Building a "Baghdad Battery"

The intent of this instructable is to provide ideas for experimenting with battery chemistry in general, and to summarize my experience producing a replica of what is often referred to as the Baghdad Battery. In my version of a replica I argue the artifacts have been misinterpreted in replicas previously built by other investigators. The replica I've created yields not only a better performing cell (capable of 5x the capacity), but one that is rechargeable.

This is not a great cell, and our cars and homes will likely never employ the design, but it is curious that ~2000 years ago people may have been experimenting with electricity. What they were using this electricity for is subject to as much speculation as the actual construction of the "battery" (Perhaps it was not a battery, that is for you to decide).

To keep the interest of the reader and focus on the construction aspects of the replica I will try not to write too much about the history and interpretation by others of the artifacts. Several of the sources listed in Step 10 have already done a wonderful job discussing these details.

A few notes:
>Several of the listed artifact photos were found on Wikipedia or widely used on the web, so I am assuming there are no copyright infringements.

>Since this is my first instructable, and it has been a while since I've had to explain anything to someone through writing, I welcome all criticism and suggestions for improvement.

>I would like to reference photos and figures inline with the text since I presume it would be easier for the reader to follow, but I am unsure if there is a way to do this through the instructable editor interface and wiki markup (?) - so for now I am just listing relevant images at the bottom of a step. Also, I'm unsure how to apply subscripts in the editor to write chemical formulas, I'd like to include the half cell reactions - otherwise I can take a screenshot and post it as an image.
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keithwd9 months ago
More speculation on uses of a homopolar motor.

You might research the time periods in which the Baghdad batteries were found, to see if magical movement or spinning of objects was one of the "features" of a religion or specific religious ceremony. If so, you might be able to get enough descriptions or find a drawing of one and see if a homopolar motor could be the mechanism.

The movement of the wire, and anything attached, would look like magic to most people of the period. Doing some mumbo jumbo, claiming you breathed life into an inanimate piece of wire and then putting the wire over the battery where it spun all during a ritual, would make you appear very powerful. Which would be worth a lot of effort to most priest of any time period.

A spiral wire shaped like a snake could be the most likely shape, since a snake's movement and shape would be somewhat similar to the shape of a spiral of wire spinning around the battery. The spinning is similar to how a snake climbs a vertical limb.

It is also possible that the wire might be in a shape that it would easy to attach streamers to.

billbillt9 months ago
interesting and cool
darman121 year ago
LOL...when I first saw the title, I thought "What?! Why would somebody put an instructable on how to make an IED?!?!" PHEW
As I understood from this Fe2O3 can easily be boiled to convert it to Fe3O4? I have a batch of 50g of Fe2O3 and I would like to make Fe3O4 so I just put it in a pan and boil it? Should the water be destiled or normal tap water?
I used regular tap water and i turned out fine. You should try the distilled and see if there is a difference.
vcardinalli2 years ago
Hello, I am interested in helping my son create a battery for a science project. We watched Ancient Aliens and he is quite keen on doing this. I noticed that one comment was about a science fair. How did you make this battery fit into the Scientific Method? If I was to create, say, a potato battery and a Baghdad battery and compare the charges, might this work? I'd love a bit more info on how the science fair went!

Also, THANK you Ian W for answering questions, and providing this resource.
My daughter is doing this for her science project this year; we're comparing the voltage output between several different citrus juices (which is probably what was used originally).
kwalston2 years ago
You cant just leave the nail on a stove top burner on high?
techno guy3 years ago
Do you know how much voltage, amps, and watts the original battery can make?
Neat! I have the very same meter as the one in the last pic. I even have the stylin' hard leather case.

Frivolity aside, I was wondering if the original item used bog or meteoritic iron for the iron electrode and whether said slightly different compositions would affect things like oxide formation, etc.
I am a student researching this battery, but my teacher says that I must have some good book sources for this rather implausible battery. I have seen the online book you mentioned and one other book (The Puzzle of Ancient Man) that mention the battery, but could you possibly give me another book?

If this is a public post, anyone who has the info I requested, please feel free to answer.

Here is where I bought the book:

The Parthian Battery
Electric Current 2,000 Years Ago?
The History of Surface Finishing

Von Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr. habil. Nasser Kanani.
Erste Auflage 2004.
95 Seiten in englischer Sprache.


