The ancient Romans were masters of engineering and construction. Their aqueducts, roads, and buildings were marvels of the ancient world. But one little-known area where the Romans truly excelled was in electrical systems. They developed simple yet ingenious methods for transmitting power and information across their empire. As we struggle to build more efficient and smarter homes today, looking back to these ancient electrical systems may provide solutions.

Roman Use of Electro-Plating

The Romans did not use electricity as we know it today, but they were masters of electroplating. This involves coating one metal with a thin layer of another metal using an electrical current passed through a chemical solution. The Romans used electroplating methods to apply thin layers of gold or silver to cover jewelry and other metal objects.

Electroplating has several advantages:

Modern electroplating is used in everything from jewelry to printed circuit boards. Applied creatively, it could help make home electrical systems more efficient and longer-lasting.

Roman Lead Acid Batteries

The ancient Romans also pioneered lead acid batteries, remarkably similar to the batteries used in cars today. Archeologists have found many examples of these batteries, often called the Baghdad battery. They consisted of:

This simple design produced a potential difference of about 2 volts. While their exact use is unknown, scientists believe Romans used them for electroplating and medical treatments.

Similar lead acid batteries could help store and regulate power from roof solar panels. They are cheap and recyclable too.

Roman Automata

The ancient Romans also built amazing self-operating machines and robots known as automata. These machines used cams, gears, weights, and other mechanisms to automatically operate movable figures and models.

For example, ancient texts describe:

Automating lighting, climate control, and security in homes today echoes this inventive Roman spirit.

Hydraulic Ceilings

Rich Romans also pioneered hydraulic ceiling systems to impress guests. These used pottery pipes and valves in ceilings and walls to spray perfumed water and even rotate decorations remotely. They likely operated through a combination of gravity, manual pumps, and simple switching mechanisms.

Similar principles could allow smart homes to efficiently move air, water, and electricity around. Basic physics takes over much of the work.


While the Romans thought about electricity differently, they were ingenious early pioneers. Electroplating, batteries, robotics, and hydraulics show how they automated tasks and impressed visitors. As we try to build more efficient, automated, and convenient homes today, looking back to these Roman systems can provide surprises and inspiration. Their clever low-tech methods hint at how we could do more with less. With some creativity, Roman wisdom could help revolutionize modern home wiring.