20 April 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

2000-Year-Old Marvel: The Mystery of the Parthian Battery

The Parthian Battery is believed to be about 2000 years old (from the Parthian period, roughly 250 BCE to CE 250).

History there have been several eureka moments and breakthrough inventions that have shaped our modern lives. Electricity is one of the most revolutionary discoveries in history, among many other amazing discoveries.

Over the centuries, several scientists and inventors have stood out for their contributions to the field of electricity. However, there are also impressive discoveries whose inventor is unknown and are almost 2000 thousand years old.

In 1936, while constructing a railway near Baghdad (once part of Iran’s mighty Parthian Empire, roughly 250 BCE to CE 250), workers stumbled upon what appeared to be an ancient battery, now famously known as the Parthian Battery.

The jar was found in Khujut Rabu just outside Baghdad, estimated to be around 2,000 years old, and consists of a clay jar filled with a vinegar solution, housing an iron rod encased by a copper cylinder. Remarkably, this configuration generates approximately 1.1 to 2.0 volts of electricity.

Tests by Western scientists have revealed that when the jar of the battery was filled with vinegar (or other electrolytes), it was capable of generating between 1.5-2.0 volts.
Tests by Western scientists have revealed that when the jar of the battery was filled with vinegar (or other electrolytes), it was capable of generating between 1.5-2.0 volts. Photo: Tehran times

In 1938, German archaeologist Wilhelm Konig gave the jar’s first description, pointing out that it resembled an electric battery. American scientist Willard F. M. Gray later replicated the device, confirming its electrochemical capabilities when filled with an electrolyte such as grape juice, despite World War II impeding further exploration.

Scholars continue to debate the true function of these jars. While some argue for their use as batteries, others are skeptical, prompting questions about their origins and intended use. If they were batteries, though, who made them and what were they used for?

Unfortunately, there is no written record as to the exact function of the jar, due to the destruction of Iranian literary sources and libraries by Arabs upon the invasion of Iranian territories in the 7th century CE.

There is no written record as to the exact function of the jar, but the best guess is that it was a type of battery. Scientists believe the batteries (if that is their correct function) were used to electroplate items such as putting a layer of one metal (gold) onto the surface of another (silver), a method still practiced in Iran today.

Photo: Smith.edu

The discovery casts doubt on accepted theories by implying that the idea for a battery may have existed long before the invention of the famous scientist Alessandro Volta.

To recall some of the defining moments in the development of electricity and power, the first of these moments was undoubtedly when the ancient Egyptians (2750 BC) electricity first recorded in the form of electric fish.

The ancient Egyptians called electric catfish the ‘thunderers of the Nile’. It sparked nearly millennia of wonder and intrigue, including the conduct and documentation of crude experiments like touching the fish with an iron rod to induce electric shocks.

Thales of Miletus discovered in the year 500 BC that rubbing lightweight materials like fur or feathers against amber could produce static electricity. Up to William Gilbert’s serious discovery of static electricity in 1600 AD, this static effect was unknown for nearly 2,000 years.

A schematic representation of the ancient Parthian battery (Source: Pinterest).
A schematic representation of the ancient Parthian battery (Source: Pinterest).

Who knows! If such jars were indeed “batteries” in the modern sense, then Count Alessandro Volta’s invention of the modern battery may have been predated by 1,600 years or more.

Cover Photo: An ancient Parthian battery displayed by the Iraqi Civil Society Photo: Mohamed Al-Taher, Iraqi Civil Society. Source: Dr. Kaveh Farrokh

Related Articles

Roman Bath Complex Found under Spain’s Caños de Meca beach

22 May 2021

22 May 2021

A well-preserved ancient Roman bath complex emerged from the sand of a beach in the Andalusian region of southwestern Spain....

Oman has recovered an exceptional collection of silver jewelry from a prehistoric grave

7 November 2022

7 November 2022

From a prehistoric grave dating to the 3rd millennium BC in Dahwa, North Batinah, a team of international archaeologists working...

Buddha statue discovered in ancient city of Berenice, Egypt

29 April 2023

29 April 2023

Archaeologists excavating in the ancient Egyptian seaport Berenice Troglodytica on the western shore of the Red Sea have unearthed a...

In Medieval burial ground, a rare embroidered Deisis depicting Jesus Christ was discovered

26 February 2023

26 February 2023

Russian archaeologists have uncovered a rare embroidered Deisis depicting Jesus Christ in a medieval burial ground. 46 graves have been...

Evil-Wisher Well: Ancient curse tablets 2,500-year-old found in a well in Athens

14 July 2022

14 July 2022

30 ancient curse tablets were found at the bottom of a 2500-year-old well in ancient Athens. In 2020, Archaeologists from...

Britain’s first Roman funerary bed is discovered in central London after 2,000 years

7 February 2024

7 February 2024

Archaeologists excavating a construction site in London have unearthed the first Roman “flat-packed” funerary furniture – a fully intact Roman...

Severed right hands reveal Trophy-Taking practices in Ancient Egypt

2 April 2023

2 April 2023

Twelve severed hands were found in Egypt as part of a horrifying “trophy-taking” practice that was just made revealed by...

Roman-era Mixers and Millstones Made with Geology in Mind

22 September 2021

22 September 2021

A study on stone tools from an outpost of the Roman Empire has found that for ancient bakers and millers,...

3700 years old Brain and skin remnants discovered at Bronze Age settlement in western Türkiye

5 September 2023

5 September 2023

Archaeologists discovered, well-preserved brain and skin remnants of two individuals dating to the Bronze Age during excavations at Tavşanlı Höyük...

Archaeologists may have discovered the site where Otto the Great, founder of the Holy Roman Empire, died

5 October 2023

5 October 2023

Archaeologists believe they have found the site where Emperor Otto I (936-973), known as the Great, founder of the Holy...

The 3,200-year-old perfume of Tapputi, the first female chemist in history, came to life again

24 July 2022

24 July 2022

One of the scent formulas written in Akkadian on clay tablets by Tapputi, known as the world’s first female perfumer...

The earliest known depiction of biblical heroines Jael and Deborah was discovered at a Jewish synagogue in Israel

8 August 2022

8 August 2022

The earliest known depiction of biblical heroines Jael and Deborah was discovered at a Jewish synagogue at Huqoq in Israel,...

Fossil found at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau reveals an owl active during the day 6 million years ago

29 March 2022

29 March 2022

The incredibly well-preserved fossil skeleton of an extinct owl that lived was discovered on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau,...

Serbian Archaeologists Unearth Roman Triumphal Arch Dedicated to Emperor Caracalla

24 January 2024

24 January 2024

Archaeologists in Serbia have unearthed an ancient Roman triumphal arch dating back to the third century at Viminacium, a Roman...

Part of The ‘Missing Link’ in Human Migration may have been Found in Kaldar Cave

3 April 2021

3 April 2021

Kaldar cave is an important archaeological site that provides evidence for the transition from the Middle and Upper Paleolithic Ages...