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Baghdad Battery as a medical device

Was the Baghdad Battery a medical device?


Through the ages history books have taught us that mankind was ignorant of technology and medicine in ancient times. But there are archaeological and textual clues saying otherwise.

In the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Paul T. Keyser claims that ancient batteries and electric eels were used to numb pain or anesthetize an area of the skin for medical treatment. Could it be that the Baghdad Battery was a therapeutic device?

The Baghdad Battery, sometimes referred to as the Parthian Battery, is a clay pot which encapsulates a copper cylinder. Suspended in the center of this cylinder—but not touching it—is an iron rod. Both the copper cylinder and the iron rod are held in place with an asphalt plug. These artifacts (more than one was found) were discovered during the 1936 excavations of the old village Khujut Rabu, near Baghdad. The village is considered to be about 2000 years old, and was built during the Parthian period (250BC to 224 AD).

A diagram depicting how the Baghdad Battery worked

A diagram depicting how the Baghdad Battery worked

According to Keyser, ancient Akkad and Babylon employed two types of physicians. The “Asipu” diagnosed the patient’s ailment through divination or observing the symptoms. The “Asu” prescribed the treatment of either medicines or incantations. Keyser theorizes that the “Asu” may have applied electric currents to the patient to treat the affected area.

While one battery couldn’t generate enough voltage to deaden skin, several linked together, would. According to Keyser, ‘Mesopotamian medical practice included a number of elements conducive to the reception of an electrotherapeutic device of this sort.’

When the electric Baghdad Battery was first discovered, the find wasn’t readily shared because the unusual artifact didn’t fit the “ignorance paradigm” of ancient civilizations. But as continued Parthian excavations uncovered more batteries, the discovery refused to go away.

Skeptics of the so-called battery claim the small vessel is nothing more than a jar for storing papyrus. Others say it was used for electroplating. (But if it was used for electroplating, why were no electroplated objects discovered?) Some researchers believe the presence of asphalt, used as a sealant, and the corrosive properties inside the jar, proves the contraption contained a caustic liquid. In ancient times most liquids, other than vegetable and mineral oils, were acidic. Researchers believe that corroding liquid used in the Baghdad Battery was vinegar or wine.

Keyser believes that bronze and iron needles found with the batteries in Seleucia could have been used for acupuncture, a common practice in China at the time.

Other ancient cultures used electricity for medicinal purposes at the time as well. Greeks and Romans used electric fish to heal headaches and gout.

For any sort of foot gout, when the pain comes on it is good to put a living black torpedo fish under his feet while standing on the beach, not dry but one on which the sea washes, until he feels that his whole foot and ankle are numb up to the knees.
- Scribonius Largus

Since electric fish aren’t found in the Persian Gulf or the river of Mesopotamia, perhaps these ancients were aware of the use of them and invented an electric battery in their place.

This theory isn’t popular with scholars because such advanced knowledge doesn’t fit their evolutionary theory of humankind that purports Homo sapiens evolved from primitive, unintelligent ape-men instead of intelligent, creatively thinking, and inventive humans.

Such “Out of Place ARTifactS” (OOPARTS) were written about by Rene Noorbergen in his book, Secrets of the Lost Races. Noorbergen’s book is highly controversial and he continues to create a stir within academia.

A simple search on google reveals countless unexplained relics pointing to advanced civilizations. But because they don’t fit the academic paradigm, they are dismissed as nonsense or frauds.

Times they are a-changing. With the proliferation of online media, and television shows such as America Unearthed, people are curious and eager to embrace out-of-the-box theories. Whether it’s copper arrowheads found 400 feet below the surface in Colorado, or the beautiful Dorchester Pot—long-held theories scream to be re-examined. Yes, people lived in caves, but perhaps then as now, they lived in them alongside advanced civilizations.

DNA evidence itself points to mankind becoming weaker (perhaps dumber?) and not stronger as time goes on. According to Dr. John Sanford of Cornell University, “we are a perishing people living in a dying world…The extinction on the human genome appears to be just as certain and deterministic as the extinction of stars, the death of organisms, and the heat death of the universe.”

If it is true that humankind is deteriorating, does it make sense we started out dumber than we are now?

