Obsolete Russian units of measurement

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For the Indian spinning wheel known as a charkha, see spinning wheel.

A native system of weights and measures was used in Imperial Russia and after the Russian Revolution, but it was abandoned in 1924 when the Soviet Union adopted the metric system.

The Tatar system is very similar to the Russian one, but some names are different.[citation needed]

The system existed since ancient Rus', but under Peter the Great, the Russian units were redefined relative to the English system.[citation needed] Until Peter the Great the system also used Cyrillic numerals, and only in the 18th century Peter the Great replaced it with the Hindu-Arabic numeral system.[citation needed]

Length[edit]

The basic unit is the Russian cubit, called arshin, which has been in use since the 16th century. It was standardized by Peter the Great in the 18th century to measure exactly twenty-eight English inches (71.12 cm). Thus, 80 vershoks = 20 piads = 5 arshins = 140 English inches.[1]

A piad (пядь, “palm”, “five”) or chetvert (че́тверть, “quarter”) is a hand span, the distance between ends of the spread thumb and index finger.

Unit Russian Translation Ratio Metric
Value
English units
tochka то́чка point 12800 0.254 mm 1100 inch
liniya ли́ния line 1280 2.54 mm 110 inch; cf. line
diuym дюйм inch 128 2.54 cm 1 inch
vershok вершо́к “tip” or “top” 116 4.445 cm 1 34 in; cf. 19" rack unit
piad, chetvert пядь, че́тверть “palm”, quarter 14 17.78 cm 7 in; cf. span
fut фут foot 37 30.48 cm 1 ft
arshin арши́н yard 1 71.12 cm 2 13 ft
sazhen са́жень fathom 3 2.1336 m 7 ft
versta верста́ turn (of a plough) 1500 1.0668 km 3,500 ft
milia ми́ля mile 10,500 7.4676 km 24,500 ft

Alternative units:

  • Swung sazhen (маховая сажень, makhovaya sazhen’, distance between tips of arms stretched sidewards) = 1.76 m
  • Skewed, or oblique sazhen (косая сажень, kosaya sazhen’, distance between tip of a raised arm and a tip of an opposite leg slightly put away) = 2.48 m
  • Double versta or border versta, (межевая верста, mezhevaya versta), used to measure land plots and distances between settlements = 2 verstas (comes from an older standard for versta)

Area[edit]

  • Desiatina (десяти́на, “a tenth” or “ten”)
    • Treasury/official desiatina (казённая десяти́на, kazionnaya desiatina) = 10,925.4 m² = 117,600 sq ft = 2,400 square sazhen
    • Proprietor's (владе́льческая десяти́на, vladelcheskaya desiatina) = 14,567.2 m² = 156,800 sq ft = 3,200 square sazhen
      • 3 proprietor's desiatinas = 4 official desiatinas

Volume[edit]

As in many ancient systems of measurement the Russian distinguishes between dry and liquid measurements of capacity. Note that the chetvert appears in both lists with vastly differing values.

Dry measures[edit]

Unit Russian Translation Ratio Cubic
inches
(exact)
Metric
value
Imperial
value
US
Customary
chast часть part 1/30 20/3 109.33 ml 0.219 pt 0.263 pt
kruzhka кру́жка mug 2/5 80 1.312 L 2.309 pt 2.773 pt
garnets[1] га́рнец pot 1 200 3.279842 L 2.886 qt 3.466 qt
vedro ведро́ bucket 4 800 13.12 L 2.886 gal. 3.466 gal.
chetverik четвери́к quarter 8 1600 26.239 L 2.886 p. 2.978 p.
osmina осьми́на one-eighth 32 6400 104.955 L 2.886 bsh. 2.978 bsh.
chetvert че́тверть quarter 64 1280 209.91 L 5.772 bsh. 5.957 bsh.

Liquid measures[edit]

Unit Russian Translation Ratio Cubic
inches
(exact)
Metric
value
Imperial US
Customary
shkalik шка́лик measure 1/200 61.5 mL 2.16 fl. oz. 2.08 fl. oz.
kosushka косу́шка shot
charka ча́рка wine glass 1/100 123 mL 4.33 fl. oz. 4.16 fl. oz.
butylka (vodochnaya) буты́лка (во́дочная) bottle (vodka) 1/20 37½ 615 mL 1.08 pt 1.3 pt
butylka (vinnaya) буты́лка (ви́нная) bottle (wine) 1/16 46⅞ 768.7 mL 1.35 pt 1.625 pt
kruzhka кру́жка mug 1/10 75 1.23 L 1.08 qt 1.3 qt
shtof штоф flagon
chetvert че́тверть quarter 1/8 93 ¾ 1.537 L 1.35 qt 1.624 qt
vedro[1] ведро́ bucket 1 750 12.29941 L 2.71 gal. 3.249 gal.
bochka бо́чка barrel 40 30,000 491.98 L 108.22 gal. 129.967 gal.

