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Old April 22nd, 2012, 04:38 AM   #1

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Medieval weights and measures


Can anyone enlighten me on, or point me to a good source on the weights and measures used in medieval Europe, and what they originally derived from?
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 05:14 AM   #2

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In The Middle Ages, a Concise Ecyclopedia, it says:

Until the creation and general adoption of the metric system, these varied enormously in detail, since they were standardized differently in every country or region, and some almost in every village. They have nonetheless a strong family resemblance, since they were for the most part based on either natural (inch, foot) or Roman and Germanic units (ounce, pound, grain, mark); these were not mutually exclusive, since 'natural' units often lay behind the Roman and Germanic units. There were even a few pre-Roman survivals, such as the French league and arpent.

Units from these varied sources had initially no natural relation with each other, and modifications came about when some public authority adopted one of them as a standard and defined others as exact multiplee or fractions, making for instance the foot exactlh 12 inches, although the average human foot falls short of this. Even what at first sight appear to be eccentric and quite arbitrary units, like the 16 1/2 perch and the 7 lb stone, usually have some rational explanation. Much confusion was caused by the application of Latin terms to measures which might be of the same nature and order of magnitude as their Roman counterparts, but which were neither derived from these nor in fact identical with them.

Standards were initially arrived at either by averaging - this was the principle behind the various kinds of 'grain' and was often used for establishing a local 'foot' - or through the arbitrary preference of some public authority. The standards themselves, of stone or metal, were usually kept under lock and key in some government office, while certified copies were made available to the public in marketplaced or affixed to the walls of churches or guildhalls. Measures of land in 9th century Salernitan charters are sometimes expressed in terms of a metal standard fixed in the 'St Paul's Foot' widely used in England in the later Middle Ages, was incised on a pillar in St Paul's Cathedral.

The first documented distribution of metal standards in England dates from 1196-97, but the earliest surviving ones (at Winchester) date from a distribution carried out in 1357; only from the 16th century are complete sets of the units of length, volume, and weight available. The same is generally true elsewhere. Even when a standard existed, there was a constant tendency for it to be disregarded in favour of some traditional local measure, or to be modified in its use through the operation of what may be termed the 'baker's dozen' principle. Cloth would be sold cum pollicibus, a thumb being placed at the end of the metal yard, and measuring started again on its other side: the pan of the balance containing goods that were sold by weight would by custom be allowed to sink downwards instead of the two pans being maintained exactly even. Such intrusive discounts might eventually be incorporated in the standards themselves, resulting in the 37-inch Scottish yard and the 112-lb cwt.

Last edited by Louise C; April 22nd, 2012 at 05:32 AM.
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 06:26 AM   #3

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Rather hard to do so, given the variance of measurements from region to region. But a good ideas is the visualisation of a measurable unit, something that people can understand. One might speak of horse loads, how many pack animals required or barrels etc. While their is no consistent uniformity, rough estimates may be given. And as show above, things have rationalisations because they are represented by something.

Biblical units of measurements also.
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 06:43 AM   #4

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The Middle Ages, a Concise Encyclopedia, gives the following explanations for medieval measurements:
Inch - unica, from unguis, the breadth of the thumb-nail, hence its name of thumb, tomme etc in Scotland, Holland and Scandinavia.
Foot (12 inches, 30.48 cm): Roman pes (29.45 cm) French pied (32.48 cm).
Ell: French aune, both from ulna, a measure of quite unpredictable dimensions much larger, with the cloth ell in 15th century England measuring 45 inches (114 cm).
Yard (3ft, 91.44 cm); from Old English gerd, cognate with verga 'rod', introduced as a cloth measure by Henry I, according to William of Malmesbury it was the distance from his nose to the end of his outstretched arm - the traditional way of measuring cloth.
Fathom (6ft, q.82 m) the length of the outstretched arms, as French toise from tensa, 'stretched'.
Perch; from pertica, also 'rod' or 'pole', the actual measure used; standardized for arable at 16 1/2 ft, probably 20 'natural' ft of 10 ins, but about 25 ft for woodland and with many local variants.
Furlong (40 perches or 220 yds, 201.6 m), 'furrow length'.
Mile (standardized as 1760 yards or 8 furlongs, 1.61 km), originally imprecise and up to 2000 yds in the Middle Ages; the term is from mille passum, though the Roman mile of 1000 paces or 5000 ft was only 1.47 km.
League: from Gallic leuga, like the German rasta, basically imprecise, being the distance one could walk before needing to stop and 'rest'; standardized by the Romans as 1 1/2 miles, but much longer (2 or 3 English miles) in the Middle Ages.

