previous next


MOLA (μύλη or μύλος), a mill. Curtius (Gr. Etym. p. 339) remarks that all European languages have the same word for these contrivances--a sufficient proof of their antiquity. The Greeks and Romans of course identified the process with certain deities or heroic beings, such as Myles of Alesiae (Paus. 3.20), Μυλαντεῖοι Θεοί (Hesych.): in Pliny, 7.191, the invention is ascribed to Ceres: Varro (ap. Plin. Nat. 36.135) more practically derives the Roman mills from Volsinii in Etruria.

All mills no doubt started from a simple process of grinding between two stones, and it is impossible to say when the machines, properly so called, for grinding began. The mention of stones “like millstones” in Hom. Il. 7.270, 12.161, proves that corn was ground between stones of some particular size and shape, but does not tell us more. The same may be said of the passages in Od. 7.104, 20.105, though perhaps in the latter passage the number of mills in the palace (presumably six with two female slaves at each) implies that they were small and rude. Dr. Schliemann (Ilios, p. 234) shows “saddle querns” of trachyte, found at Hissarlik, flat on one side and convex on the other, between which the corn was ground or bruised. It is not quite clear why we need, with him, assume that corn could not be ground by such a method. The process may have been such as Livingstone describes in Africa, where the upper stone is moved round and round over the lower by the hand. The process would be more troublesome than the rudest quern worked by a handle, but, given sufficient time, the result would be the same.

All mills were anciently made of stone, the kind used being a volcanic trachyte or porous lava (pyrites, Plin. Nat. 36.30; silices, Verg. Moret. 23-27; pumiceas, Ovid. Fast. 6.318), such as that which is now obtained for the same purpose at Mayen and other parts of the Eifel in Rhenish Prussia. They were obtained especially from the volcanic island Nisyros (Strabo x. p.488). Hence the complaint of the horse in Anth. Pal. 9.21, 5: “ νῦν δὲ βάρος πέτρης Νισυριτίδος ἔγκυκλον ἕλκω
λεπτύνων Δηοῦς καρπὸν ἀπ᾽ ἀσταχύων.

Hence also the epithet mola scabra in Ovid. This species of stone is admirably adapted for the purpose, because it is both hard and cavernous, so that, as it gradually wears away, it still presents an infinity of cutting surfaces.

Every mill consisted of two essential parts,--the upper mill-stone, which was movable (catillus, ὄνος, τὸ ἐπιμύλιον, Dent. 24.6), and the lower (meta, μύλη), which was fixed and by much the larger of the two. Hence a mill is sometimes called molae in the plural. The stones were kept rough by cutting or scratching them when they wore smooth, which is the sense of νεόκοπτοςin Aristoph. Wasps 648, and lapis incusus in Verg. G. 1.274 There are three kinds of mills mentioned by ancient authors,--the hand-mill, the mill worked by animals, and the water-mill. Windmills are an invention of the Middle Ages.

I. The hand-mill, or quern, called mola manuaria, versatilis, or trusatilis. (Plin. Nat. 36.135; Gel. 3.3; Cato, de Re Rust. 10.)

The islanders of the Archipelago use in the present day a mill, which consists of two flat round stones about two feet in diameter. The upper stone is turned by a handle (κώπη) inserted at one side, and has a hole in the middle into which the corn is poured. By the process of grinding the corn makes its way from the centre, and is poured out in the state of flour at the rim. (Tournefort, Voyage, Lett. 9.) The description of this machine exactly agrees with that of the Scottish quern, formerly an indispensable part of domestic furniture. (Pennant, Tour in Scotland, 1769, p. 231; and 1772, p. 328.) There can be no doubt that this is the flour-mill in its most ancient form. In a very improved state it has been discovered at Pompeii. The annexed woodcut shows two which were found standing in the ruins of a bakehouse. In the left-hand figure the lower

Mills at Pompeii.

millstone only is shown. The most essential part of it is the cone, which is surmounted by a projection containing originally a strong iron pivot. The upper millstone, seen in its place on the right hand of the woodcut, approaches the form of an hour-glass, consisting of two hollow cones, jointed together at the apex, and provided at this point with a socket, by which the upper stone was suspended upon the iron pivot, at the same time touching on all sides the lower stone, and with which it was intended to revolve. The pivot could be made slightly longer if coarser meal was desired. The upper stone was surrounded at its narrowest part with a strong band of iron; and two bars of wood were inserted into square holes, one of which appears in the figure, and were used to turn the upper stone. These bars or levers, whether [p. 2.176]worked by hand or by an animal attached to them, were called κῶπαι, in Latin molilia. The uppermost of the two hollow cones served the purpose of a hopper. The corn with which it was filled gradually fell through the neck of the upper stone upon the summit of the lower, and, as it proceeded down the cone, was ground into flour by the friction of the two rough surfaces, and fell on all sides of the base of the cone into a channel formed for its reception. The mill here represented is five or six feet high.

The hand-mills were worked among the Greeks and Romans by slaves. Their pistrinum was consequently proverbial as a place of punishment for refractory town slaves (see Ramsay's excursus on the Mostellaria): smaller hand-mills were however worked, especially in the Homeric age, by women. (Horn. Od. 7.104; Exod. 11.5; Matt. 24.41.)

