List of early medieval watermills

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For an overview of ancient watermills until 500 AD, see List of ancient watermills.
Tide mills, along with riverine ship mills, were a major early medieval technological advance, allowing to tap the tidal power along the Atlantic Coast for milling.
German shipmills on the Rhine at Cologne, around 1411

This list of early medieval watermills comprises a selection of European watermills spanning the early Middle Ages, from 500 to 1000 AD.

Historical overview[edit]

Largely unaffected from the turbulent political events following the demise of the Western Roman Empire, the importance of watermilling continued to grow under the new Germanic lords. The sharp rise in numbers of early medieval watermills coincided with the appearance of new documentary genres (legal codes, monastic charters, hagiography) which were more inclined to address such a relatively mundane device than the ancient urban-centered literary class had been.[1] This partly explains the relative abundance of medieval literary references to watermills compared to former times.[2]

Nevertheless, the quantitative growth of medieval evidence appears to be more than a mere reflection of the changing nature of surviving sources: by Carolingian times, references to watermills in the Frankish Realm had become "innumerable",[3] and at the time of the compilation of the Domesday Book (1086), there were an estimated 6,500 watermills in England alone.[4] By the early 7th century, watermills were well established in Ireland, and began to spread from the former territory of the empire into the non-romanized parts of Germany a century later.[5] The introduction of the ship mill and tide mill in the 6th century, both of which yet unattested for the ancient period,[6] allowed for a flexible response to the changing water-level of rivers and the Atlantic Ocean, thus demonstrating the technological innovativeness of early medieval watermillers.

Earliest evidence[edit]

Below the earliest medieval evidence for different types of watermills. This list complements its ancient counterpart.

Date Water-powered mill types Find spot (or reference) Location
537 Ship mill [7] Procop V (=Goth. I), 19.19–22 Rome
6th century Sawmill; crank and connecting rod system without gear train [8] Gerasa and Ephesus Jordan and Turkey
6th century Vertical-wheeled tide mill [9] Killoteran near Waterford Ireland
c. 630 Horizontal-wheeled tide mill [10][11] Little Island I Ireland
c. 636 Horizontal-wheeled mill (Norse or Greek mill) [10] Ballykilleen Ireland

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
Annals of Ulster [12] 650 Annal
Benedict of Nursia, Regula 66.6–7 [13] 529/547 Possible watermill
Caesarius of Arles, Sermones, VIII, 4 [14] Early 6th century
Cassiodorus, Variae III, 31.2 [15] 510/511
Charter of king Childebert I [16] Paris 556 Charter Ship mill
Charter of king Dagobert II [17] Trier 646 Charter
Charter of king Ethelbert of Kent [18] 762 Charter
Edictus Rothari 149–151 [19] 643 Legal code
Gregorius Turonensis, Historia Francorum III, 19 [16] Dijon c. 575 Historiography Ship mill
Gregorius Turonensis, Vitae Patrum, XVIII, 2 [3] 484/507 Hagiography
Lex Alamannorum, 79–80 [20] 717/719 Legal code
Lex Baivariorum, IX, 2 [20] Probably 725/728 Legal code
Lex Visigothorum, VII, 2.12 and VIII, 4.30 [19] 568/586 Legal code
Marius Aventicius, Chronica [16] Geneva 563 Annal Ship mill
Nomos georgikós 81–82 [19] Late 7th century Legal code
Pactus Alamannorum, V, 14 [20] Early 7th century Legal code
Pactus legis Salicae, Recensio Guntchramna, X, 6; XII, 1–3; XXXI, 3 [15] 567/596 Legal code
Procop V (=Goth. I), 19.19–22 [16] Rome 537 Historiography Ship mills
Senchus Mòr, De ceithri slichtaib Athgabála [19] c. 600 Legal code
Venantius Fortunatus, Carmina, III, 12, 37–8 [17] c. 600
Vita Leobae, 12 [20] c. 740 Hagiography
Vita S. Orienti, II, 3 [3] c. 380/420? Hagiography
Vita S. Brigidae virginis, cols. 787–8 Migne [12] c. 650 Hagiography
Vita S. Remigi episcopi Remensis, 17 [3] 486/511 Hagiography

Archaeological finds[edit]

Watermill sites[edit]

