# Measures from Antiquity and the Bible

How mankind started measuring things. Did we invent anything ?

• length
• area - (hatched)
• volume and capacity
• weight
• misc.
Preliminary note : our love for accuracy is quite recent. Don't expect it from our ancestors.
Welcome to the kingdom of fuzziness.
All the units changed, at least slightly, from place to place and from time to time. There won't be too many decimals in the equivalencies given here : keep in mind that many weights for instance were unearthed, but very few were absolutely similar.
After all, compare our weights to those of the Renaissance, only a few centuries away.

Contributors : I want to thank Michael J. Bottomley

## Measures of length

These measures were generally derived from the human body. We may find :
• the digit (width of the forefinger - in Latin digitus = finger)
• the inch (width of the thumb)
• the foot
• the cubit (theoretically the distance between the elbow and the middle finger)
• the pace (or double step)
• the fathom (finger-tip to finger-tip with arms outstreched)

#### Egypt

The basic unit seems to have been the royal cubit or "meh" estimated at 524 mm.
Another unit was the double remen or the diagonal of a square having sides of 1 cubit.
The remen (+/- 371 mm) was essentially used for land measure.
The main subdivision was the digit or "zebo" with 28 digits in a cubit and about 40 in a double remen.

This royal cubit is obviously inflated - maybe the work of an obsequious courtier who pretended it was Pharaoh's. (My personal cubit makes 470 mm !) There was indeed another "ordinary" cubit of 450 mm.

For those who still think in inches, 1 royal cubit = 20.62 " ; 1 remen = 14.6 " or about and 1 short cubit = 17.67 "

• 1 digit or zebo (= 18.7 mm)
• 4 digits = 1 palm or shep
• 5 digits = 1 hand
• 12 digits = 3 palms = 1 small span
• 14 digits = 1 large span or 1/2 royal cubit
• 24 digits = 6 palms = 1 ordinary or small cubit (= 450 mm)
• 28 digits = 7 palms = 1 royal cubit or "meh" (= 524 mm)
• 100 royal cubits = 1 "khet" (= 52.4 m)
• 120 khet = 1 "ater" (later called a "skhoinos") (+/- 6288 m)

#### Mesopotamia

Also uses the cubit (some think it originated in Sumer).
Its measure varies from 522 to 532 mm.
They had a foot, equal to 2/3 cubit, and a digit equal to 1/30 cubit (therefore 20 digits to a foot.).

There is an exception in Assyria : the cubit is thought to have 640 mm and the foot was 1/2 cubit.

Let's give some examples :

• digit, "shusi" or "uban" (+/- 17.67 mm)
• 5 uban = 1 "qat" (= 3.18 m)
• 6 qat = 1 "ammat" or "kus" (cubit of 530 mm - 20.87 "))
• 6 ammat = 1 "qanu"
• 60 qanu = 1 "sos" (= 191 m - 209 yards)
• 30 sos = 1 "parasang" (later unit ?) (= 5724 m - 3.6 miles)
• 2 parasang = 1 "kapsu"
According to findings in Khorsabad, we get another scale :
• the unit seems to have 275 mm (name unknown)
• 1/60 gives the "susi" (= 4.58 mm or about 1/4 digit)
• 6 units = 1"qanu" (= 1.65 m - fathom ?)
• 12 units make for a "sa" (= 3.3 m)
• 60 sa = 1 "us" (= 198 m - 217 yards)
• and 30 us = 1 "kasbu" (= 5940 m) which is not very different from the previous parasang.
Personal interpretation : we may assume a "palm" equal to 1/7 Assyrian cubit (640 / 7 = 91.43 mm)
The nameless unit would be 3 palms, and a palm contains 20 susi or 5 digits of 18.3 mm.

