Ancient Greek units of measurement

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Ancient Greek units of measurement varied according to location and epoch. Systems of ancient weights and measures evolved as needs changed; Solon and other lawgivers also reformed them en bloc.[citation needed] Some units of measurement were found to be convenient for trade within the Mediterranean region and these units became increasingly common to different city states. The calibration and use of measuring devices became more sophisticated. By about 500 BC, Athens had a central depository of official weights and measures, the Tholos, where merchants were required to test their measuring devices against official standards.[citation needed]

Length[edit]

Some Greek measures of length were named after parts of the body, such as the δάκτυλος (daktylos, plural: daktyloi) or finger (having the size of a thumb), and the ποῦς (pous, plural: podes) or foot (having the size of a shoe). The values of the units varied according to location and epoch (e.g., in Aegina a pous was approximately 333 mm (13.1 in), whereas in Athens (Attica) it was about 296 mm (11.7 in)),[1] but the relative proportions were generally the same

Smaller units of length
Unit Greek name Equal to Metric equivalent Description
daktylos δάκτυλος 19.3 mm (0.76 in) finger
kondylos κόνδυλος 2 daktyloi 38.5 mm (1.52 in)
palaistē or dōron παλαιστή, δῶρον 4 daktyloi 77.1 mm (3.04 in) palm
dichas or hēmipodion διχάς, ἡμιπόδιον 8 daktyloi 154.1 mm (6.07 in) half foot
lichas λιχάς 10 daktyloi 192.6 mm (7.58 in)
orthodōron ὀρθόδωρον 11 daktyloi 211.9 mm (8.34 in)
spithamē σπιθαμή 12 daktyloi 231.2 mm (9.10 in) span of all fingers
pous ποῦς 16 daktyloi 308.2 mm (12.13 in) foot
pygmē πυγμή 18 daktyloi 346.8 mm (13.65 in)
pygōn πυγών 20 daktyloi 385.3 mm (15.17 in)
pēchys πῆχυς 24 daktyloi 462.3 mm (18.20 in) cubit
Except where noted, based on Smith (1851).[2] Metric equivalents are approximate.
Larger units of length
Unit Greek name Equal to Metric equivalent Description
pous ποῦς 0.308 m (1.01 ft) foot
haploun bēma[3] ἁπλοῦν βῆμα 2.5 podes 0.77 m (2.5 ft) single pace
bēma,[2] diploun bēma[3] βῆμα, διπλοῦν βῆμα 5 podes 1.54 m (5.1 ft) double pace
orgyia ὄργυια 6 podes 1.85 m (6.1 ft) fathom
kalamos, akaina or dekapous κάλαμος, ἄκαινα, δεκάπους 10 podes 3.08 m (10.1 ft)
hamma ἅμμα 60 podes 18.5 m (20.2 yd)
plethron πλέθρον 100 podes 30.8 m (33.7 yd)
stadion στάδιον 600 podes 184.9 m (202.2 yd) approximately 1/10 of a modern mile
diaulos δίαυλος 2 stadia 369.9 m (404.5 yd)
hippikon ἱππικόν 4 stadia 739.7 m (808.9 yd)
milion μίλιον 8 stadia 1,479 m (1,617 yd) Roman mile
dolichos[3] δόλιχος 12 stadia 2,219 m (1.379 mi)
parasanges, or league[4] παρασάγγες 30 stadia 5,548 m (3.447 mi) adopted from Persia[3]
schoinos σχοινός 40 stadia 7,397 m (4.596 mi) adopted from Egypt[3]
stage[4] 160 stadia 29,800 m (32,600 yd)
Except where noted, based on Smith (1851).[2] Metric equivalents are approximate.


Area[edit]

The ordinary units used for land measurement were:

Units of surface measurement
Unit Greek name Equal to Metric equivalent Description
pous ποῦς 0.095 m2  square foot
hexapodēs ἑξαπόδης 36 podes 3.42 m2 
akaina ἄκαινα 100 podes 9.50 m2 
hēmiektos ἡμίεκτος 83313 podes 79.2 m2 
hektos ἕκτος 166623 podes 158.3 m2  a sixth of a plethron
aroura ἄρουρα 2500 podes 237.5 m2 
plethron πλέθρον 10000 podes 950 m2 
Except where noted, based on Smith (1851).[2] Metric equivalents are approximate.


Volume[edit]

Hoplitodromia Louvre CA214.jpg
Neck amphora depicting an athlete
running the hoplitodromos by the Berlin
Painter, ca. 480 BC, Louvre.

Greeks measured volume according to either dry or liquid capacity, suited respectively to measuring grain and wine. A common unit in both measures throughout historic Greece was the cotyle or cotyla whose absolute value varied from one place to another between 210 ml and 330 ml.[1] The basic unit for both solid and liquid measures was the κύαθος (kyathos, plural: kyathoi).[3]

The Attic liquid measures were:

Attic measures of liquid capacity
Unit Greek name Equal to Metric equivalent Description
kochliarion κοχλιάριον 4.5 ml  spoon
xēmē χήμη 2 kochliaria 9.1 ml 
mustron μύστρον 212 kochliaria 11.4 ml 
konchē κόγχη 5 kochliaria 22.7 ml 
kyathos κύαθος 10 kochliaria 45.5 ml 
oxybathon ᾿οξυβαθον 112 kyathoi 68.2 ml 
tetarton,[2] hēmikotylē[3] τέταρτον, ἡμικοτύλη 3 kyathoi 136.4 ml 
kotylē, trublion or hēmina κοτύλη, τρύβλιον, ἡμίνα 6 kyathoi 272.8 ml 
xestēs ξέστης 12 kyathoi 545.5 ml  Roman sextarius
chous χοῦς 72 kyathoi 3.27 l 
keramion κεράμιον 8 choes 26.2 l  Roman amphora
metrētēs μετρητής 12 choes 39.3 l  amphora
Except where noted, based on Smith (1851).[2] Metric equivalents are approximate.


and the Attic dry measures of capacity were:

Attic measures of dry capacity
Unit Greek name Equal to Metric equivalent Description
kochliarion κοχλιάριον 4.5 ml 
kyathos κύαθος 10 kochliaria 45.5 ml 
oxybathon ᾿οξυβαθον 112 kyathoi 68.2 ml 
kotylē or hēmina κοτύλη, ἡμίνα 6 kyathoi 272.8 ml 
xestēs ξέστης 12 kyathoi 545.5 ml  Roman sextarius
choinix χοῖνιξ 24 kyathoi 1.09 l 
hēmiekton ἡμίεκτον 4 choinikes 4.36 l 
hecteus ἑκτεύς 8 choinikes 8.73 l  a sixth of a medimnos
medimnos μέδιμνος 48 choinikes 52.4 l 
Except where noted, based on Smith (1851).[2] Metric equivalents are approximate.


Currency[edit]

The basic unit of Athenian currency was the obol, weighing approximately 0.72 grams of silver:[5]

An obol, Attica, Athens. After 449 BC
Unit Greek name Equivalent Weight
obol or obolus ὀβολὸς 1/6 drachma, 4 tetartemorions 0.72 g
drachma δραχμὴ 6 obols 4.3 g
mina μνᾶ 100 drachmae
talent τάλαντον 60 minae

Weight[edit]

Weights are often associated with currency since units of currency involve prescribed amounts of a given metal. Thus for example the English pound has been both a unit of weight and a unit of currency. Greek weights similarly bear a nominal resemblance to Greek currency yet the origin of the Greek standards of weights is often disputed.[6] There were two dominant standards of weight in the eastern Mediterranean - a standard that originated in Euboea and that was subsequently introduced to Attica by Solon, and also a standard that originated in Aegina. The Attic/Euboean standard was supposedly based on the barley corn, of which there were supposedly twelve to one obol. However, weights that have been retrieved by historians and archeologists show considerable variations from theoretical standards. A table of standards derived from theory is as follows:[6]

Unit Greek name Equivalent Attic/Euboic standard Aeginetic standard
obol or obolus ὀβολός 0.72 g 1.05 g
drachma δραχμή 6 obols 4.31 g 6.3 g
mina μνᾶ 100 drachmae 431 g 630 g
talent τάλαντον 60 minae 25.86 kg 37.8 kg

Time[edit]

Athenians measured the day by sundials and unit fractions. Periods during night or day were measured by a water clock (clepsydra) that dripped at a steady rate and other methods. Whereas the day in the Gregorian calendar commences after midnight, the Greek day began after sunset. Athenians named each year after the Archon Eponymos for that year, and in Hellenistic times years were reckoned in quadrennial epochs according to the Olympiad.

In archaic and early classical Greece, months followed the cycle of the Moon which made them to not fit exactly into the solar year. Thus, if not corrected, the same month would migrate slowly in different seasons of the year. The Athenian year was divided into 12 months, with one additional month (poseideon deuteros, 30 days) being inserted between the sixth and seventh months every second year. Even with this intercalary month, the Athenian or Attic calendar was still fairly inaccurate and days had occasionally to be added by the Archon Basileus. The start of the year was at the summer solstice (previously it had been at the winter solstice) and months were named after Athenian religious festivals, 27 mentioned in the Hibah Papyrus, circ 275 BCE.

This section of a frieze from the Elgin Marbles shows a cavalry procession that was part of the quadrennial Greater Panathenaic festival, always held in the month Hekatombion.
Month Greek name Gregorian equivalent
Hecatombaeon Ἑκατομβαιών June–July
Metageitnion Μεταγειτνιών July-Aug
Boedromion Βοηδρομιών Aug-Sept
Pyanepsion Πυανεψιών Sept-Oct
Maemacterion Μαιμακτηριών Oct-Nov
Poseideon Ποσειδεών Nov-Dec
Gamelion Γαμηλιών Dec-Jan
Anthesterion Ἀνθεστηριών Jan-Feb
Elaphebolion Ἐλαφηβολιών Feb-March
Munychion Μουνυχιών March–April
Thargelion Θαργηλιών April–May
Scirophorion Σκιροφοριών May–June


See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Measures". The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 2003. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Smith, Sir William; Charles Anthon (1851) A new classical dictionary of Greek and Roman biography, mythology, and geography partly based upon the Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology New York: Harper & Bros. Tables, pp. 1024–30
  3. ^ a b c d e f g EIM:Metrology:History. Hellenic Institute of Metrology (EIM). Archived 13 April 2009.
  4. ^ a b Xenophon, Anabasis. ca 400 B.C.
  5. ^ British Museum Catalogue 11 - Attica Megaris Aegina
  6. ^ a b "Weights". The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 2003. 

External links[edit]