Granted, the physical evidence of how intelligent humans were is lacking because of their circumstances. Most of their tools have turned to dust. Perhaps this doesn’t point to the ignorance of Homo sapiens as much as it does to some narrow-minded academics who fail to interpret evidence in the context of human behavior.

What should ancient humankind have known? Only by asking these questions in the framework of their day to day lives can researchers learn and interpret OOPARTS correctly.

In the milieu of ancient medicine, when other civilizations used electric sea creatures to treat their ailments, it is a plausible theory the Baghdad Battery was an electrotherapeutic device. Sadly, the war in Iraq did serious damage to the National Museum and many of these batteries have gone missing.

If humankind is evolving, it certainly progresses toward peace at a snail’s pace.

War can destroy more than a people, an army or a leader. Culture, tradition and history also lie in the firing line. Iraq has a rich national heritage. The Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel are said to have been sited in this ancient land. In any war, there is a chance that priceless treasures will be lost forever, articles such as the "ancient battery" that resides defenceless in the museum of Baghdad.
--Prophetic words written by BBC News, 2003

By Karla Akins


The Purpose of the Parthian Galvanic Cells: A First-Century A. D. Electric Battery Used for Analgesia – by Paul T. Keyser

Building a Baghdad Battery

Electricity in the Ancient World – Rivers from Eden

Accidental Inventions

Scribonius Largus – Wikipedia

Ancient Baghdad Battery IRAQ – YouTube

Dr John Sanford on Genetic Entropy - YouTube

MythBusters – The Dirtiest Trick in Mythbuster History - YouTube



You know that there are several items like the Baghdad Battery but only one of them is actually capable of providing electric power? That's why I believe that the number of persons who understood this gadget was extremely limited, more than a use for medical purposes would suggest.

The other known specimens may in fact have been failed attempts to "pirate" the Baghdad Battery, I guess. For that reason we gave it in our "Romanike" novels (described on to a skilled alchemist, not to a healer, who uses them to plate items with gold, seemingly by magic, and who treats their mode of operation as a trade secret whose discovery is a plot device.

this is sopposed to help us right? Then why isn't it helping me

*Ronald* Mallet

"but perhaps then as now, they lived in them alongside advanced civilizations"

I have been thinking this as well. We have primitive people living with us today.

Here is a question that needs to be addressed: How long does a group of people need to create a civilization?

Not long I bet. Not nearly as long as the popular theories suggest.

Given resources, towns and cities seem to pop up fast. However, these groups seem to be fragile, look at the populations in North America when Europeans arrived compared to just a few centuries before. Things change quickly, fortunes rise and fall.

I struggle with the need to apply answers to the "why" of situations. Was it a temple? who cares, we will never know. Is it a great building with expert masonry and astronomical alignments, yes, that we can test and confirm. It is something we can know as fact.

Applying this line of reasoning to the "batteries" tells us that they used dissimilar metals and kept them from touching. Fascinating facts in and of themselves. The exact function may never be known, How it was used will not likely be discovered until we get Robert Mallett's time machine working.


I always find it fascinating to take a look at what sort of ancient technologies were being developed in the Middle East during Jesus/Yeshua' time. This might sound rather odd at first, but one cannot help but wonder if Jesus/Yeshua had ever had the opportunity to either learn of the device or even see it for himself. After all, the device was discovered only a few weeks' travel from Galilee, and even if Jesus/Yeshua didn't have the opportunity to travel to Baghdad himself (think the "missing years"), the likelihood that one or more of the Baghdad Batteries might have been brought to either the popular Galilean trading city of Sepphoris or Jerusalem via ancient trade routes is within the scope of possibility.
JB Richards
Author of "Miriamne the Magdala"- The first chapter in the "Yeshua and Miri Novel Series" and Content Creator for The Miriamne Page

For more information on this epic novel series, and The Miriamne Page, just click on this link:

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Karla Akins

Karla Akins

Karla Akins is an award-winning, prolific writer of books, short stories, poems, songs, and countless nonfiction articles. Her biography of Jacques Cartier went #1 in its category on Amazon.

Besides writing biographies and history books for middle grades,... Read More

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