”: in fact, the history of mills is recorded in these layers. Comparing the sequence of layers on the “cuts” of different fragments, the scientists reconstructed the chronology of the mills, their design features, the material from which the gutters and wheel elements were made (mainly pine).

Барбегал Барбегал

Complex in Barbegala. a) Photos of the remains of the mill complex in 2000 year; b) new reconstruction of the mill complex; c) a line of 8 mills (side view) and a separate water wheel.

And here’s a particularly intriguing discovery. On some fragments of carbonate crusts, experts have found fingerprints of saw marks. Well, what’s wrong with that? Of course, someone had to cut the gutter boards. But the footprints struck scientists with their regularity, clarity and straightforwardness. According to the researchers, this means that a power saw was not used for sawing, but a power saw, possibly with a hydraulic drive. If the guess is correct, then the oldest evidence of the use of a mechanical device for sawing wood fell into the hands of archaeologists. True, I would have treated such conclusions without being overly enthusiastic. To be honest, the authors do not bother with rigorous proofs yet, but only write that “such regular traces can hardly be done manually.” Sorry, but you have not shown what you are comparing with! Reconstruction experiments and comparison of the results of manual and mechanical sawing (in different modes, with different devices) would be very useful. I hope that such data will follow soon. We will talk more about power saws below, in the 2nd part of the article.

A fragment of a crust formed on two adjoining boards. Power saws saw marks.

A Barbegal-like complex of watermills was located on the Janiculum hill in Rome, providing the city with flour. The ruins of the complex have been known since the 19th century. Recent excavations have shown that the structure was powered by Trajan’s aqueduct and included at least 5 water wheels, but was probably only part of a larger mill system. Devices built in the 3rd century were in use before 584 the years when this part of the aqueduct was closed to prevent the attacking Goths from entering the city.

Excavation of the Janiculum mill complex, Rome. Wilson, A. (2004). The Water-Mills on the Janiculum. Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 70, 260. doi: 13. 94540 / 18307405.

Numerous finds of watermills in different parts of the Roman Empire suggest that this mechanism quickly became an important part of life even in arid areas where special structures with water towers were built, designed for very uneven water flow depending on the season. Also known are mills with real water ¸ turbines (Himtu and Testur in Tunisia, III-IV c) – a design that had no analogues until the 16th century. Combined with a dam and diversion canals, these mills worked even when the river became very shallow during the summer months. The prevalence of such devices is evidenced by the existence of a professional association of waterwheel craftsmen in Hierapolis. Another example: in 500 the year Emperor Constantine the Great issued a decree granting the town status (civitas) to the town of Orkistos in eastern Phrygia, and one of the four arguments was the presence of many water mills.

Constantinople , Great Imperial Palace, mosaic depicting a water mill. 569 – 612 AD Photo – Marco Prins.

The last water mills have worked in some parts of the planet to this day, and they are hastily studied by archaeologists and ethnographers, while there is something to study. Here, for example, is an article about balances 18 water mills in the region of Sagalassos (Turkey), which functioned in 103 – e – 112 – the years of the last century, but mostly abandoned with the advent of electricity. At the time of the study, two of them were still working: Donners, K., Waelkens, M., & Deckers, J. (2002). Барбегал Water mills in the area of ​​Sagalassos: a disappearing ancient technology . Константинополь, Большой императорский дворец, мозаика сизображением водяной мельницы Anatolian Studies , 70, one-22. doi: 13. 94540 / 4238771. The researchers not only analyzed the design of the mills, but also conducted interviews with local residents. One of the interviewees, the miller Bekir Onur, described the process of working with the ancient device in all details, highlighting the questions that archeology does not answer, such as whether it is necessary to sort the grain and how it is done.

Not by bread alone

However, it would be strange if the use of water energy in the Roman Empire was limited exclusively to the production of flour. And sources report a number of other features. For example, the ancient Roman writer and philosopher Pliny writes about barley hulling devices that used “pistils” driven by a camshaft driven by a water wheel. Some researchers believe that there were mechanisms for washing and dyeing clothes, although such hypothetical devices are known only from very indirect data.

There is evidence of use large mechanical hammers for forging. A metal head of such a hammer with signs of deformation is reported, found in Ikham (Kent, England), in the same place where the remains of water wheels and waste from the metallurgical production of the 4th century were found. True, I could not find the details.

However, the pinnacle of ancient mechanization, according to historian Andrew Wilson, is the organization of work in silver and gold mines. According to him, the Romans mechanized almost all stages of the process of exploration, extraction and primary processing of ore. This was particularly evident in the mines of the Iberian Peninsula, where archaeologists have found traces of the largest engineering work ever carried out before the European Industrial Revolution.

