INDUSTRIAL APPLICATIONS OF WATER-POWER
If preconceived ideas hampered our appreciation of the diffusion and importance of water-milling in Antiquity, this attitude is even more obvious concerning a more diversified industrial use of water-power. The relevant source material is small and ambiguous, and most scholars have chosen more or less to ignore the problem. Others have gone to extremes as, for instance, to put the very authenticity of Ausonius' Mosella in doubt rather than to accept its unequivocal mention of water-powered marble saws in northern Gaul during the fourth century A.C Nor has a moderate judgement of the issue been favoured by the uncritical efforts of a few scholars who assume the presence of water-powered devices in the most varying contexts, without any evidence.
Only during the early 1980s was a firmer basis laid for further studies: various scholars presented conclusive arguments for the authenticity of the Mosella; Oleson analysed the importance of the waterpowered water-lifting wheel often referred to as the hydraulic noria; and I myself made a preliminary attempt to collect and evaluate both ancient evidence and modern arguments for the existence of water-powered machinery in the ancient world. Most of the arguments proved untenable and must be discarded,1 but the evidence that remained seemed reason enough to take the question seriously. After the mid-80s, however, contributions to the discussion have been few—up to 1997, when Lewis managed, by a scrupulous examination of scattered evidence, to give weighty arguments for the use of cam-operated trip-hammers in Antiquity.
Taken together, the results achieved during the last two decades are enough to show beyond doubt that water-power was applied in the Roman Empire to various purposes besides grain-milling. From a technical point of view, we are dealing with two different kinds of
1 Wikander 1981, items A1:a-c, f-l and n (hydraulic norias), A2 (pigment grinder),
A4 (oil-mills), A5 (hoist), A7 (automaton), B2 (fulling-mills), B3:a (iron-processing
trip-hammers), B4 a, b and e (saw-mills).