The Wikipedia article provides references to two other printed/published sources: Welfare and Fairley's Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World; and a peer-reviewed journal article, Von Handorf, D E., "The Baghdad battery - myth or reality?" Plating and Surface Finishing (USA). Vol. 89, no. 5, pp. 84–87. May 2002.

The latter is likely to be hard to find outside of a university research (or engineering department) library. If you are in the U.S., then once you locate (e.g., using online catalogs) a nearby library which does have it, your own local librarian can request it through the Interlibrary Loan (ILL) program. Outside of the U.S. (Iceland?), I don't know whether similar programs exist.
Zues.gods3 years ago
I like this!

I built 5 of these jars.

Another book is 'The Parthied Battery' from a German publisher. I have one.

I like what strmrnnr says about the blood purifier. I had planned to look at the possibility of using this battery for a sort of chromatogragh using paper and having this battery place a voltage across the wet paper causing ions to migrate to either side.

Anyone know about the Avestrya battery from 5000 years ago? At one time I had some references to hand, and planned to look at the Archives at the University of Iowa where there should be some original documents relating to this. I understand the temple of Avestrya (spelling?) was in existence from 5000 years ago into modern times and may still exist. They wrote on palm leaves that were preserved. It had two bowls with a strip of metal between.
leaualorin3 years ago
Nice project! There is something VERY STRANGE about the SUMERIANS ! They were "on to something" , that's why the us troops COVERED UP ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES! "SOMEONE" doesn't whant us to know MORE about that part of the world!
on the construction overview and materials it says that stranded and solid wires are both required.  On the  constructing electrode pairs it only says that stranded wire is needed.  What do I do with solid wire?  Do you mean stranded or solid?
As far as I understood, the stranded wire is only used in the small scale test, when using multiple smaller nails as an iron core. It figures that it would be easier to weave the strands between the nails to ensure contact than with the solid wire...
jpgiordan4 years ago
I have been looking at HHO for use in cars.  There is a similar device to Baghdad battery that is currently being applied to vehicles for increasing fuel efficiency.

After reading an article on the B battery, it made me wonder if it was perhaps not a battery, but a torch or lantern.  Would that be possible?
LkArio5 years ago
What do you mean by PotassiumOxygenHydrogen 20%? What's the 80%? How many volts does it give you?
I would assume that the other 80% of the solution would be some other "neutral" fluid, the 20% / 80% is a ratio of strength, EG: How much of POH there is to how much of the other "fluid" by volume.

Or purity if you prefer.

A ratio of 98% POH would be very strong and a percentage of 2% would be considered weak, yet still dangerous enough, it would just take longer to do any damage.

As for voltage I would assume it would be somewhere in the range of 0.8-1.7V.

Don't quote me on that though, that's just a guess. :-)

I expect the author will get back to us shortly. I hope so anyways.
IanW (author)  xerxesx204 years ago
The other 80% is distilled water - the calculation is based on mass, so 20% of the total mass would be KOH flakes If there is interest, I can provide a section on performing the calculations, or point to a general chemistry text that explains the process in greater detail
xerxesx20 IanW4 years ago
Thanks for getting back to me! Great instructable -- anybody could learn a lot from this. Distilled water of course! -- Wish i'd thought of that! Same as lead-acid batteries, I assume it was de-ionised too (if they aren't one and the same -- I think they are more or less right?) I understand the process of purifying water through distillation -- I have done that in one miniscule batch -- something on the order of about 15ml. lol I don't think there is too much need for the calculations and how to do them -- though that being said, perhaps it would be beneficial for other users as well as myself. So yeah, post away! 8-)
I have been told on several occasions that the drip outside of your home from you home air conditioner is distilled water in a fairly pure form!
dataphreak4 years ago

I may be beating a dead horse as I have not made much effort to read, well, any of the comments. That being said, what is the likelyhood that in 2000 years, nobody managed to place 1 each ferrous and  non-ferrous metal into a jar of wine which had returned to mother. (I.E.  a pretty strong Acetic acid.) I'm sure, considering they were made in large jars it was a pretty stout jolt.

Pure speculation.

smessud4 years ago
I just discovered this "ible" and it's one of the nicest i've been through. True, you could separate the DIY part from the background, but it would be much less interesting without it. I would like to add my voice to those who regret the poor treatment that experimental science receives today. I also feel that history of science is a great part of teaching science itself. The way the elders saw the world, how this vision evolved and what they achieved with very little more than their brain is very refreshing. It also helps kids to grasp our modern concepts. Thanks again.
12V4 years ago
oh no i made a fast charger for my flat cell battery i made (it was steel plates separated by kitchen towel soaked in mr muscle and the 10minute charger worked about 7 times successfully but then on the 8th charge it was charging wile i was on instructables trying to get the joule thief working and i heard a strange sound and saw steam! my battery dried and overheated and it melted as you can see. i dismantled it to see what happened.
hagen 3 009.jpghagen 3 012.jpghagen 3 018.jpg
12V 12V4 years ago
there is an instructable on how to make these is is under science and called "how to make your own rechargeable battery"
12V 12V4 years ago
will it make the battery more or less powerful if i use electrolyte with a little bit of copper dissolved in it.
strmrnnr5 years ago
What do you think of the idea that these were used as an ancient form of electrical blood purification. 50-100mA of current put through the blod stream is said to nuetralize all the viruses, bacteria, and perisites within the blood. 2 hours a day for 21 days. With a said body resistance of 2000Ohms I think that was the real purpose for these.
IanW (author)  strmrnnr4 years ago
Hi, sorry it's taken me so long to the more recent comments, I've been busy with several other projects. strmrnnr, that does seem like an interesting potential application >50-100mA of current put through the blod stream is said to nuetralize all the >viruses, bacteria, and perisites within the blood Do you have any references for this statement that you could point me too?
strmrnnr IanW4 years ago
Google-up material and research by a Dr. Bob Beck. He is a physicist that dedicated the last part of his life bringing the phenomena to light. He claimed that the Einstein School of Medicine rediscovered the fact in 1990, but surpressed it in exchange for drug company funding.

He found out about it and went public. his videos on YouTube are very interesting. "Cure for Aids and HIV." He gives all the plans for his patents also if you can find them. He sold nothing - gave it all for free to help the sick that had brains enough to listen.

I have a persoal experience that happened when I started to use an electronic message unit. This was 15 years ago. I thought it was a miricle, then I found this material last Fall. I was a little bummed at that, but I am a believer. The miricle was a nice thought though - miss that.
If the amperage got too high, you might purify the body, but stop the heart at the same time.
No heart pacers allowed! I am also finding that the current should be pulsing. A steady DC, is said to cause the blood to electro plate to the arteries in the area of contact. Would be good for an area of an arm rest that you did not rest a lot. May be the wrist support for your keyboard, wear the wrist is always moving a little.
Ok, so my little brother just made this for his science project and it WORKED! He didn't use it to light a bulb but to show the voltage and blew all of the other kids projects out of the water. He was able to understand the instructions and find the supply's at a hardware with just minimal help from the associate and parents. His pride of accomplishment was amazing! For a child that hated any type of school work period, he has certainly re-thought learning! Hopefully this will encourage him to actually do his work in all of his subjects. Thank you!
IanW (author)  henderson19804 years ago
I'm very happy to hear your brother was able to make this for his science fair project - that made my day, and was the reason I posted this. If he has someone available to him that can properly supervise, he should try forging the iron to create the Fe3O4 layer. When I get some time I plan to rewrite the project to include this step as the preferred option. If there are any blacksmiths or farriers near you, I'm sure you could find one that would be happy to help you with this step for free, if you explain the purpose and history of what you are attempting. Iron work has a rich legacy spanning to the 12th century BC, and many of the people working in this trade today maintain a strong interest in the historical context that their craft developed from.
12V4 years ago
what would happen if you filled a 15mm pipe 45mm long sealed at bottom with vinegar and put a steel,aluminum rod through the middle. i have made a very small (35x30x7mm)steel plate battery and charged it several times (it was 4cells in one pack)with different polarity each time and the voltage/current increased. charged with 30v 400ma for 10min. the next day it seemed to hold even more power until the tissue separating the plates (soaked with Mr muscle)dried out.
DrWeird1175 years ago
Would this be a dry cell, or a wet cell? Dry, I would think.
I assumed it was wet, since it contained an electrolytic "liquid." Can somone clarify? -PKT
That's what I think, looking back.
Mr. Green5 years ago
im pretty sure you will make several times more power if you use zinc instead of iron.

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