Why didn't older civilizations discover or make use of electricity?

Dec 2011
2,301
#11
Early civilizations such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greco-Roman world, the Islamic world and even in India and China all had some idea of what electricity was, of course not anything like the understanding of electricity we have now, which is still extremely recent in history. So why didn't these advanced civilizations go deeper to the point of having some near understanding/theory of electricity and make full use of it. After all, these civilization did have metal and had little understanding of magnetism. Could it be possible for these civilizations to make full use and have developed a theory on electromagnetism?
There is evidence that the Mesopotamians used what might be called electricity, because large jars have been found which seem to have been used for electro-plating.
 
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Dec 2015
234
NYC
#12
I would say that the wealth that came to Britain as a result of slavery was a large factor in financing the industrial revolution - but remember that the Romans also had countless slaves for hundreds of years, their territory included Britain, yet they didn't have an Industrial Revolution.

To my mind the foundation of the industrial revolution was laid by the development of modern science. People learned to observe and conduct experiments and kept adding to the body of real knowledge about how the natural world works. Secondly there was a well-developed commercial system (mercantilism?) whereby people could invest capital, reasonably confident of reaping profit, hence there was a driving force to find ways of making more money. But why did the industrial revolution happen in Britain and not, say, Italy? Possibly there was more money available, from slavery, in the UK than in other parts of Europe. In developing has steam engine, James Watt bankrupted at least 2 of his backers, who themselves had capital invested in slave plantations (others may know more details about this).
You can't compare British with Romans since they are from two totally different time periods. During Roman times, science wasn't as advanced as it was today. Plus, Romans conquered lands that didn't have the same amount of resources that the Americas had, and Romans didn't have competition like the British, who were in constant warfare and competition with the French, Dutch and Iberians for control over the Americas.

I agree with you. Not only wealth, but the scientific revolution, which innovated on the ideas of the ancient and medieval world, was key to the beginning of the industrial revolution.
 
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Dec 2015
234
NYC
#13
There is evidence that the Mesopotamians used what might be called electricity, because large jars have been found which seem to have been used for electro-plating.
There's not much evidence though about the Baghdad battery on where it came from, who made it and the purpose. Either way, I don't see how that is any different from rubbing amber on silk to produce static electricity or witnessing shocks from electric eels. Meaning, people might had an idea on what electricity was, but never really produced any sort of theory behind it or further delve into the idea at all.
 
Dec 2011
2,301
#14
You can't compare British with Romans since they are from two totally different time periods. During Roman times, science wasn't as advanced as it was today. Plus, Romans conquered lands that didn't have the same amount of resources that the Americas had, and Romans didn't have competition like the British, who were in constant warfare and competition with the French, Dutch and Iberians for control over the Americas.

I agree with you. Not only wealth, but the scientific revolution, which innovated on the ideas of the ancient and medieval world, was key to the beginning of the industrial revolution.
I am glad we agree. As to the Romans, I don't see that the absence of competition (which leads to costly, wasteful and destructive wars) acted against development of science. It's a question for another thread I suppose, how Romans failed to develop science, given that they directly inherited the works of the Greek thinkers who achieved much (eg measuring the size of the Earth and the distance of the Moon), and Hellenistic technology had such inventions as steam powered toys.
 
Dec 2011
2,301
#15
There's not much evidence though about the Baghdad battery on where it came from, who made it and the purpose. Either way, I don't see how that is any different from rubbing amber on silk to produce static electricity or witnessing shocks from electric eels. Meaning, people might had an idea on what electricity was, but never really produced any sort of theory behind it or further delve into the idea at all.
- which again points to the lack of science; they found that by rubbing certain things they could produce electricity, but they had no procedure for (or interest in) establishing its nature.
 
Jan 2015
2,933
MD, USA
#17
I'm not sure that knowing about lightning, electric eels, and static sparks translates to an "awareness of electricity". Lighting is a destructive natural force, like an earthquake. You want to make *more* of it?? And bring it into your *house*?!? A jolt from an electric eel will be a very different experience for most people, but again it's not a useful thing--do we assume we can generate power from dog bites? Similarly, static electricity is just a mildly amusing natural effect, and even the few folks who thought to compare it to lightning wouldn't jump to the conclusion that it can be harnessed and used for applications that were completely unknown. Heck, even today we don't harness static electricity, in fact it's still a significant problem in some situations.

There is LOTS of evidence about the "Bagdad battery", ALL of which indicates it is a perfectly normal case for storing a sacred scroll. It's not large at all, and many others have been found. It did not and could not generate any electricity.

Matthew
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
34,607
T'Republic of Yorkshire
#18
I'm not sure that knowing about lightning, electric eels, and static sparks translates to an "awareness of electricity". Lighting is a destructive natural force, like an earthquake. You want to make *more* of it?? And bring it into your *house*?!? A jolt from an electric eel will be a very different experience for most people, but again it's not a useful thing--do we assume we can generate power from dog bites? Similarly, static electricity is just a mildly amusing natural effect, and even the few folks who thought to compare it to lightning wouldn't jump to the conclusion that it can be harnessed and used for applications that were completely unknown. Heck, even today we don't harness static electricity, in fact it's still a significant problem in some situations.
Well, arguably so is fire.
 
Dec 2015
234
NYC
#20
I'm not sure that knowing about lightning, electric eels, and static sparks translates to an "awareness of electricity".
Yes, they all fall under the electricity umbrella

Lighting is a destructive natural force, like an earthquake. You want to make *more* of it?? And bring it into your *house*?!? A jolt from an electric eel will be a very different experience for most people, but again it's not a useful thing--do we assume we can generate power from dog bites? Similarly, static electricity is just a mildly amusing natural effect, and even the few folks who thought to compare it to lightning wouldn't jump to the conclusion that it can be harnessed and used for applications that were completely unknown. Heck, even today we don't harness static electricity, in fact it's still a significant problem in some situations.
Irrelevant. Lightning, electric eel shocks, static shocks all count as electric charge. People in ancient times could have investigated more on these observations and could note some similarities between them.

There is LOTS of evidence about the "Bagdad battery", ALL of which indicates it is a perfectly normal case for storing a sacred scroll. It's not large at all, and many others have been found. It did not and could not generate any electricity.

Matthew
There's no evidence that it was used for anything related to electricity