Weight/mass[edit]

Two systems of weight were in use, an ordinary one in common use, and an apothecaries' system.

Ordinary system[edit]

Unit Russian Translation Ratio Metric value Avoirdupois value
dolia до́ля part 1/9216 = 1/962 44.435 mg 0.686 gr
zolotnik золотни́к “golden one” 1/96 4.26580 g 65.831 gr (0.152 oz)
lot лот 1/32 12.7974 g 0.451 oz
funt[1] фунт pound 1 409.51718 g 14.445 oz (0.903 lb)
pood пуд 40 16.3807 kg 36.121 lb
berkovets берковец 400 163.807 kg 361.206 lb (25.8 st)

Pood was first mentioned in a number of documents of the twelfth century.[citation needed] It may still be encountered in documents dealing with agricultural production (especially with reference to cereals), and has been revived in determining weights when casting bells in belfries following the rebirth of the Orthodox Churches in the former Soviet lands.[citation needed]

Apothecaries' system[edit]

The Imperial Russian apothecaries' was defined by setting the grain (Russian: гран) to be exactly seven-fifths of a dolia. The only unit name shared between the two was the funt (pound), but the one in the apothecaries' system is exactly seven-eighths of the ordinary funt. This makes the Russian apothecary units just slightly more than 96% of those in the English apothecaries' system.[citation needed]

Unit Russian Translation Ratio Metric value Avoirdupois value Ordinary value
gran гран grain 1 62.210 mg 0.96004 gr. 1.4 dolia
scrupul скрупул scruple 20 1.2442 g 19.201 gr. 28 dolia
drachma драхма dram 60 3.7326 g 57.602 gr. ⅞ zolotnik
uncia унция ounce 480 29.861 g 1.0533 oz. or 460.82 gr. 7 zolotnik
funt фунт pound 5760 358.328 g 12.640 oz. or 5529.8 gr. 84 zolotnik

Idiomatic expressions[edit]

The obsolete units of measurement survived in Russian culture within a number of idiomatic expressions and proverbs, for example:

  • Слышно за версту: (It) can be heard a verst away - about something very loud
  • Бешеной собаке семь вёрст не крюк.: 7 versts is not a detour for a mad dog - about excessive energy or hassle
  • Милому дружку семь вёрст не околица: 7 verst is not too far for a darling friend
  • Верста коломенская: Kolomna verst - about a very tall and slim person (in this case the reference is to the verst pole road mark: (verstovoy stolb))
  • Косая сажень в плечах: Skew sazhen in the shoulders - about a strong, wide-shouldered person
  • Мерить всех на свой аршин. To gauge everybody by the same [literally: one's own] yardstick
  • Проглотить аршин. To swallow an arshin (yardstick) - about standing very straight and still
  • От горшка два вершка. Two vershok above the pot. - Very young kid
  • Сто пудов. - Hundred poods - very large amount. In modern colloquial Russian it is used in a generic meanings of "very much" and "very", as well as "most surely";[2] The adjective 'stopudovy' and the adverb 'stopudovo' derive from this expression.
  • Семь пядей во лбу. Seven 'pyad' across the forehead - very smart
  • Не семь пядей во лбу. Not seven 'pyad' across the forehead - not so smart
  • Мал золотник, да до́рог. A zolotnik is small, but expensive : when quality rather than quantity is important
  • Идти семимильными шагами. To walk in 7-mile steps - Any kind of very fast progress, e.g., of improvement
  • Узнать, почём фунт лиха. To learn how much a pound of likho costs - To experience something bad
  • Ни пяди земли (не уступить). Do not give in no pyad of land
  • Съесть пуд соли (вместе с кем-либо). To eat a 'pood' of salt (with somebody) - To have a long common experience with somebody (with the implication "to know someone well")

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Cardarelli, F. (2004). Encyclopaedia of Scientific Units, Weights and Measures: Their SI Equivalences and Origins (2nd ed.). Springer. pp. 121–124. ISBN 1-85233-682-X. 
  2. ^ English-Russian-English dictionary of slang, jargon and Russian names. 2012