Tuesday, 18 October 2022

Baghdad Battery

           Battery No More?

I have noticed that my writings, of late, are leaning heavily toward military history. Nothing wrong I hear you say, however, this blog is decidedly eclectic and there are many other areas worthy of appraisal. So, I'm going to redress the balance somewhat by delving into a topic encroaching on science, archaeology and history. 

Thinking ahead, in terms of future posts: I am much taken with quantum mechanics, and theory. Let us be honest, the quantum world is a strange place and is barely understood even by the brilliant theoretical physicists who devote their professional careers to conjuring and taking deep ponderous drafts unto quantum quandaries, various and unlimited. If there was anything that could finally persuade the golden/silver-haired one that a 'supernatural' element encroached upon our ultimate reality, it would, by necessity, be precipitated by a profound contemplation of all things, quantum.  

I'm sure most folks have heard of the 'Baghdad Battery'. Exact details concerning the item are sparse and in some instances contradictory. Depending on sources it was either discovered in 1936 or unearthed two years later in the vicinity of Baghdad, Iraq, by the German Archeologist, Wilhelm Konig. Regardless, the item made its way to the local Baghdad Museum and resided in contemplative oblivion, its majesty unsullied and disregarded, until 1940. In 1940, Konig inspected the ancient artefact anew and declared that it belonged to the Parthian period (247 BC-224 AD). However, a subsequent interpretation placed the pot to a later time period, more in keeping with the Sassanid Empire (224 AD- 651 AD). It was during the 1940 examination that the 'battery hypothesis' was advanced.  At this juncture a brief description of the so-called battery will be helpful: the object is a clay pot (see above) 5" in height with an opening of 1.5". The opening had originally been sealed with bitumen. Inside was found an iron rod with evidence of corrosion- not unreasonable considering the artefact's age. In addition, a copper cylinder was found therein and there was evidence of an acidic residue/accretion on the inside of the pot. At face value, the 'battery hypothesis' does not appear to be unreasonable. But let us delve a little more...... 

Firstly, although the copper tube was found to protrude from the jar, through the bitumen plug, the iron rod did not. This does not support the battery hypothesis, as the item as a whole would not be able to sustain an external connection between the two dissimilar metals to facilitate a direct current.  

Secondly, similar pots have been unearthed in the vicinity. Again, the pots contain bimetallic objects. In this scenario, papyrus parchments have been identified, within, often too fragile to gain any further insight. But it seems the ancients have conveniently, and very kindly, left further clues that have enabled archaeologists to postulate a plausible counter hypothesis. Some of the jars contain inscriptions engraved on the inside of the vessel. These inscriptions have survived the ravages of time well enough to be deciphered. It appears that the scribblings relate to invocations and spells against individuals who have fallen foul of the 'inscriptors' (not a real word). Thus it appears the author wishes ill tidings on a neighbour and hopes they receive a good, and mayhap well deserved, spiritual 'kicking'. Sometimes, the most simple and mundane explanation is the most likely. 


In such circumstances, context is king. Do we have evidence of a need for electricity in the time frame under study? To date, there is no evidence, from archaeological digs or contemporary written material, to suggest that the technology, of the time, required electricity. And yes, I am aware of the Dendara 'lightbulb'. It has been put forth that the 'battery' could have been part of an apparatus for gilding silverware. However, not an iota or jot of evidence has been uncovered to support such a hypothesis. Earlier I put forth that 'context was king'; I lied, empirical data is Konig. And now we start to enter, 'woo woo' territory. Of course, fringe, new-age, folk have adopted the battery hypothesis without critical thought and analysis. The artefact has slithered, unhindered and has become carelessly woven into their strange and bizarre word view and landscape and has consequently spawned theories numerous and ponderous. I will not give further credence to factually unsupported utterances. Their 'Arcane Knowledge' is but a click/Gogle away. Drink deep, then discard.   

Sadly, and predictably the artefact disappeared with about 10,000 other items from the National Museum of Iraq shortly after the coalition invasion in 2003. Subsequently, over half of the stolen artefacts were recovered but the current whereabouts of the 'battery' remain unknown. No doubt it will end up in the private collection of a Western billionaire if this is not already the case.      


  1. Hi Flax,
    love to read your stuff - same way thinking people. Ever heard of Mr Heron, inventor of the reflexionturbine (plus other cool stuff)? He lived bit later than (Caesar´s) Cleopatra in Alexandria. I just tinkered a kind of tiny replica - works pretty fine. Have fun, cheers:

    1. Of course, my friend I have heard of this Great man. Sadly, very underrated. His 'toys' are prodigious and were not taken seriously, at the time, due to Roman Imperial stagnation and the presence of abundant slave labour.

  2. Is/was the clay pot glazed? If not, it's possible it sat inside another vessel, in conductive liquid, with another metal connection, thus providing all (or more) that's needed for an electrical cell - the porous clay completing the circuit.
    Or not.

    1. An interesting point. From what I can glean the pots were unglazed, however I may be incorrect. Is there anyone out there in the void who can provide any further information on the topic?

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    3. Hi Flaxen,
      Fascinating stuff as always. Perhaps although they are not batteries as we would use them, they would if constructed with a suitable dielectric probably make some interesting squeaking/fizzing sounds and possibly heat up due to the internal short cct... thereby making any inserted incantation more potent? Certainly could be impressive. I suppose the amount of reaction could be measured by the type of corrosion product on the anode/cathodes..
      I suspect a simpler thought would be: The more expensive the contents, the more potent the spell.