List of ancient watermills

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For an overview of early medieval watermills from 500 to 1000 AD, see List of early medieval watermills.
The Barbegal mill, located on a steep slope in southern France, is considered the biggest ancient mill complex. Its capacity was sufficient to feed the whole nearby city of Arles.[1]
Scheme of a water-driven Roman sawmill at Hierapolis, Asia Minor. The 3rd century mill is the earliest known machine to incorporate a crank and connecting rod mechanism.[2]

This list of ancient watermills presents an overview of water-powered grain-mills and industrial mills in the classical antiquity from their Hellenistic beginnings through the Roman imperial period.

Historical overview[edit]

The watermill is the earliest instance of a machine harnessing natural forces to replace human muscular labour (apart from the sail).[3] As such it holds a special place in the history of technology and also in economic studies where it is associated with growth.[4]

The initial invention of the watermill appears to have occurred in the hellenized eastern Mediterranean in the wake of the conquests of Alexander the Great and the rise of Hellenistic science and technology.[5] In the subsequent Roman era, the use of water-power was diversified and different types of watermills were introduced. These include all three variants of the vertical water wheel as well as the horizontal water wheel.[6] Apart from its main use in grinding flour, water-power was also applied to pounding grain,[7] crushing ore,[8] sawing stones[9] and possibly fulling and bellows for iron furnaces.[10]

An increased research interest has greatly improved our knowledge of Roman watermill sites in recent years. Numerous archaeological finds in the western half of the empire now complement the surviving documentary material from the eastern provinces; they demonstrate that the breakthrough of watermill technology occurred as early as the 1st century AD and was not delayed until the onset of the Middle Ages as previously thought.[11] The data shows a wide spread of grain-mills over most parts of the empire, with industrial mills also being in evidence in both halves.[12] Although the prevalence of grain-mills naturally meant that watermilling remained a typically rural phenomenon, it also rose in importance in the urban environment.[13]

The data below spans the period until ca. 500 AD. The vast majority dates to Roman times.

Earliest evidence[edit]

Below the earliest ancient evidence for different types of watermills and the use of water-power for various industrial processes. This list is continued for the early Middle Ages here.

Date Water-powered mill types Reference (or find spot) Country
Possibly first half of 3rd century BC Horizontal-wheeled mill [5] Byzantium (assigned place of invention) Turkey
Possibly c. 240 BC Vertical-wheeled mill [5] Alexandria (assigned place of invention) Egypt
Before 71 BC? Grain-mill ("watermill") [14] Strabon, XII, 3, 30 C 556 Turkey
40/10 BC Undershot wheel mill [15] Vitruvius, X, 5.2 Unspecified
40/10 BC Possible kneading machine [16] Vitruvius, X, 5.2 Unspecified
20 BC/10 AD Overshot wheel mill [17] Antipater of Thessalonica, IX, 418.4–6 Unspecified
c. 70 AD Trip hammer [7] Pliny, Naturalis Historia, XVIII, 23.97 Italy
73/4 AD Possible fulling mill [18] Antioch Syria
2nd century AD Multiple mill complex [19] Barbegal mill France
Late 2nd century AD Breastshot wheel mill [20] Les Martres-de-Veyre France
Second half of 3rd century AD Sawmill; crank and connecting rod system with gear train [21] Hierapolis sarcophagus Turkey
Late 3rd or early 4th century AD Turbine mill [22] Chemtou and Testour Tunisia
? Possible Furnace [8] Marseille France

Written sources[edit]

In the following, literary, epigraphical and documentary sources referring to watermills and other water-driven machines are listed.

