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Money, Weights and Measures in Antiquity


Money & weights Capacity Length & surface
Equations Some implications Bibliography

Egyptian measure of liquid capacity, with the cartouche of Thutmose IV (1479-1425). Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden (Holland). Photo Jona Lendering.
Egyptian measure of liquid capacity, with the cartouche of Thutmose III (1479-1425). (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden)

2 Measures of capacity

Mesopotamia (Late Babylonian; both dry and liquid)

1 kor
(GUR, kurru)
= 5 bushel = 30 seah = 180 qa = 180 liter
1 bushel
(PI, pânu)
= 6 seah = 36 qa = 36 liter
1 seah
(BÁN, sûtu)
= 6 qa = 6 liter
1 qa
(qa, SÌLA, )
= 1 liter
  • Other values for the qa: 0.84 and 0.97 liter
  • 1 qa = 2 mina of water
  • 1 ninda (akalu?) = 0.1 liter
  • 1 ardabu = 1 artabê (Old Persian loanword; Aramaic ardab) = ca. 52 liter

Greek (after G. Reger (1994), 351)

Attic dry measures (metra xêra):
1 medimnos = 6 hekteis = 48 choinikes = 192 kotylai = 52.176 liter
1 hekteus = 8 choinikes = 32 kotylai = 8.696 liter
1 choinix = 4 kotylai = 1.087 liter
1 kotylê = 0.272 liter
  • Alternative values: 1 medimnos  = 54 liters
  • 1 choinix or 1.087 liter was the Attic ration standard for wheat
  • Athenian agora examples of kotylai range between 0.267-0.300 liters
  • 1 Attic medimnos (52.176 liter) is almost equivalent to 6 modii (52.416 liter)
  • 1 kotyle (0.272 liter) is almost equal to ½ Roman sextarius (0.273)
  • The capacity of the artabê is controversial: 40 choinikes and 30 choinikes are both possible.
Liquid measures (metra hygra):
1 metrêtês = 4 kophinoi = 12 choes = 144 kotylai = 37.4 (40.32?) liter
1 kophinos = 3 choes = 36 kotylai = 9.35 (10.08?) liter
1 chous = 12 kotylai = 3.12 (3.36?) liter
1 kotylê = 0.26 (0.28?) liter
  • 1 keramion = 2/3 metrêtês = 8 choes = 24.93 (26.88?) liter

Rome

Dry measures:
1 modius = 16 sextarii = 8.736 liter
1 sextarius = 0.546 liter
  • Alternative values: 1 modius = 9 liter (Rickman) or 8.62 liter (Rathbone)
  • 1 modius of wheat after threshing (Pliny, Nat. Hist. 18.66)
    •   
      Light = 20 librae = 6.55 kg 1liter = 0.75 kg
      Medium = 205/6 librae = 6.82 kg l liter = 0.78 kg
      Heavy = 21¾ librae = 7.12 kg 1liter = 0.82 kg
  • Rickman (1980) xiii: "Therefore 1 ton of wheat on average = approx. 150 modii or 25 medimnoi", i.e. 1 modius = 6.67 kg of wheat
  • 6 modii (52.416 liter) are almost equivalent to 1 Attic medimnos (52.176 liter)
  • 1 sextarius (0.546)  is almost equal to 2 Greek kotylai (0.544 liter)
  • 1 modius castrensis cumulatus  =  1.5 modii Italici  =  24 sextarii
  • 1 modius castrensis 'xystos' =  1 3/8modii Italici  =  22 sextarii
Liquid measures:
1 culleus = 20 amphorae = 160 congii = 960 sextarii 517.11 liters
1 amphora = 8 congii = 48 sextarii 25.86 liter
1 congius = 6 sextarii 3.23 liter
1 sextarius 0.54 liter
  • 1 amphora (or quadrantal) corresponded to one cubic pes of liquid, i.e. a cube of 29.57 × 29.57 × 29.57 cm, or 25.86 liter.
  • The sextarius could be divided into 2 heminae of 0.27 liter.
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Money & weights Capacity Length & surface
Equations Some implications Bibliography
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Livius.Org, 2004
Revision: 24 February 2007
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