How Ancient Babylonians Lit Their Homes Without Electricity

The ancient Babylonians lived over 4,000 years ago, long before the invention of electricity. Yet, they were able to effectively light their homes at night using simple technologies available at the time. In this article, I will explore in depth how the Babylonians ingeniously used fire, oil lamps, and strategic architecture to illuminate their homes after dark.

Using Fire to Light Homes

The most basic way the ancient Babylonians lit their homes was with fire. Fires served both as a source of light and heat. During the day, fires were kept burning in outdoor cooking areas. At night, embers from these cooking fires would be brought indoors in containers to provide light and warmth.

The Babylonians had fireplaces built into the walls of their homes. These fireplaces were essential for containing the fires used for lighting at night. Having an indoor fireplace allowed the smoke and fumes from the fire to vent outside through flues in the roof. It also prevented sparks from lighting the whole house on fire!

The main fuel used for fires was wood. But the Babylonians also burned animal dung, which burns slowly and evenly. Olive pits and date palm seeds were additional natural fuels utilized. Keeping these fires going required constantly feeding them more fuel throughout the night.

Using Oil Lamps for Light

The second important technology used by the Babylonians to light their homes was oil lamps. These were vessels that held oil as fuel with a wick to light it. The most common lamps were small, handheld terracotta bowls. But larger stone lamps were also used, often mounted on walls.

The Babylonians used various types of oil in these lamps as fuel:

To make the oil last longer, pottery spouts were added to lamps to hold the wick and regulate the burning. The wick was often made of flax or other plant fibers that burn slowly and evenly.

Oil lamps provided a more convenient and easily controlled source of light than open fires. They could be moved around and didn't produce as much smoke. However, they still required periodic fueling like fires.

Using Home Design for Natural Lighting

In addition to fire and oil lamps, the Babylonians capitalized on architectural design to maximize natural sunlight during the day. This reduced the need for artificial lighting at night.

Most homes had an open central courtyard that let in light. Rooms were arranged around this courtyard to make them brighter. Windows were also built high into walls near the ceiling, since the Babylonians had few materials for making glass. This allowed sunlight to penetrate more deeply into interior rooms.

By orienting their homes strategically and incorporating open spaces, the Babylonians created sunnier, naturally brighter dwellings during daylight hours. This made lighting them after dark much easier.


While the ancient Babylonians didn't have modern lighting technologies, they developed clever ways to illuminate their homes at night. Strategic use of fires, oil lamps, and thoughtful home design provided the light and warmth they needed. The principles behind these methods are still influential today in creating naturally bright, energy efficient buildings. Understanding how our ancient ancestors lit their worlds gives us inspiration for lighting our own sustainably.