|15th century illustration of 4th or 5th century oxen powered paddlewheeler.|
Oxen powered paddle-wheelers were apparently more than just a concept. Following is the translation of a quote from De Rebus Bellciis, an anonymous 4th or 5th century (A.D.) writing.
“. . . .oxen, yoked in pairs to capstans, turn wheels attached to the sides of the ship; paddles, projecting above the circumference or curved surface of the wheels, beating the water with their strokes like oar-blades as the wheels revolve, work with an amazing and ingenious effect, their action producing rapid motion. . . .”
The Roman Army is said to have used the oxen powered paddlewheelers on the Mediterranean Sea. The paddle wheels were used in combination with sails. Because of the ship's heavy weight, and it's increased speed over short distances, the Romans had an advantage over the enemy. By overtaking the enemy they were able to smash their lighter sailing ships with the sturdy bows of the oxen powered paddlewheelers.
The paddlewheelers must have been larger than the fanciful one illustrated above. The oxen would have needed room to get their footing and to travel efficiently around the capstans. The vertical shafted capstans turned whatever machinery was used to transfer the work to the horizontal shafted wheels.
One can imagine the advantage of oxen powered ships if the winds were calm, and the enemies sails were hanging limp.
Oxen consume a lot of hay and fresh water, so the ships must have operated close to home. Large haystacks and water-tanks on board ships would have hampered progress on the open sea.
The Chinese are said to have had a similar invention.