Reference Location Date Type of evidence Comments on
Ammianus Marcellinus, 18.8.11 [23] Amida 359 AD History Multiple mill complex
Antipater of Thessalonica, IX, 418.4–6 [20] Unspecified 20 BC/10 AD Poem Earliest reference to overshot wheel mill [20]
Ausonius, Mosella, 362–364 [24] Ruwer river c. 370 AD Poem Water-powered marble saws and grain-mills
Beroea [25] Macedonia 2nd century AD Decree Tax revenue from watermills
Cedrenus, Historiarum compendium, p. 295 [516] [26] India c. 325 AD History
CG-CI, pp. 86–90, no. 41 [27] Corinth 6th century AD
CIL, III, 5866 [28] Günzburg 1st/3rd century AD Epigraphy Miller’s guild [29]
CIL, III, 14969 [27] Dalmatia 1st/4th century AD Epigraphy
CIL, VI, 1711 [30] c. 480 AD Epigraphy
Codex Justinianus, XI, 43, 10, 3 [27] Constantinople 474/491 AD Legal code
Codex Theodosianus, XIV, 15.4 [30] 398 AD Legal code
Diocletian, XV, 54 [29] 301 AD Price edict
Gregory of Nyssa, In Ecclesiasten, III, 656A Migne [31] c. 370/390 AD Theology Water-powered marble saws? [32]
John Cassian, Conlationes Patrum, I, 18 [33] 426 AD? Theology
Letter [34] Egypt 5th century AD Possible watermill
Libanius, Or. 4.29 [25] Antioch 380s AD Rhetoric Tax on water-mills
MAMA, VII, p. 70, no. 305, lines 29–32 [31] Phrygia c. 329 AD [35] Epigraphy Town privilege
Mar. Aur. Apollodotos Kalliklianos [36] Hierapolis Second half of 3rd century AD Epigraphy Member of guild of water-millers
Molitor [29] Châteauneuf 1st century AD Epigraphy
Pliny, Naturalis Historia, XVIII, 23.97 [37] Italy c. 70 AD Encyclopedia Water-powered pestles [38]
Sabinianus I, 18 c. 450 AD Hagiography
Sardis, VII, pp. 138–9, no. 169 [31] Asia Minor 4th/5th century AD Epigraphy Watermill engineer
Strabon, XII, 3, 30 C 556 [27] Cabira Before 71 BC? [39] Geography
Talmud, Shabbat, I, 5 [40] Before 70 AD?
Two inscriptions [18] Antioch 73/4 AD Epigraphy Possibly fulling mills
Visigothic Code, VII, 2, 12 and VIII, 4, 29–30 [37] Late 5th century AD Legal code
Vita S. Romani abbatis, 17–18 [41] c. 450 AD Hagiography Water-powered pestles [38]
Vitruvius, X, 5.2 [42] 40/10 BC Engineering Earliest description of undershot wheel mill [42]
Vitruvius, X, 5.2 [16] 40/10 BC Engineering Possible kneading machine

Graphical representations[edit]

This section deals with depictions of watermills which are preserved in ancient paintings, reliefs, mosaics, etc.

Place (or object) Country Date Type of evidence Comment/Remains
Coemeterium Maius at Rome [43] Italy Late 3rd century AD? Wall painting
Utica [44] Tunisia 4th century AD Mosaic [A 1]
Great Palace of Constantinople [45] Turkey c. 450/500 AD Mosaic One probable and one possible representation
Hierapolis sarcophagus [9] Turkey Second half of 3rd century AD Relief Water-powered stone sawmill; earliest known crank and connecting rod system [2]

Archaeological finds[edit]

Watermill sites[edit]

Below are listed excavated or surveyed watermill sites dated to the ancient period.

