The Parthian Battery
A common misconception about the Parthians is that they lacked interest in the development of learning, science and technology. This belief is derived from the paucity of the available evidence, the lack of archaeological studies as well as subjective bias.
Technology certainly continued to evolve during Parthian rule. A dramatic discovery of a tomb by German Archaeologist Wilhelm Konig at Khujut Rabu (near modern Baghdad in Iraq) in 1936 found two near intact jars dated to the Parthian dynasty (approx. 250 BC-224 AD) which are possibly the world’s oldest batteries.
A Parthian battery. Note the clay jar which featured an iron cylinder surrounded by a cylinder of copper.
There have been a number of reconstructions of this ancient device in western laboratories and universities.
A schematic representation of the ancient Parthian battery.
Nevertheless, not all historians accept Konig’s 1940 report that the items were “batteries”. What is generally agreed upon is that the “batteries” were used to electroplate items by mainly putting one layer of metal upon another (e.g. gold upon silver). This technique is still in evidence in many traditional metalworking shops of Iran today (i.e. Isfahan, Tabriz).
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.
If the jars were indeed “batteries” in the modern sense, then Count Alassandro Volta’s invention of the modern battery may have been predated by 1,600 years or more.
Count Alessandro Volta (1745 – 1827), is often credited with the invetion of the modern battery. His legacy in the domain of physical sciences is seen in the term “Volt” derived from his last name “Volta”. In practice the very concept of the battery may have been invented in ancient Parthian Persia at least 1600 years past.
See also an interesting video on the topic of the Parthian battery: