Barbegal aqueduct and mill

Barbegal aqueduct and mill

The Barbegal aqueduct and mill is a Roman watermill complex located on the territory of the commune of Fontvieille, near the town of Arles, in southern France. The complex has been referred to as "the greatest known concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world". [Kevin Greene, "Technological Innovation and Economic Progress in the Ancient World: M.I. Finley Re-Considered", "The Economic History Review", New Series, Vol. 53, No. 1. (Feb., 2000), pp. 29-59 (39)] Another similar mill complex existed also on the Janiculum in Rome.


Today, the Barbegal aqueduct and mills are situated on a Roman aqueduct that was built to supply drinking water from the mountain chain of the Alpilles to the town of Arles, France (then called "Arelate") on the Rhône River. Twelve kilometers north of Arles, at Barbegal, near Fontvieille, where the aqueduct arrived at a steep hill, the aqueduct fed a series of parallel water wheels to power a flourmill. There are two aqueducts which join just north of the mill complex, and a sluice which enabled the operators to control the water supply to the complex. The mill consisted of 16 waterwheels in two separate rows built into a steep hillside. There are substantial masonry remains of the water channels and foundations of the individual mills, together with a staircase rising up the hill upon which the mills are built. The mills apparently operated from the end of the 1st century until about the end of the 3rd century. [ [ Ville d'Histoire et de Patrimoine ] ] The capacity of the mills has been estimated at 4.5 tons of flour per day, sufficient to supply enough bread for the 12,500 inhabitants occupying the town of Arelate at that time. [ [ La meunerie de Barbegal ] ]

It is thought that the wheels were overshot water wheels with the outflow from the top driving the next one down and so on, to the base of the hill. Vertical water mills were well known to the Romans, being described by Vitruvius in his De Architectura of 25 BC, and mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia of 77 AD. There are also later references to floating water mills from Byzantium and to sawmills on the river Moselle by the poet Ausonius. The use of multiple stacked sequences of reverse overshot water-wheels was widespread in Roman mines.

Visitors to Barbegal may park nearby, and walk south along the remains of the aqueduct through the cleft in the ridge to the top of the mill complex. The Arles Museum of Antiquity has informative models of the mill.

ee also

* Janiculum, a hill in western Rome, featuring a similar site
* Roman engineering
* Roman technology
* Watermill


Further reading

* Amouretti, M.-C.: 'Barbegal: de l'histoire des fouilles a l'histoire des moulins', "Provence Historique", 167-8 (1992), pp.135-49
* Bellamy, R. B. & Hitchner, P.- S.: 'The villas of the Vallee des Baux and the Barbegal Mill: excavations at la Merindole villa and cemetery', "Journal of Roman Archaeology" 9 (1996), pp.154-76
* Benoit, F.: 'L'usine de meunerie hydraulique de Barbegal (Arles)', "Revue Archéologique", sixième série 15.1 (1940), pp.19-80
* Bromwich, J, 'The Roman Remains of Southern France', Routledge, 1996, pp.156-60
* Cleere, Henry, 'Southern France', "Oxford Archaeological Guides", 2001, pp 119-120
* Coulard, G, and Golvin, J-C, 'Voyage en Gaule Romaine, Actes Sud-France, 2002', pp 124-127
* Hodge, A.T.: 'A Roman factory', "Scientific American" (November 1990), pp.58-64
* Leveau, P.: 'The Barbegal water-mill in its environment: archaeology and the economic and social history of antiquity', "Journal of Roman Archaeology" 9 (1996), pp.137-53
*Lorenz, Wayne F., and Phillip J. Wolfram: The millstones of Barbegal (Possible usage of flour mill in Barbegal, France for testing designs of millstones). "Civil Engineering", 77.6, June 2007, pp. 62-67
*Lorenz, and Wolfram: 'Arches have no rivals (Unique Roman bridges offer clues as to how it was done centuries ago)', "Roads and Bridges", September 2007, pp 28-50
* Sagui, C.L.: 'La meunerie de Barbegal (France) et les roues hydrauliques chez les anciens et au moyen age', "Isis", Vol. 38, No. 314. (Feb., 1948), pp. 225-231
* Sellin, R.H.J.: The large Roman water mill at Barbegal (France), "History of Technology", 8, 1983, pp. 91-109

External links

* [ The Millstones of Barbegal, Civil Engineering, ASCE]
* [ Barbegal Arches in 'Arches have no rivals']
* [ The Roman Flour Mill at Barbegal]
* [ The Report of Field Investigations of the Barbegal Mill and Aqueduct System]
* [ Description of Mill site and aqueducts]
* [ Photographs of site]

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