Site Country Date Remains
Mouzaïa des Mines, near [46] Algeria Unspecified Unspecified remains
Oued Bou Ardoun [46] Algeria Possibly 2nd to 3rd century AD Unspecified remains
Oued Bou Ya'koub [46] Algeria Unspecified Drop-tower mill
Oued Mellah [46] Algeria Possibly 4th century AD Drop-tower mill
Fullerton [47] Britain Unspecified Two watermills
Bolle [48] Denmark 1st century BC [A 2] Dams, reservoirs, sluice
Chesters [48] England Possibly 3rd century AD Mill-race, mill-chamber, tail-race, millstones
Haltwhistle Burn Head [48] England 225–70 AD Entire establishment
Ickham I [48] England 150–280 AD Mill-race, mill-building, fragments of millstones
Ickham II [48] England 3rd and 4th centuries AD Mill-race, sluice-gate, mill-building, fragments of millstones
Nettleton [48] England 230 AD Mill-race, sluice-gate, wheel-pit, tail-race
Spring Valley Mill [48] England Unspecified Possible Roman watermill site including millstones
Wherwell [48] England Late 3rd or early 4th century AD Mill-channel, mill-building (?), fragments of millstones
Willowford [48] England Late 2nd or 3rd century AD? [49] Water-channels, sluices (?), fragments of millstones
Barbegal mill [48] France 2nd century AD [50] Multiple mill complex with sixteen overshot wheels on two mill-races, fed by aqueduct
Gannes [48] France Presumably 4th or 5th century AD Horizontal (?) water-wheel
Les Martres-de-Veyre [48] France Late 2nd century AD [20] Entire establishment; breastshot wheel [20]
Narbonnaise [47] France Unspecified Two watermills
Lösnich I [48] Germany 2nd/4th century AD? [20] Mill-race, wheel-pit, fragment of a millstone
Lösnich II [48] Germany 2nd/4th century AD? [20] Mill-race
Munich [47] Germany Unspecified Unspecified remains
Inden [51] Germany Late 1st century BC Axle boxes, paddles, millstones
Ancient Agora of Athens I [48] Greece 5th and 6th centuries AD Aqueduct, wheel-pit, mill-chamber, tail-race
Ancient Agora of Athens II [48] Greece 460/75 to c.580 AD Entire establishment
Ancient Agora of Athens III [48] Greece Unspecified Unspecified remains
El-Qabu [48] Israel Possibly Roman Unspecified remains
En Shoqeq [48] Israel 2nd century AD Masonry dam with mills
Farod I–III [48] Israel 5th or 6th century AD Three drop-tower mills
Farod IV–V [48] Israel Unspecified Two mills
Ma'agan Michael [48] Israel 3rd century AD? Masonry dam, with eleven mills
Wadi Fejjas I–III [48] Israel Probably Roman Three drop-tower mills
Wadi Serrar [48] Israel Probably Roman Unspecified remains
Yarkon [48] Israel 2nd century AD Unspecified remains
Baths of Caracalla, Rome [48] Italy Between 275 and 537 AD Entire mill-chamber, fragments of millstones
Janiculum, Rome [48] Italy Early 3rd century AD [52] Aqueducts, reservoirs, sluices, millstones
Saepinum [48] Italy Presumably early Empire Aqueduct, sluice-gates, wheel-pit, tail-race
San Giovanni di Ruoti [53] Italy Early 1st century AD Unspecified remains
Venafro [48] Italy Possibly early Empire Undershot water wheel, [54] millstones
Gerasa [55] Jordan 6th century AD Water-powered stone sawmill with two four-bladed saws; crank and connecting rod system without gear train
Wadi al-Hasa [48] Jordan Probably late Roman At least nineteen possible drop-tower mills
Oued es Soueïr [46] Morocco Unspecified Unspecified remains
Avenches [47] Switzerland 57/58–80 AD Mill-race timbers
Palmyra [48] Syria Possibly Roman Unspecified remains
Chemtou [46] Tunisia Late 3rd or early 4th century AD Triple helix turbine mill with horizontal wheels
Testour [46] Tunisia Late 3rd or early 4th century AD Triple helix turbine mill with horizontal wheels
Colossae Turkey Possible multiple-mill complex [56]
Lamas-Su river [25] Turkey Apparently late antique Seven horizontal-wheeled mills

Millstones[edit]

The following list comprises stray finds of ancient millstones. Note that there is no way to distinguish millstones driven by water-power from those powered by animals turning a capstan. Most, however, are assumed to derive from watermills.[57]

Site Country Date (or find context) Remains
Barton Court Farm [58] England 4th century AD well Fragments of four millstones
Chedworth [58] England Roman villa One lower stone, fragment of another
Chew Park [58] England Late 3rd or early 4th century AD One complete upper stone, part of another
Dicket Mead [58] England Roman building Fragments of millstones
Leeds [58] England Roman pottery dated to 1st and 2nd centuries AD Fragment of millstone
Littlecote Roman Villa [58] England 2nd century AD timber building Fragment of millstone
London [58] England 1st-2nd century AD Several millstones
London [58] England Late 2nd century AD Roman ship One unfinished millstone
Selsey [58] England Unspecified Fragment of millstone
Vindolanda [47] England Possibly Roman Four millstones
Wantage [47] England On display in museum Two millstones
Woolaston [58] England c. 320 AD Two upper millstones
La Chapelle-Taillefert [58] France Pottery and coins from 2nd century AD Pair of millstones
Lyon [58] France On display in museum Many unpublished millstones
Paris [47] France On display in museum Six millstones
Aalen [58] Germany On display in museum Five millstones
Cologne [47] Germany On display in museum Three millstones
Dasing [59] Germany Unspecified Fragments of millstones
Koblenz [58] Germany On display in museum Several millstones
Mayen [58] Germany Quarry Unfinished Roman millstones
Budapest [47] Hungary On display in museum Six millstones
Beit She'an [58] Israel Late 4th or early 5th century AD Upper millstone
Buqueiah [58] Israel Allegedly from ancient water-mill Upper millstone
Bologna [58] Italy On display in museum Six millstones
Naples [58] Italy Probably Roman Several millstones
Apulum [58] Rumania 2nd or 3rd century AD Pair of millstones
Cluj-Napoca [58] Rumania 2nd or 3rd century AD Upper millstone
Micia [58] Rumania 2nd or 3rd century AD Pair of millstones
Caerwent [58] Wales Smithy Millstones
Whitton [58] Wales Unspecified Fragment of millstone