NB: my sources of information are quite eclectic, not forgetting the contributors ... one sentence in a book, one figure in a magazine, etc. Nevertheless let's make a special mention for the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

• the cubit or "arasni" (520 to 543 mm)
• 1/2 cubit, "vitasti" or "charac"
• 2 cubits = 1 "guz"
• 360 cubits = 1 stadion or "asparsa" (187 to 195 m)
• 30 stadions = 1 "parathanka" (or parasang) (= 5610 to 5850 m)
• there is also mention of a "mansion" equal to 80 000 Assyrian feet (= 25.6 km)

#### Greece

generally a foot of 309 mm (12.16 ") subdivided into 16 digits and equal to 2/3 of a (small) cubit - take or leave 4 %.
There was also an older foot of 316 mm equal to 3/5 of a big cubit - 527 mm
• 1 digit or "daktylos" - plural : "daktyloi" (= 19.3 mm)
• 2 digits = 1 "condylos"
• 4 digits = 1 "palaiste"
• 8 digits = 1 "dichas"
• 12 digits = 1 "spithame"
• 16 digits = 1 "pous" or foot - plural "podes" (= 309 mm)
• 20 digits = 1 "pygon"
• 24 digits = 1 "pechya" or small cubit
• 40 digits = 1 "bema"
• 72 digits = 4.5 feet = 1 "xylon"
• 6 feet = 1 "orgyia" (or fathom - 1.854 m)
• 10 feet = 1 "akaina"
• 100 feet = 1 "plethron"
• 600 feet or 6 plethra = 1 "stadion" (+/- 185.4 m)
• 2 stadia = 1 "diaulos"
• 6 diauloi = 1 "dolichos"
• there was also a "stathmos", poorly defined - estimated by some authors as 25.8 km (16 miles) - is it another name for "mansion" ?
The Persian parasang was also adopted quite soon and seems to represent the distance walked in 1 hour.
The stadion - whatever its name - was quite widespread throughout antiquity. It is similar to the English furlong and close to 100 toises (fathoms) in Old France. Was it the optimal lenght for a plough furrow ?

#### Roman Empire

The foot was also widely used across Italy - estimated at 295 mm (11.6 ") give or take a few percents.
It is found also in Etruria. The system absorbed several units from conquered territories.
• 1 digit or "digitus" = 18.44 mm
• 1 inch or "uncia" = 24.58 mm (inch derives from uncia, meaning 1/12 - same root as "ounce")
• 4 digits or 3 inches = 1 small palm or "minor palmus"
• 12 digits or 9 inches = 1 large palm or "major palmus"
• 16 digits or 12 inches = 1 foot or "pes" (= 295 mm)
• 24 digits or 18 inches = 1 cubit or "cubitus"
• 5 feet = 1 pace or "passus" - with its half = "gradus" and its quarter = "palmites"
• 10 feet or 2 paces = 1 "decempeda"
• 120 feet or 24 paces = 1 "actus"
• 625 feet or 125 paces = 1 "stadium" (= 184.4 m)
• 1000 paces or 8 stadia = 1 "milliarium" or "mille passus" (+/- 1475 m)
Milliarium was actually the name of the military stones erected every 1000 paces along the Roman highways, to ease the localisation and the maintenance.
The name is, of course, at the origin of "mile".

Rem : Let's come back to accuracy : when the Romans started to organize Northern Gaul and Germania, they used a "Drusian" or "Belgian" foot which was 2 digits longer, or 325 to 330 mm (12.9 ") - rather close to the feet of early medieval England.

#### Measures in the Bible

Essentially a composite of the neighbouring regions.
Originally, the cubit was used - the same as the royal cubit in Egypt. Later, the smaller cubit took over.
• the digit or "esba" (18.75 mm)
• 4 digits = 1 palm or "tophah"
• 12 digits or 3 palms = 1 "zeret"
• 24 digits or 6 palms = 1 small cubit or "amma" (= 450 mm or 17.72 ")
• 7 palms = 1 old cubit
Later on, we'll find measures borrowed from the Greeks or the Romans (fathom-like, stadium, mille, parasang, ... whatever the name used in the translation.)

Examples : the stick used in Ezek 40 5 is 6 old cubits long (or 3.15 m - 10' 4")
If your Bible includes 2 M, you'll find in 11 5 the name "schoene" : it is simply a parasang (from "skhoinos")

## Area

coming soon

Still under construction. I enjoy it ! Please come back from time to time.