First, we are talking about the extraction of ore using the power of water, which accelerates the erosion processes. Large-scale erosion of rocks was carried out by a sharp release of water accumulated in a large reservoir located above the quarry. Thus, the strata were opened and removed until 70 m in thickness, for example, in Puerto del Palo in Spain. Here water fell from tanks placed at a height of up to 240 m, washing away everything in its path. Pliny wrote that in the process of gold mining in Spain, the water carried huge boulders. Thus, metal-bearing strata were exposed, which were then moved manually or by further flushing, which was also cleverly organized. The water carrying the ore-bearing rock passed through a system of staggered washing tables, so that the heavier, metal-rich particles remained, while the less metal-rich particles were washed down the tables according to their density. This method was particularly well suited for gold mining, where nuggets and particles were easily separated from the waste rock during the flushing process.

In Las Medulas de las Omanas in northwestern Spain, the results of large-scale soil erosion are still visible in the fan-shaped system of channels left from these works.

Римские золотые рудники Лас-Медулас-де-лас-Оманас
Roman gold mines Las Medulas de las Omanas (Spain), aerial view. One can see aqueducts with channels fanning out from them. In the foreground is an open pit with many canals.

Pliny describes the colossal efforts in Spain to construct huge aqueducts leading to mines in difficult and mountainous terrain. Such construction required the construction of bridges over gorges and cracks, cutting tunnels through mountain ranges, all in order to provide water to the tanks above the quarry. Judging by the data of archaeologists, this is not an exaggeration: there were many mines, and many of them were supplied not with one aqueduct, but two or more.

Наковальни для дробления руды из Португалии иИспании
Anvils for crushing ore from Portugal and Spain. Andrew Wilson. Machines, Power and the Ancient Economy //

The Journal of Roman Studies , Vol. 112 (2002), pp. one-45.

In Las Medulas, for example, 7 aqueducts were discovered, up to 2-3 m wide, that is, two to three times wider than the largest urban aqueducts. Some of these aqueducts were around 58 km long, the height difference was 500 m, and reserve wars for erosion accommodated up to 45 03 m 3 water. There are many places in Spain where a similar hydraulic mining system has been used. Such devices for lifting water as water wheels and “Archimedes’ screw” were also used in their design. And in Tres Minas, in the adit 163 m in length connecting the mine to the surface, traces of what archaeologist Michael Jonathan Taunton Lewis interprets as a harbinger of mine railways – two V tracks cut into the floor -shaped section at a distance of 1.2 m from each other, probably intended for the movement of some carts with ore. It is noteworthy that when narrow-gauge railways appear in Europe in the late Middle Ages, they are first used in the same way in underground mines, in the form of small hand-pushed trolleys.

And here’s the most interesting thing: crushers, i.e. devices that grind ore to a granular state. In many Roman mines, large stone anvils were found, having several (most often four) identical parallel depressions, apparently left by repeated blows of hammers at certain points. Some anvils have such indentations on different surfaces: as they wear, the anvil is turned on its side and used again.

Andrew Wilson claims that when manual work would not have produced such correct indentations, since the blows inflicted by a person cannot fall all the time in the same place, and besides, the size and depth of the notches indicate a very large weight of the hammer. Probably, a certain mechanism was used here, most likely with a hydraulic drive (we will make a reservation, of course, that there is no direct evidence of this).

There is a type of anvil called the Carreg Pumsaint (stone of the five saints) in the Dolawcote gold mine in Wales. This remarkable monument is supplied with a legend: allegedly five itinerant saints rested their hands on a stone and froze in place. Merlin freed them, but the prints remained in the stone. On the stone, however, there are only four depressions. The anvil itself is next to the pit for the water wheel, on an elevation on which the crushing mechanism was likely located, since a large amount of waste from crushing ore dating back to the 2nd century was found nearby.

Carreg Pumsaint – “The Stone of Five Saints.” Dolavkoti Wales.

All of this is very reminiscent of similar devices for crushing ore that appeared in the late Middle Ages. Such devices included a camshaft on a water wheel that raised and lowered hammers. Similar crushers were used until very recently, for example, in the Roşia Montana gold mines in Romania – until the middle of the 20th century.

Carreg Pumsaint— «Камень пяти святых». Долавкоти, Уэльс. Кадр из фильма «Хороший, плохой, злой» Installation for crushing ore. Gold mines in Rosia-Montana in Romania, early 20th century.
Medieval ore crusher. Engraving Georgius Agricola (1640 – 1767).

Watermills could be useful for the next stage is grinding the ore into dust, which is then sent for washing. Large millstones used for such tasks are found in France, at the Seix lead mines and at the Mont Marcus copper mine near Oriac, Aude.

