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Historical weights and measures
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Historical weights and measures

Many systems of weights and measures have existed throughout history. The definitions of some of these units were often vague and inaccurate, and although the roots of many of the units were the same, the actual value of a unit differed from country to country, or epoch to epoch. That fact should not lead to a conclusion that historical units of measure were inaccurate in general. Many units were defined to a high precision, and standards of measurement were in many cases excellent. As a case in point, the Great Pyramid of Giza was built to a precision of 15 mm over sides that are 235 m, over four and a half thousand years ago.

Table of contents
1 Mesopotamian system
2 Vedic system
3 Persian system
4 Arabic system
5 Egyptian system
6 Greek system
7 Roman system
8 English system
9 Scottish system
10 Spanish system
11 French system
12 German system
13 Dutch system
14 Danish system
15 Norwegian system
16 Swedish system
17 Finnish system
18 Hebrew
19 US system
20 See also
21 References
22 External links

Mesopotamian system

Mesopotamia includes a number of cultures. The Sumerian number system uses a base 60 positional notation, and is the origin for the division of 60 for hours and angles.

Length

Area

Volume

Weight and monetary

Time

Vedic system

Vedic measures were first used by the Indian Vedic civilization, and are still in use today?primarily for religious purposes in Hinduism and Jainism.

See also: Vedic units of time

Persian system

The
Persian system had influence on the Greek system, at least. The ghalva (stadion) and parasang were much used as a land measure. There are significant uncertainty, though.

Length

Volume

Arabic system

The
Arabic system is based on the Persian system.

Length

Egyptian system

Much of the
Egyptian system of measurement is based on the Persian. The Egyptian system in its turn formed the basis of the later Greek system. The Egyptians based their measurements on the Royal cubit, for which the pharaoh devised a standard (master) cut in granite. From these standards, it is clear that accuracies in measurements of at least 1/16 yeba (1 mm) were possible. Note also the cubit and remen which has a ratio that constitutes an irrational number. The Egyptian system was also noteworthy in having units for volume derived from the standard for length. While the Royal cubit is a very well defined unit, uncertainty is connected to the units for land measurement, especially when the Greek stadion and schoinos units came in use.

Length

Area

Volume

Weight

Time

Miscellaneous

Greek system

The
Greek system was built mainly upon the Egyptian, and formed the basis of the later Roman system.

Length

Volume

Weight and monetary

Miscellaneous

Roman system

The
Roman system of measurement was built on the Greek system, and lives on to this day in the form of the Imperial system. The Roman units were accurate and well documented. Distances may have been measured by odometers connected to carriage axles, for instance. The definition of some units changed over time, however. For the libra, quite significantly so.

Length

Area

Volume

Weight and monetary

Time

English system

Before the Roman based measurement system was introduced from
1066 onwards, there existed a Anglo-Saxon system of measure based on the units of the barleycorn and the gyrd (rod). This presumably had Germanic origins. Later development of the British system continued by defining the units by law in the Magna Carta of 1215, and issuing measurement standards from the then capital Winchester. Standards were renewed in 1496, 1588 and 1758. The last Imperial Standard Yard in bronze was made in 1845. See: Imperial system of units

Length

Area

Weight

Miscellaneous

Scottish system

Length

Spanish system

There were several variants, the Castilian is shown.

Length

French system

In
France, again, there were many local variants. For instance, the lieue could vary from 3.268 km in Beauce to 5.849 km in Provence.

Length

Volume

Weight

German system

Up to the introduction of the metric system, almost every town in Germany had their own definitions. It is said that by 1810, only in Baden there were 112 different Ellen.

Length

Volume

Dutch system

The Dutch system was not standardized until Napolean introduced the metric system so different towns measures with the same names but differing sizes.

Some common measures:

Weight

Length

Volume

Danish system

From
May 1 1683, king Christian V of Denmark introduced an office to oversee weights and measures, a justervesen, to be led by Ole Rømer. The definition of the alen was set to 2 Rhine feet. Rømer later discovered that differeing standards for the Rhine foot existed, and in 1698 an iron Copenhagen standard was made. A pendulum definition for the foot was introduced in 1820, and changed in 1835. The metric system was introduced in 1907.

Length

Volume

Weight

Miscellaneous

Norwegian system

Before
1541, there were no common definition for length measures in Norway, and local variants flourished. In 1541, an alen in Denmark and Norway was defined by law to be the Sjælland alen. Subsequently, the alen was defined by law as 2 Rhine feet from 1683. From 1824, the basic unit was defined as a fot being derived from astronomy as the length of a one second pendulum times 12/38 at a latitude of 45°. The metric system was introduced in 1887.

Length

Area

Volume

Weight

Nautical

Monetary

Miscellaneous

Swedish system

In
Sweden, a common system for weights and measures was introduced by law in 1665. Before that, there were a number of local variants. The system was slightly revised in 1735. In 1855, a decimal reform was instuted that defined a new Swedish inch as 1/10 foot. It did not last long, because the metric system was subsequently introduced in 1889. Up to the middle of the 19th century there was a death penalty for falsifying weights or measures.

Length

Area

Volume

Weight

Nautical

Monetary

Finnish system

In
Finland, approximate measures derived from body parts and were used for a long time, some being later standardised for the purpose of commerce. Some Swedish, and later some Russian units have also been used.

Hebrew

See
Hebrew weights

US system

The US systen is based on the English system from the 1700s. See U.S. customary units.

See also

References

External links