Water wheels and other components[edit]

Although more rare than the massive millstones, finds of wooden and iron parts of the mill machinery can also point to the existence of ancient watermills.[60] Large stone mortars have been found at many mines; their deformations suggest automated crushing mills worked by water wheels.[61]

Site Country Date (or find context) Remains
Great Chesterford [58] England Early 5th century AD hoard Iron spindle with three winged rynds
Silchester [58] England Mid-4th century AD hoard Iron spindle
Conimbriga [47] Portugal On display in museum, allegedly 1st century AD Mill-wheel
Hagendorn [54] Switzerland Late 2nd century AD Three undershot wheels
Dolaucothi [8] Wales 1st and 2nd centuries AD Stone anvil (Carreg Pumsaint) nearby

References[edit]

  1. ^ Greene 2000, p. 39
  2. ^ a b Ritti, Grewe & Kessener 2007, p. 161
  3. ^ Wilson 2002, p. 9
  4. ^ Wikander 2000a, p. 371
  5. ^ a b c Wikander 2000a, pp. 396f.; Donners, Waelkens & Deckers 2002, p. 11; Wilson 2002, pp. 7f.
  6. ^ Wikander 2000a, pp. 373–378; Donners, Waelkens & Deckers 2002, pp. 12–15
  7. ^ a b Wikander 1985, p. 158; Wikander 2000b, p. 403; Wilson 2002, p. 16
  8. ^ a b c Wikander 2000b, p. 407
  9. ^ a b Ritti, Grewe & Kessener 2007
  10. ^ Wikander 2000b, pp. 406f.
  11. ^ Wikander 1985, pp. 151–154; Wikander 2000a, pp. 370–373; Wilson 2002, pp. 9–17; Brun 2006, pp. 7–9
  12. ^ Wikander 2000a, pp. 397–400
  13. ^ Wikander 2000a, p. 379
  14. ^ Wikander 1985, p. 160; Wikander 2000a, p. 396
  15. ^ Wikander 2000a, pp. 373f.; Donners, Waelkens & Deckers 2002, p. 12
  16. ^ a b Wikander 2000b, p. 402
  17. ^ Wikander 2000a, p. 375; Donners, Waelkens & Deckers 2002, p. 13
  18. ^ a b Wikander 2000b, p. 406
  19. ^ Wikander 1985, pp. 154–162; Wilson 2002, p. 11
  20. ^ a b c d e f g Wikander 2000a, p. 375
  21. ^ Ritti, Grewe & Kessener 2007, p. 154
  22. ^ Wilson 1995, pp. 507f.; Wikander 2000a, p. 377; Donners, Waelkens & Deckers 2002, p. 13
  23. ^ Wilson 2001
  24. ^ Wikander 2000b, p. 404f.
  25. ^ a b c Wilson 2001, p. 235
  26. ^ Wikander 1985, p. 163, fn. 109; Wikander 2000a, p. 400
  27. ^ a b c d Wikander 1985, p. 160
  28. ^ Wikander 1985, p. 169, fn. 41
  29. ^ a b c Wikander 2000a, p. 398
  30. ^ a b Wikander 2000a, p. 400, fn. 123
  31. ^ a b c Wikander 1985, p. 171, fn. 82
  32. ^ Wikander 2000b, p. 405
  33. ^ Wikander 2000a, p. 399, fn. 121
  34. ^ Wikander 1985, p. 171, fn. 69
  35. ^ Wikander 2000a, p. 399
  36. ^ Ritti, Grewe & Kessener 2007, pp. 143–146
  37. ^ a b Wikander 1985, p. 158
  38. ^ a b Wikander 2000b, p. 403
  39. ^ Wikander 2000a, p. 396
  40. ^ Wikander 1985, p. 161; Wikander 2000a, p. 397, fn. 104
  41. ^ Wikander 1985, p. 170, fn. 45
  42. ^ a b Wikander 2000a, p. 373f.
  43. ^ Wikander 1985, p. 170, fn. 61; Wikander 2000a, p. 375
  44. ^ Wikander 1985, p. 159
  45. ^ Wikander 1985, p. 171, fn. 77; Wikander 2000a, pp. 384f.
  46. ^ a b c d e f g Wilson 1995, pp. 507f.
  47. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Wilson 2002, p. 10
  48. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Wikander 1985, pp. 154–162
  49. ^ Wikander 2000a, p. 397, fn. 106
  50. ^ Wilson 2002, p. 11
  51. ^ Ntv.de: Uralte Wassermühle ausgegraben; Commons: Pic 1, Pic 2
  52. ^ Wikander 2000a, p. 393
  53. ^ Wikander 2000a, p. 374
  54. ^ a b Wikander 2000a, p. 385
  55. ^ Wilson 2002, p. 16; Ritti, Grewe & Kessener 2007, pp. 149–151
  56. ^ Wikander 2000a, p. 394, fn. 95
  57. ^ Wikander 2000a, p. 372
  58. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Wikander 1985, pp. 163–165
  59. ^ Czysz 1994, p. 152
  60. ^ Wikander 1985, p. 165
  61. ^ Burnham 1997, pp. 332–336

