I came across this tweet of which I'm skeptical.

So, I ask: Had Iraq use of electricity 5000 years ago?

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2 Answers 2


It seems that the artifact in question is the Baghdad Battery, a set of metal and ceramic pieces that resemble a battery.

In 1938, Wilhelm Konig, the first to analyze them, investigated these objects, and wrote a paper (Ein galvanisches Element aus der Partherzeit? In: Forschungen und Fortschritte. Heft 1, Nr. 14, 1936, S. 8–9) in which he speculated that the objects had been used as a battery. It appeared to be backed up by independent tests by Willard Gray and Arne Eggebrecht (independent of each other), which used reproductions to generate about two volts. Eggebrecht claimed to have used the reproductions to electroplate metal; according to this,

Other researchers though, have disputed these results and have been unable to replicate them.

"There does not exist any written documentation of the experiments which took place here in 1978," says Dr Bettina Schmitz, currently a researcher based at the same Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum.

"The experiments weren't even documented by photos, which really is a pity," she says. "I have searched through the archives of this museum and I talked to everyone involved in 1978 with no results."

There have, however, been numerous attempts to eke some electricity out of replicas, such as a Mythbusters episode, but even those have been disputed. The Iron Skeptic is particularly harsh on their attempt, although that criticism may just be opinion.

So the answer to

Had Iraq . . . electricity . . .?

is a "Yes." The issue is that nobody is sure what the battery could have been used for.

HowStuffWorks has an interesting section on the Baghdad Battery, speculating (as all the other sources do) about how the battery could have been used. Some possibilities include electroplating and pain treatment.

No wires have been discovered (in fact, it is not known exactly where the Baghdad Battery is from, though its general location is known - near Khujut Rabu), so it would have been difficult to use! So the answer to the question

Had Iraq use of electricity . . .?

is possibly a "No."

On to the full question. The age of the battery is disputed, but some archaeologists date it to about 200 years B.C. As written here,

A 2,200-year-old clay jar found near Baghdad, Iraq, has been described as the oldest known electric battery in existence. The clay jar and others like it are part of the holdings of the National Museum of Iraq and have been attributed to the Parthian Empire — an ancient Asian culture that ruled most of the Middle East from 247 B.C. to A.D. 228. The jar itself has been dated to sometime around 200 B.C.

But as World Mysteries quotes,

"Although this collection of objects is usually dated as Parthian, the grounds for this are unclear," says Dr St John Simpson, also from the department of the ancient Near East at the British Museum.

"The pot itself is Sassanian. This discrepancy presumably lies either in a misidentification of the age of the ceramic vessel, or the site at which they were found."

Regardless, the battery is most likely about 2000 years old.

So the answer to

Had Iraq use of electricity 5000 years ago?

appears to be (based on what we know) a "No."  

  • 1
    Kevin Desmond - Innovators in Battery Technology: Profiles of 95 Influential Electrochemists Entry about Wilhelm König The article he wrote was Wilhelm König: Ein galvanisches Element aus der Partherzeit? In: Forschungen und Fortschritte. Heft 1, Nr. 14, 1936, S. 8–9.
    – user22865
    Oct 14, 2016 at 18:50
  • 1
    Supposedly the info is also in Im Verlorenen Paradies - Neun Jahre Irak (Munich and Vienna, 1939), pp. 166-68, pl. between pp. 160-61. but I could not find that either.
    – user22865
    Oct 14, 2016 at 18:56

Firstly these items although real are not 5,000 year old.

  • Professor Simpson of the near eastern department of the British museum points out that the original excavation was poorly recorded and that the style of pottery is Sassanian period which is roughly from 220ce to 650ce (BBC article 2003).
  • There was some speculation that the Sassanians who were fine craftsmen had knowledge of electroplating but Paul Craddock of the British Museum points out there is no evidence of that hypothesis (BBC The Riddle of Baghdad's Batteries 2003).
  • David Scott of the Getty Conservation Institute writes (in Copper and Bronze in Art, 2002, Getty publications) also that there is not a shred of evidence for Sassanian era electroplating.
  • Scholars including those mentioned have speculated on the use of these items but have reached no firm conclusion. Professor Elizabeth Stone (a renowned expert of ancient Iraq who carried out the first foreign archeological dig in Iraq in twenty years) points out she does not know anyone in her field of studies that supports the battery claim (march 23 2012, interview with Flatow for Science Friday).
  • I have personally checked through my own book shelves for any mention of such items pre-Sassanian, I looked through Joan Oates revised edition of Babylon and also G.leicks Mesopotamia the Invention of the City and neither (despite mentioning many pre-Sassanian discoveries) mention anything like the items in question.
  • I also referred to my copy of the archaeologist Kenneth Feder's Frauds Myths and Mysteries who (on page250) points out that the experiments that suggest they were batteries are methodologically flawed. Feder also points out that there are no other artifacts that point to the ancients having electricity.

In short while the jury is out (I won't go into the other speculated ideas for these items) on exactly what these items are, the archaeological consensus is that they are very very unlikely to be batteries.

On a afterthought and somewhat separate matter it appears these items are among those lost in the aftermath of operation Iraqi Freedom; let's hope they are found.

  • 7
    Two things this answer needs: 1) references; 2) paragraph breaks. Apr 4, 2015 at 19:07
  • There is an issue in that context can't be established for the jars. What we can say is that they look like the jars used for storing scrolls or papyri.
    – Mike
    Sep 15, 2015 at 22:02

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