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Money, Weights and Measures in Antiquity



Money & weights Capacity Length & surface
Equations Some implications Bibliography


3 Measures of length and area of surface

Mesopotamia

Length
Early Neo-Babylonian:
1 UŠ 6 ropes 12 suppu 60 rods 120 reeds 240 nikkas 720 cubits 360 m

1 rope
(ašlu)
2 suppu 10 rods 20 reeds 40 nikkas 120 cubits 60 m


1 suppu 5 rods 10 reeds 20 nikkas 60 cubits 30 m



1 rod
(nindanu)
2 reeds 4 nikkas 12 cubits 6 m




1 reed
(GI, qan)
2 nikkas 6 cubits 3 m





1 nikkas 3 cubits 1  m






1 cubit
(KŠ,
ammatu)
m
  • Very long distances:
    • 1 stage (DANNA, bru) = 300 UŠ = 10,800 m
    • 1 stage is about 2 parasanges
    • 1 UŠ is about 2 Greek stades
  • Very short measures:
    • 1 finger (ŠU.SI, ubanu) = 1/24 cubit = 2.083 cm
Surface area
Old Babylonian: 1 BR, bru = 18 IKU, ik "dike" = 6.48 ha.
The Neo-Babylonians had two ways of measuring surface.
  1. Measuring the sides, mostly in "reeds". 1 square reed = 49 square cubits = 12.25 sq.m.
  2. Measuring in seed ratios. In Babylon and Ur 100 100 cubits equate 33 1/3 liters of grain, in Uruk 36 liters. Thus:

Babylon
Uruk
1 liter (SLA, qa) = 300 cubit = 75 m  = 277.777 cub. = 69.444 m
1 seah (BN, stu)  = 1800 cubit = 450 m = 1666.666 cub. = 416.666 m
1 bushel (PI, pnu) = 10800 cubit = 0.27 ha = 10,000 cub. = 0.25 ha
1 kor (GUR, kurru) = 54,000 cubit = 1.35 ha = 50,000 cub. = 1.25 ha.
Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
A man indicating cubit, foot, and finger. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Britain). Photo Jona Lendering.
A man indicating cubit, foot, and finger (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; **)

Greek

Length
1 stadion = 6 plethra = 600 feet = 9600 fingers = 177.3 meter

1 plethron = 100 feet = 1600 fingers = 29.55 meter


1 pous (foot) = 16 fingers = 29.55 cm



1 daktylos (finger) = 1.847 cm
  • In this table, Delphian values were given.
  • Alternative values for the stadion:
    • 192.28 (Olympic)
    • 181.3 (Epidaurus)
    • 186.0 (Attica)
    • 184.3 (Athens)
    • 184.80 meter (Parthenon)


Other length measures:
  • 1 parasange = 30 stadia (5,328-5,760 meter; about one hour walking).
  • 1 rope (schoinion) = 52.5 meter.
  • 1 cubit (pchys) = 24 fingers = 44.36 cm (Attic) or 48.08 cm (Olympic)
  • 1 plethron  = 66 2/3 cubits


Surface area
  • 1 square plethron  = 100 100 feet
    • = 0.0875 ha. (Attic foot, 29.57 cm)
    • = 0.1027 ha. (Oympic foot, 32.05 cm)
    • = 0.095 ha (Parthenon foot, 30.8 cm)
  • 1 square cubit
    • =  0.197 m (Attic cubit, 44.36 cm)
    • =  0.231 m = (Olympic cubit, 48.08 cm)
  • 1 aroura or setat (Egypt, Old kingdom to Ptolemaic Period) = 100 100 "royal cubits" (52.5 cm) = 2756.25 m  = 0.276 ha. This is more or less equivalent to one Roman iugerum (0.252 ha).

Milestone along the Via Appia. Photo Jona Lendering.
Milestone along the Via Appia  (**)

Rome

Length
1 mile
(milia passuum)
= 8 stades = 1000 pace = 5000 feet = 1.48 km

1 stadium = 125 pace = 625 feet = 185 meters


1 pace (passus) = 5 feet = 1.48 meters



1 foot (pes) = 29.57 cm
Surface- area
1 centuria = 100 heredia = 200 iugera = 400 acts = 50.365 ha

1 heredium = 2 iugera = 4 acts = 0.5036 ha


1 iugerum = 2 acts = 0.2518 ha



1 actus = 0.1259 ha
  • 1 actus quadratus  = 120 120 feet (14,400 sq. feet) 
  • 1 iugerum (0.2518 ha) is more or less equivalent to 1 Egyptian aroura (0.2756 ha)


Money & weights Capacity Length & surface
Equations Some implications Bibliography
Bert van der Spek for
Livius.Org, 2004
Revision: 24 February 2007
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