In every large establishment the hand-mills were numerous in proportion to the extent of the family. Thus in the palace of Ulysses there were twelve, each turned by a separate female slave, who was obliged to grind every day the fixed quantity of corn before she was permitted to cease from her labour. (Od. 20.105-119; compare Cato, de Re Rust. 56.) We have special mention of the ἐπιμύλιοι ὠδαί, sung as they worked in time. (Poll. 4.53; Ath. 14.618 d.) It seems also to have been called ἱμαῖον μέλος (Hesych. sub voce Phot. s. v. ἱμαοιδός). An instance is given in Plut. Conviv. vii. Sap. p. 157 d: ἄλει μύλα, ἄλει καὶ γὰρ Πίττακος ἄλει, μεγάλας Μιτυλάνας βασιλεύων.

II. The mill worked by animals (mola jumentaria, mola asinaria: Lucian, Asin. 28; Ov. Fast. 11.318, &c.). The horses so used were old and worn out (Juv. 8.67; Apul. Met. 9.11), such as the worn-out racehorse of the fabulists (Babr. 29; Phaedr. 19). The woodcut below shows the horse attached under the cross-beam, as in Babrius, l.c.: ζευχθεὶς ὑπὸ μύλην. The animal was blinded by a bandage (ὀθόνη) over the eyes, by way of blinkers. The woodcut gives an instance of something more like ordinary blinkers. It was common also to prevent the animals from eating the corn by a contrivance called πανσικάπη, which was a τροχοειδὲς μηχάνημα round the neck, which made it impossible for an animal to lower its mouth to the corn or for a man to bring his hands up to his mouth, for slaves also were sometimes so muzzled. (Poll. 7.20; Eustath. ad Il. 22.467; Phot. s. v. παυσικάπη.) It was also called καρδοπεῖον (Poll. 10.112, who quotes from Aristoph. Heroes; cf. Schol. ad Aristoph. Peace 14). These mills were larger but of exactly the same construction as the hand-mill described above, except so far as the apparatus for attaching the animal was concerned. In the woodcut, from a relief in the Museo Chiaramonti, there is a cross-beam above the catillus connected by two curved vertical beams with another lower cross-beam. The hopper for filling the mill appears above the beam. It may be remarked that the lamp on the bracket in the corner exactly illustrates Verg. Moret. 19: “tabella quam fixam paries illos servabat in usus lumina fida locat.” The mill-driving animals had a holiday at the festival of Vesta. (Cf. the coronati aselli, Ov. Fast. 6.311; Prop. 5.1, 21.)

III. The water-mill (mola aquaria, ὑδραλέτης, ὑδρόμυλος). The first water-mill of which any record is preserved, was connected with the

Mill, from an ancient relief. (Blümner.)

palace of Mithridates in Pontus. (Strabo xii. p.556; Pompon. ad Verg. Moret.) That water-mills were used at Rome is manifest from the description of them by Vitruvius (10.10). A cogged wheel, attached to the axis of the water-wheel, turned another which was attached to the axis of the upper mill-stone: the corn to be ground fell between the stones out of a hopper (infundibulum), which was fixed above them. (See also Brunck, Anal. 2.119; Pallad. de Rc Rust. 1.42.) Ausonius, as cited below, mentions their existence on the Ruwer near Treves; and Venantius Fortunatus, describing a castle built in the sixth century on the banks of the Moselle, makes distinct mention of a tailrace, by which “the tortuous stream is conducted in a straight channel.” (Poem. 3.10.) The following epigram of the time of Augustus describes them as in use to save labour:-- ἴσχετε χεῖρα μυλαῖον, ἀλετρίδες, εὕδετε μακρά,
κἢν ὄρθρον προλέγῃ γῆρυς ἀλεκτρυόνων:
Δήω γὰρ Νύμφαισι χερῶν ἐπετείλατο μόχθους:
αἱ δὲ κατ᾽ ἀκροτάτην ἁλλόμεναι τροχιὴν
ἄξονα δινεύουσιν : δ᾽α0κτίνεσσιν ἑλικταῖς
στρωφᾶται πισύρων κοῖλα βάρη μυλάκων.

IV. The floating-mill. When Rome was besieged by the Goths, A.D. 536, and when the stoppage of the aqueducts rendered it impossible to use the public corn-mills (οἱ τῆς πόλεως μύλωνες) in the Janiculum, so that the citizens were in danger of starvation, Belisarius supplied their place by erecting floating-mills upon the Tiber. Two boats being moored at the distance of two feet fiom each other, a water-wheel, suspended on its axis between them, was turned by the force of the stream, and put in motion the stones for grinding the corn. The invention being found useful was retained, according to Procopius, in later times. (Procop. de Bello Gothico, 1.15.)

V. The saw-mill. Ausonius mentions mills situated on some of the streams falling into the [p. 2.177]Moselle, and used for cutting marble into slabs. (idyll. 10.362, 363.)

VI. The pepper-mill. A mill for grinding pepper, made of boxwood, is mentioned by Petronius (molea buxea piper trivit, Sat. 74). For the olive-mill (mola olearia), see TRAPETUM (Blümner, Technologie, i. pp. 23-49; Marquardt, Privatleben, p. 421.)

[J.Y] [G.E.M]

hide References (13 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (13):
    • Aristophanes, Peace, 14
    • Aristophanes, Wasps, 648
    • Homer, Odyssey, 20.105
    • Homer, Odyssey, 20.119
    • Homer, Odyssey, 7.104
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.20
    • Homer, Iliad, 12.161
    • Homer, Iliad, 7.270
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.274
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 10.10
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 36.30
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 3.3
    • Ovid, Fasti, 6
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: