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Ancient Greek units of measurement were built mainly upon the Egyptian, and formed the basis of the later Roman system.

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Although we might suggest that the Egyptians had discovered the art of measurement, it is really only with the Greeks that the science of measurement begins to appear. The Greeks' knowledge of geometry, and their early experimentation with weights and measures, soon began to place their measurement system on a more scientific basis. By comparison, Roman science, which came later, was not as advanced...
("Early Measurements and Standards". Canada Science and Technology Museum. 2009. http://www.sciencetech.technomuses.ca/english/collection/measurement2.cfm.  )

Generally speaking, standards of measurement within the ancient Greek world 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. In time, some units of measurement were found to be convenient for trade within the Mediterranean region and these units became more and more common to different city states. Similarly the calibration and use of measuring devices became more sophisticated over time. By about 500 BC, Athens already had its own central depository of official weights and measures — the Tholos — where merchants were required to test their measuring devices against official standards.

Length

Greek measures of length were based on the relative lengths of body parts, such as the foot and finger segment. The specific values assigned to these units varied according to location and epoch (e.g., in Aegina a foot or pous was approximately 13 inches or 333 mm, whereas in Athens (Attica) it was about 11.6 inches or 296 mm).[1] The relative proportions, however, were generally the same throughout the Greek world.

Units derived from the dactylos (plural: dactyloi):

Unit Greek name Equivalent Description
daktylos δάκτυλος finger breadth
kondylos κόνδυλος 2 daktyloi middle joint of finger
palaistē or dōron παλαιστή,δῶρον 4 daktyloi palm
dichas or hēmipodion διχάς,ἡμιπόδιον 8 daktyloi half foot
lichas λιχάς 10 daktyloi span of thumb
orthodōron ὀρθόδωρον 11 daktyloi [2]
spithamē σπιθαμή 12 daktyloi span of all fingers
pous ποῦς 16 daktyloi foot; Attic foot ≈ 296 mm; Aeginan foot ≈ 333 mm
pygmē πυγμή 18 daktyloi elbow to base of fingers
pygōn πυγών 20 daktyloi
pēchys πῆχυς 24 daktyloi cubit
pēchys basilēïos πῆχυς βασιλήιος 27 daktyloi royal cubit


Larger units derived from the pous (plural: podes):

Unit Greek name Equivalent Description
pous ποῦς 16 daktyloi foot; Attic foot ≈ 296 mm
haploun bēma ἀπλοῦν βῆμα 2.5 podes single pace
diploun bēma διπλοῦν βῆμα 5 podes double pace [2]
orgyia ὀργυιά 6 podes fathom or stretch of both arms
akaina ἄκαινα 10 podes [2]
plethron πλέθρον 100 podes breadth of Greek acre
stadion στάδιον 600 podes Attic stadion ≈ 185 m
diaulos δίαυλος 2 stadia
hippikon ἱππικόν 4 stadia
dolichos δόλιχος 12 stadia
parasanga παρασάγγες 30 stadia adopted from Persia
schoinos σχοινός 40 stadia adopted from Egypt


Area

One plethron was traditionally the amount of land a yoke of oxen could plough in one day (approximately 4 English acres); more specifically, it was any area equal to the area of a square each of whose sides is 100 podes or 1 plethron in length [1].

Volume

Neck amphora depicting an athlete running the hoplitodromos by the Berlin Painter, ca. 480 BC, Louvre. The average wine amphora had a capacity of about 40L.

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 210mL and 330mL (or 7.4-11.6 fl. oz.)[1]:

Dry measure

Unit Greek name Equivalent Description
cotyla κοτύλη approx a cup
choenix χοῖνιξ 4 cotylae approx 1 man's daily grain ration
hecteus ἑκτεύς 8 choenices
medimnos μέδιμνος 6 hecteis

Liquid measure

Unit Greek name Equivalent Description
cotyla κοτύλη approx a cup
hemichous ἡμίχουν 6 cotylae
chous χοῦς 12 cotylae
metretes μετρητής 144 cotylae approx 1 amphora wine


Currency

The basic unit of Athenian currency was the obol:

An obol, Attica, Athens. After 449 BC
Unit Greek name Equivalent
obol or obolus ὀβολός
drachma δραχμή 6 obols
mina μνᾶ 100 drachmae
talent τάλαντον 60 minae

Weight

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.[3] 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:[3]

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

Time

Athenians measured the day by sundials. Periods during night or day could be measured by a water clock (clepsydra) that dripped at a steady rate. Whereas the day in our Gregorian calendar commences just after midnight, the Greek day began just 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. 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:

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
Hekatombaeon Ἐκατομβαιών June-July
Metageitnion Μεταγειτνιών July-Aug
Boedromion Βοηδρομιών Aug-Sept
Puanepsion Πυανεψιών Sept-Oct
Maimakteron Μαιμακτηριών Oct-Nov
Poseideon Ποσειδεών Nov-Dec
Gamelion Γαμηλιών Dec-Jan
Anthesterion Ἀνθεστηριών Jan-Feb
Elaphebolion Ἐλαφηβολιών Feb-March
Mounychion Μουνυχιών March-April
Thargelion Θαργηλιών April-May
Skirophorion Σκιροφοριών May-June


See also

References

  1. ^ a b c "Measures". The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 2003.  
  2. ^ a b c "Metrology - Ancient Greece". Hellenic Institute of Metrology (EIM). http://www.eim.org.gr/html/english/metrology/history/greece.html. Retrieved 2007-11-02.  
  3. ^ a b "Weights". The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 2003.  

External links

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