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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 (1401-1391). Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden (Holland). Photo Jona Lendering.
Egyptian measure of liquid capacity, with the cartouche of Thutmose IV (1401-1391). (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden)

4 Approximate equations

Money and weights
  • 1 Babylonian shekel = 2 Greek drachms = 2 Roman denarii = 8,x grams
Distance
  • 1 Babylonian stage is about 2 Persian/Greek parasanges
  • 1 Babylonian UŠ is about 2 Greek stades
Surface + capacity
  • 1 iugerum (0.2518 ha) is more or less equivalent to 1 Egyptian aroura (0.2756 ha)
  • 1 Persian artabe
    • = 1 medimnos and 3 choinikes (Herodotus 1.192
    • or exactly 1 medimnos (Suid. Hesychius).
  • 1 Egyptian artabe
    • =  4.5 modii Italici = 38.78 liters and holds 30.28 kg of Egyptian wheat
    • = ca. 1 Babylonian pânu (36 liter)
    • = 24-42 Greek choinikes (L&S s.v.)
  • 6 Roman modii (52.416 liter) are almost equivalent to 1 Attic medimnos (52.176 liter)
  • 1 kotyle (0.272 liter) is almost equal to ½ Roman sextarius (0.273)

5 Some implications

Assuming 1 liter wheat = 0.78 kg and 1 liter barley = 0.62 kg, it implies sowing 133 l. = 82.5 kg. barley per ha. in Babylon and 144 l. = 89.3 kg/ha. in Uruk. Note that sowing ratios in the third millennium ranged from 25-37 liters only in the south; from 41-166 liters in Sippar (Jacobsen 1982); cf. Rome: 4 modii/iugerum wheat = 140 l. = 109.2 kg/ha; 6 modii barley per iugerum = 210 l. = 130 kg. barley p. ha. cf. Varro 1.44.1. Sicily: 6 modii p. iugerum wheat = 210 l. = 163.8 kg/ha. (Cicero, Verr. 2.3.112).
Seed used in Iraq S. of Babylon (1957-1959): wheat: 80-100 kg/ha; barley 108-128 kg/ha (Poyck, p. 50, table 4.8).
Egypt:  Standard sowing rate: 1 artabe = 40 liters = 31 kg to the aroura = 145 l. = 113 kg/ha . Note, however,  P. Col. 270, col. 1 = Edgar/Hunt 39 (256 BCE): sowing rate: ½ artabe = 20 l. to the aroura = 73 l. = 57 kg/ha  "as seed for the wheat bearing land ... and for the barley bearing land a proportionate amount". Rent: 7 1/8 artabae per aroura, or: "wheat at the rate of one artabe for 1 drachm 2 obols in copper and barley at a proportionate rate" (3:5). Thus return minimum: 1:14. Crawford (Kerkeosiris, 125-7) assumes an average yield of 1:10 in the Ptolemaic period. Rathbone (1991) 243.
 

Returns: 

  • Babylonia 15 fold (assumption Jacobsen 1982)
    • = 1995 liter per hectare = 1237 kg per hectare barley;
    • a 24 fold return as rent is attested in the Murashu archive = 3192 l/ha = 1974 kg/ha.
  • Uruk: 15 fold
    • = 1340 kg/ha.
    • 24 fold = 2142.72 kg/ha
  • Modern Iraq (1960)
    • Wheat returns: 512-884 kg/ha;
    • Barley returns: 560-896 kg/ha.
    • Low average harvests in 50% fallow areas; higher in 31.2 % fallow areas,  i.e. per year: 1024 kg-1178 kg wheat; 1020-1195 kg/ha., i.e. 10-fold at a maximum in one year. Cf Poyck, p. 48: table 4.7 (using mesharas = 0.25 ha.).
      • Comments Poyck: the yields are very low due to salinization and the grazing of cattle on young barley (a practice forbidden in the codex Hammurabi).
    • Jacobsen (1982) mentions the returns in 1954-1956: 1100-1200 l/ha (barley) = 682-744 kg/ha.
  • Italy: 6 fold (?)
    • = 780 kg/ha
  • Sicily: wheat 8 fold
    • = 1310.4 kg/ha
    • In a biennial system the returns over the years are diminished to one half.
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Money & weights Capacity Length & surface
Equations Some implications Bibliography
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Revision: 23 February 2007
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