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

Site Country Date Remains
Ebbsfleet [21] England Early 8th century Horizontal-wheeled tide mill
Old Windsor I [10] England Probably late 7th century Mill-channel, woodwork of three vertical water-wheels
Old Windsor II [10] England 9th or 10th century Mill-channel, horizontal-wheeled mill
Tamworth [10] England Between 846 and 864 Entire establishment
West Cotton, Raunds [22] England Late Saxon Leat, sluice gate, chute, stake and wattle lined and stone surfaced wheel-pit
Dasing [23] Germany 696/697 Vertical-wheeled undershot or breastshot mill, mill-pond, mill-race, fragments of mill-stones
Ballykilleen [10] Ireland c. 636 Horizontal-wheeled mill
Cloontycarthy [10] Ireland c. 833 Entire establishment
Drumard [10] Ireland c. 782 Horizontal-wheeled mill
Killoteran near Waterford [9] Ireland 6th century Vertical-wheeled tide mill
Little Island I [10][11] Ireland c. 630 Horizontal-wheeled tide mill
Little Island II [10][11] Ireland 7th century Vertical-wheeled tide mill
Morett [10] Ireland c. 710 Vertical-wheeled undershot mill
Gerasa [24] Jordan 6th century Sawmill; crank and connecting rod system without gear train
Nendrum Monastery mill [25] Northern Ireland 619 & 789 Horizontal-wheeled tide mill
Ephesus [26] Turkey 6th century Sawmill; crank and connecting rod system without gear train; multiple mill complex with at least five watermills


The following list comprises stray finds of early medieval 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.[27]

Site Country Date Remains
Stroud [28] England Probably Anglo-Saxon Mill-paddles from horizontal wheel
Moycraig[28] Ireland 9th century Horizontal paddle-wheel, hub and shaft, complete with pebble bearing


  1. ^ Wilson 2002, p. 3
  2. ^ Wikander 2000, pp. 372f.
  3. ^ a b c d Wikander 1985, p. 170, fn. 45
  4. ^ Holt 1988, pp. 7–8, 11
  5. ^ Wikander 2000, p. 400
  6. ^ Wikander 2000, pp. 379 & 383f.
  7. ^ Wikander 2000, pp. 383f.
  8. ^ Wilson 2002, p. 16; Ritti, Grewe & Kessener 2007, pp. 149–153
  9. ^ a b Murphy 2005
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Wikander 1985, pp. 155–157
  11. ^ a b c Rynne 2000, pp. 10, fig. 1.2; 17; 49
  12. ^ a b Wikander 1985, p. 168, fn. 18
  13. ^ Wikander 2000, p. 399
  14. ^ Wikander 2000, p. 399, fn. 121
  15. ^ a b Wikander 2000, p. 400, fn. 123
  16. ^ a b c d Wikander 2000, p. 384
  17. ^ a b Wikander 1985, p. 169, fn. 42
  18. ^ Wikander 1985, p. 169, fn. 26
  19. ^ a b c d Wikander 2000, p. 400, fn. 124
  20. ^ a b c d Wikander 1985, p. 168, fn. 14
  21. ^ Watts 2006, p. 6
  22. ^ Windell, Chapman and Woodiwiss (1990). From Barrows to Bypass, Excavations at West Cotton Raunds Northamptonshire 1985-1989. Northamptonshire County Council. pp. 29–32. 
  23. ^ Czysz 1994, pp. 152–154
  24. ^ Wilson 2002, p. 16; Ritti, Grewe & Kessener 2007, pp. 149–151
  25. ^ McErlean & Crothers 2007
  26. ^ Ritti, Grewe & Kessener 2007, pp. 151–153
  27. ^ Wikander 2000, p. 372
  28. ^ a b Wikander 1985, p. 165


  • Czysz, Wolfgang (1994), "Eine bajuwarische Wassermühle im Paartal bei Dasing", Antike Welt 25 (2): 152–154 
  • Holt, Richard (1988), The Mills of Medieval England, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, ISBN 978-0-631-15692-5 
  • McErlean, Thomas; Crothers, Norman (2007), Harnessing the Tides: The Early Medieval Tide Mills at Nendrum Monastery, Strangford Lough, Belfast: Stationery Office Books, ISBN 978-0-337-08877-3 
  • Murphy, Donald (2005), Excavations of a Mill at Killoteran, Co. Waterford as Part of the N-25 Waterford By-Pass Project, Estuarine/ Alluvial Archaeology in Ireland. Towards Best Practice, University College Dublin and National Roads Authority 
  • 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 
  • Rynne, Colin (2000), "Waterpower in Medieval Ireland", in Squatriti, Paolo, Working with Water in Medieval Europe, Technology and Change in History 3, Leiden: Brill, pp. 1–50, ISBN 90-04-10680-4 
  • Watts, Martin (2006), Watermills, Shire, ISBN 978-0-7478-0654-7 
  • Wikander, Örjan (1985), "Archaeological Evidence for Early Water-Mills. An Interim Report", History of Technology 10: 151–179 
  • Wikander, Örjan (2000), "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 

Further reading[edit]

  • Watts, Martin (2002), The Archaeology of Mills and Milling, The History Press LTD, ISBN 978-0-7524-1966-4 
  • 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]