The Barbegal Mills: The Largest Focus of Mechanical Power in Antiquity

The Barbegal Mills: The Largest Concentration of Mechanical Energy in Antiquity


About 12 kilometers north of the town of Arles, within the Provence area of southern France, is the small city of Fontvieille. It’s a commune of simply 3,500 inhabitants who stay from agriculture and tourism, however till the fifth century AD it was additionally the place the place the best focus of mechanical vitality was present in all the historic world.

On the finish of the primary century A.D., a very powerful Roman hydraulic advanced was constructed there, consisting of two aqueducts and 16 mills, right this moment known as Barbegal. The 2 aqueducts joined simply north of the advanced, the place a lock managed the water provide to the mills, after which continued to provide the town of Arelate (right this moment’s Arles).

The ruins of the aqueduct of the Barbegal Mills. Picture: Carole Raddato/Flickr

The water flowed down the facet of a steep hill alongside which 16 water wheels had been organized in two parallel units of eight wheel every on each side of the channel, in order that the stream of the primary drove the successive water wheels to the bottom of the hill.

The capability of those water wheels, which had been used to grind flour, is estimated at about 4.5 tons per day, which might have allowed feeding all the inhabitants of Arelate (which at first of the second century AD numbered roughly 12,500 inhabitants).

Barbegal Mills

Mannequin of the Barbegal mill, Musée de l’Arles vintage. Picture: Carole Raddato/Flickr

Barbegal Mills

Illustration by Leandro PP/Shutterstock.com

Some researchers consider that they might even have been used to noticed wooden and lower stone, once they weren’t grinding wheat, as a result of similarity within the association of the mills with these present in some Roman mines in Spain and Wales, in addition to with the sawmill at Hierapolis (third century AD ), the place a rack noticed was equally activated.

It’s recognized that the advanced remained in use throughout the 2nd and third centuries AD, after which regularly declined till its full destruction and abandonment within the fifth century, coinciding with the invasions that put an finish to the western empire.

Based on the archaeologist Fernand Benoit the advanced may have been constructed by the Gallo-Roman engineer Q. Candidius Benignus (Fifth Candido Benigno), who belonged to the Arelate carpenters corps and whose sarcophagus bears an inscription that claims: nobody surpassed him within the artwork of mechanical engineering and within the conduction of water programs .

Barbegal Mills

The aqueduct. Picture: Carole Raddato/Flickr

As for the possession of the mills, Benoit believes that they in all probability belonged to the proprietor of the Roman villa close to La Mérindole.

At the moment there are necessary masonry stays of the water channels and foundations of a number of of the mills, along with the stepped channel that goes up the hill, which might be visited. On the Fontvieille vacationer workplace there’s a reconstruction of one of many water wheels, and on the Arles Museum you’ll be able to see a reconstruction of the entire.

Barbegal Mills

Stays of the advanced. Picture: maarjaara/Wikimedia Commons

This text was initially printed in La Brújula Verde. It has been translated from Spanish and republished with permission.



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