Portuguese customary units

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King Manuel I, who fixed the country's measurement standards, in 1499-1504.

Portuguese customary units were used in Portugal, Brazil and other parts of the Portuguese Empire until the adoption of the metric system in the 19th century.

The official system of units in use in Portugal from the 16th to the 19th century was the system introduced by king Manuel I around 1499-1504. The most salient aspect of this reform was the distribution of bronze weight standards (nesting weight piles) to the towns of the kingdom. The reform of weights is unparalled in Europe until this time, due to the number of distributed standards (hundreds), the size (64 to 256 marcs) and the elaborate decoration.

In 1575, king Sebastião distributed bronze standards of capacity measures to the main towns. The number of distributed standards was smaller and uniformity of capacity measures was never achieved.

The first proposal for the adoption of the metric decimal system in Portugal appears in Chichorro's report on weights and measures. In 1814, Portugal was the second country in the world – after France – to officially adopt the metric system. The system then adopted used the names of the Portuguese traditional units instead of the original French names (e.g.: vara for metre; canada for litre; and libra for kilogram). However, several difficulties prevented the implementation of the new system and the old Portuguese customary units continued to be used, both in Portugal and in Brazil (which became an independent country in 1822).

The metric system was finally adopted by Portugal and its colonies in 1852, this time using the original names of the units. Brazil replaced Portuguese customary units with the metric system in 1862.

Route units[edit]

Portuguese name English name Subdivides in Equivalence in
Léguas de 20 ao grau
Metric equivalence
Légua de 18 ao grau League of 18 to the degree 6173 m
Légua de 20 ao grau League of 20 to the degree 3 milhas geográficas 1 5555 m
Milha geográfica Geographical mile 1/3 1851 m

Length units[edit]

Portuguese name English name Subdivides in Equivalence in Varas Metric equivalence
Braça Fathom 2 varas 2 2.2 m
Toesa Toise 6 pés 1​45 1.98 m
Passo geométrico Geometrical pace 5 pés 1​12 1.65 m
Vara Yard 5 palmos 1 1.1 m
Côvado Cubit 3 palmos 3/5 0.66 m
Foot 12 polegadas 3/10 0.33 m
Palmo de craveira Span 8 polegadas 1/5 0.22 m
Polegada Inch 12 linhas 1/40 27.5 mm
Linha Line 12 pontos 1/480 2.29 mm
Ponto Point 1/5760 0.19 mm

Weight units[edit]

Portuguese name English name Subdivides in Equivalence in Arráteis Metric equivalence
Tonelada Tonne 13.5 quintais 1728 793.152 kg
Quintal Hundredweight 4 arrobas 128 58.752 kg
Arroba Arroba 32 arráteis 32 14.688 kg
Arrátel Pound 4 quartas 1 0.459 kg
Marco Mark 8 onças 1/2 0.22950 kg
Quarta Fourth 4 onças 1/4 0.11475 kg
Onça Ounce 8 oitavas 1/16 28.6875 g
Oitava Dram 3 escrópulos 1/128 3.5859 g
Escrópulo Scruple 24 grãos 1/384 1.1953 g
Grão Grain 1/9216 0.0498 g

Liquid volume units (for Lisbon)[edit]

Portuguese name English name Subdivides in Equivalence in canadas Metric equivalence
Tonel Cask 2 pipas 600 840 l
Pipa Barrel 25 almudes 300 420 l
Almude 2 potes 12 16.8 l
Pote Pot 6 canadas 6 8.4 l
Canada 4 quartilhos 1 1.4 l
Quartilho Pint 2 meios quartilhos 1/4 0.35 l
Meio quartilho 1/8 0.175 l

See also[edit]

References[edit]