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Character as watermill disputed (Wilson 1995, p. 375)
  2. ^ Ancient date disputed

Sources[edit]

  • Burnham, Barry C. (1997), Roman Mining at Dolaucothi: The Implications of the 1991–3 Excavations near the Carreg Pumsaint, Britannia 28: 325–336, doi:10.2307/526771 
  • Czysz, Wolfgang (1994), Eine bajuwarische Wassermühle im Paartal bei Dasing, Antike Welt 25 (2): 152–154 
  • Donners, K.; Waelkens, M.; Deckers, J. (2002), Water Mills in the Area of Sagalassos: A Disappearing Ancient Technology, Anatolian Studies 52: 1–17, doi:10.2307/3643076, JSTOR 3643076 
  • Greene, Kevin (2000), Technological Innovation and Economic Progress in the Ancient World: M.I. Finley Re-Considered, The Economic History Review 53 (1): 29–59, doi:10.1111/1468-0289.00151 
  • Ritti, Tullia; Grewe, Klaus; Kessener, Paul (2007), A Relief of a Water-powered Stone Saw Mill on a Sarcophagus at Hierapolis and its Implications, Journal of Roman Archaeology 20: 138–163 
  • Wikander, Örjan (1985), Archaeological Evidence for Early Water-Mills. An Interim Report, History of Technology 10: 151–179 
  • Wikander, Örjan (2000a), "The Water-Mill", in Wikander, Örjan, Handbook of Ancient Water Technology, Technology and Change in History 2, Leiden: Brill, pp. 371–400, ISBN 90-04-11123-9 
  • Wikander, Örjan (2000b), "Industrial Applications of Water-Power", in Wikander, Örjan, Handbook of Ancient Water Technology, Technology and Change in History 2, Leiden: Brill, pp. 401–410, ISBN 90-04-11123-9 
  • Wilson, Andrew (1995), Water-Power in North Africa and the Development of the Horizontal Water-Wheel, Journal of Roman Archaeology 8: 499–510 
  • Wilson, Andrew (2001), Water-Mills at Amida: Ammianus Marcellinus 18.8.11, The Classical Quarterly 51 (1): 231–236, doi:10.1093/cq/51.1.231 
  • Wilson, Andrew (2002), Machines, Power and the Ancient Economy, The Journal of Roman Studies 92: 1–32, doi:10.2307/3184857, JSTOR 3184857 

Further reading[edit]

  • Brun, Jean-Pierre (2006), "L'energie hydraulique durant l'empire romain: quel impact sur l'economie agricole?", in Lo Cascio, Elio, Innovazione tecnica e progresso economico nel mondo romano: atti degli Incontri capresi di storia dell'economia antica (Capri 13-16 Aprile 2003), Bari: Edipuglia, pp. 101–30, ISBN 978-88-7228-405-6 
  • Wikander, Örjan (2014), "Early Water-mills East of the Rhine", in Karlsson, Lars; Carlsson, Susanne; Kullberg, Jesper, ΛΑΒΡΥΣ. Studies presented to Pontus Hellström, Boreas. Uppsala Studies in Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Civilizations 35, Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, pp. 205–219, ISBN 978-91-554-8831-4 

External links[edit]

Media related to Roman mills at Wikimedia Commons