Sources of Energy and Exploitation of Power

Örjan Wikander

in The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780199734856
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Sources of Energy and Exploitation of Power

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  • Classical Studies
  • Greek and Roman Archaeology
  • Historical Archaeology


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This article concentrates on five groups of nonhuman energy sources: direct solar radiation, chemical energy, animal power, water power, and wind power. The concept of using a concentration of solar radiation in order to create very high temperatures was known by at least the classical period. The exploitation of chemical energy is considered. The fuels available to the classical cultures are also discussed. The search for new power sources involved the lifting of water to irrigate otherwise uncultivable land and the grinding of flour. Exploitation of water power for more diversified purposes than transport needed a particular device. The ancient water-mills are specifically reported. The most important use of wind power dates back to the fourth millennium bc. The central parts of the Roman Empire suffered from a serious lack of fuel, but on the other hand, the diffusion and breakthrough of water power must have played an important, positive role.

Keywords: direct solar radiation; chemical energy; animal power; water power; wind power; fuels; Roman Empire; power exploitation

Article.  9299 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Greek and Roman Archaeology ; Historical Archaeology

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