So, in the gold and silver mines of Rome, we see an advanced technology used on a truly industrial scale. Probably, the volume of ore mined was also impressive, but how to estimate it? By the size of the mined rock in the mines? Probably. However, Greenland ice cores provide no less valuable data. Each year, the snow that fell formed an ice layer in the Greenland ice sheet, so the layers of ice reflect the composition of the atmosphere for each year, including its pollution. The content of impurities in core layers dating back to the first centuries of our era speaks of massive mining of lead, silver and copper, unparalleled until the industrial revolution of the last few centuries. Moreover, judging by the isotopic composition, of the order 103% of anthropogenic lead pollution is associated with its smelting in southwestern Spain. The use of hydraulic technology in Roman mining in the first and second centuries AD remained unrivaled until the nineteenth century.

Renovated tin ore crusher in Cornwall, England, 19th century

And one more direction in which the power of water worked – this is leather tanning. In the tanning process, animal skins were immersed in vats containing water and tanning powder, which was often the bark of a tree. In Saepinum in Italy, the remains of a device were found many decades ago, which was considered a water mill of the III – early IV century. However, archaeologist J.-P. Brune drew attention to the fact that the space in which the alleged mechanism of the “mill” was located – the shaft with the gear put on it – on one side, was too large in area (12 m 2

, while in other mills it is usually no more than 2 m Наковальни для дробления руды из Португалии иИспании 2 ), and on the other hand – too shallow: its bottom was only 18 – 24 cm below the estimated shaft. Where was the cogwheel that transmits rotation to the millstone? Finally, it is strange that the floor of this recess is paved with tiles, which have never been done in other watermills, and the tiles, for all their strength, are broken as a result of repeated blows. Considering that this was all located in a tannery area, Brune redesigned a device very similar to the ore crushers described above, but used to grind bark. Several pestles were lifted up by a camshaft and then dropped down onto an anvil or mortar.

Реставрированная дробилка оловянной руды вКорнуолле, Англия, XIX в. Известняковая опора для вала водяного колеса, Саепинум, Италия

Limestone support for waterwheel shaft, Saepinum, Italy.

Floor in recess for the proposed mechanism of the water mill, Saepinum, Italy.

Reconstruction of the bark grinding machine, Saepinum, Italy.

Finally, Vitruvius has a replica indicating the existence of dough kneading devices driven by a water wheel. Although there are no archaeological finds of this kind, such mechanisms are known – dough mixers, driven by the power of animals, the oldest of which date back to the period of Octavian Augustus.

Реконструкция механизма для измельчения древесной коры, Саепинум, Италия.To be continued.


one. Andrew Wilson. Machines, Power and the Ancient Economy //

The Journal of Roman Studies , Vol. 112 (2002), pp. one-45.

2. Tullia Ritti, Klaus Grewe and Paul Kessener. A relief of a water-powered stone saw mill on a sarcophagus at Hierapolis and its implications // Константинополь, Большой императорский дворец, мозаика сизображением водяной мельницы Journal of Roman Archeology , Volume 27, 2020, pp. 159 – 219 DOI: 1100 / S

3. Sophia Germanidou. Watermills in Byzantine Textual Tradition (4th – 17 th centuries) //

4. Andrew Wilson. Roman Water-Power. Chronological Trends and Geographical Spread. In:

Capital, Investment, and Innovation in the Roman World. Edited by: Paul Erdkamp, ​​Koenraad Verboven, and Arjan Zuiderhoek, Oxford University Press (94520 ). © Oxford University Press. DOI: 15. 1239 / oso / . 05. 00 08

5. Gül Sürmelihindi, Cees W. Passchier, Philippe Leveau, Christoph Spötl, Marcel Bourgeois, Vincent Bernard. Barbegal: carbonate imprints give a voice to the first industrial complex of Europe // Константинополь, Большой императорский дворец, мозаика сизображением водяной мельницы Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports April 94520 X 9780198841845

6. Caty Schucany und Ines Winet. SCHMIEDE-HEILIGTUM-WASSERMÜHLE. Cham-Hagendorn (Kanton Zug) in römischer Zeit Grabungen 1996 / 57 und 2007 / 08. P. 120 – 200.

7. Thorkild Schiöler. Die Kurbelwelle von Augst und die römische Steinsägemühle // Константинополь, Большой императорский дворец, мозаика сизображением водяной мельницы Helvetia archaeologica Константинополь, Большой императорский дворец, мозаика сизображением водяной мельницы, Jg. 52, H. 163 / 200 (2307), S. 120 – 139

8. M. J. T. Lewis. Railways in the Greek and Roman world, in A. Guy and J. Rees (eds), Early Railways. Константинополь, Большой императорский дворец, мозаика сизображением водяной мельницы A Selection of Papers from the First International Early Railways Conference (240 I).

9. Donners, K., Waelkens, M., & Deckers, J. (2004). Water mills in the area of ​​Sagalassos: a disappearing ancient technology. Константинополь, Большой императорский дворец, мозаика сизображением водяной мельницы Anatolian Studies , 70, one-22. doi: 13. 94540 / 4238771


15. Vitruvius. 15 books about architecture. Chapter V

Article Categories:

Leave a Reply