Volume:
The basic unit in England was the pint (0.57 litres) having as its multiples the quart (2 pints), gallon (8 pints) peck (2 gallons) and bushel (8 gallons, 36.35 litres; larger than the old Winchester bushel of 35.24 litres). The smaller units were mainly liquid measures, though above the bushel there were still larger ones for liquids again (e.g. for wine, the tun=2 pipes=4 hogsheads=252 gallons). The Anglo-Saxon pund was both a pound and a pint of water, as it shown by the medical handbook known as the Leeechdoms. The later and much smaller 'pint' which became the standard, was apparently dervied from the weight of a pound of grain (wheat or peas).

Weights:
Most medieval terminology is borrowed from that of Rome. The basic 'grains' used originally for weighing gold, are throughout Europe c.o.05g (usually 0.048g but Paris grain 0.052 g) or 0.065 (English Troy grain used for precious metals).i.e. a standardized wheatgrain and barleycorn respectively, which, save in a few places (such as Venice) replaced the classical carat of 0.189 g. These units were conveniently related to each other, for 1 carat=3 barleycorns=4 wheatgrains. The ounce went back to the Roman unica of 27.29g and was everywhere between c.28g and c.32 g, being related in various ways to the grain. The mark, an early Germanic unit, was very early equated with 8 ounces (oz), and the pound was sometimes 12 oz as in the Roman system, which was carried on for the weighing of gold and silver in the Troy(es) pound. The pound of everyday life was 15 or (more usually) 16 oz (avoirdupois lb or double mark), but other figures occur, the multiples varying according to local practice and the merchandise being weighed.
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 09:17 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Louise C View Post
The Middle Ages, a Concise Encyclopedia, gives the following explanations for medieval measurements:
Inch - unica, from unguis, the breadth of the thumb-nail, hence its name of thumb, tomme etc in Scotland, Holland and Scandinavia.
Foot (12 inches, 30.48 cm): Roman pes (29.45 cm) French pied (32.48 cm).
Ell: French aune, both from ulna, a measure of quite unpredictable dimensions much larger, with the cloth ell in 15th century England measuring 45 inches (114 cm).
Yard (3ft, 91.44 cm); from Old English gerd, cognate with verga 'rod', introduced as a cloth measure by Henry I, according to William of Malmesbury it was the distance from his nose to the end of his outstretched arm - the traditional way of measuring cloth.
Fathom (6ft, q.82 m) the length of the outstretched arms, as French toise from tensa, 'stretched'.
Perch; from pertica, also 'rod' or 'pole', the actual measure used; standardized for arable at 16 1/2 ft, probably 20 'natural' ft of 10 ins, but about 25 ft for woodland and with many local variants.
Furlong (40 perches or 220 yds, 201.6 m), 'furrow length'.
Mile (standardized as 1760 yards or 8 furlongs, 1.61 km), originally imprecise and up to 2000 yds in the Middle Ages; the term is from mille passum, though the Roman mile of 1000 paces or 5000 ft was only 1.47 km.
League: from Gallic leuga, like the German rasta, basically imprecise, being the distance one could walk before needing to stop and 'rest'; standardized by the Romans as 1 1/2 miles, but much longer (2 or 3 English miles) in the Middle Ages.
The last time I checked, they are all measures which we still use now.

Quote:
Volume:
The basic unit in England was the pint (0.57 litres)
It still is. How many times do you go into a pub and say: "Can I have half a litre of Foster's, please?"
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 11:04 AM   #6

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Thanks all, especially Louise for taking the time to type that out.

Anyone any idea about drams and gills?

I read about these:
Pound (mass) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Avoirdupois Avoirdupois
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 11:04 AM   #7

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It still is. How many times do you go into a pub and say: "Can I have half a litre of Foster's, please?"
Around here, you'd get some funny looks for drinking Fosters.
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Old May 10th, 2012, 05:07 AM   #8
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Medieaval European and ancient measures


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Originally Posted by Naomasa298 View Post
Can anyone enlighten me on, or point me to a good source on the weights and measures used in medieval Europe, and what they originally derived from?
HI,

There are a number of unit values that were in use in medieval Europe.

Can I suggest you take a look at my book on the subject of measures history titled Measurements of the Gods

This book, with its companion volume Deluge from Genesis to Atlantis and a number of papers the contents of which are derived from the books are available to download free or read on the site at

Harry Sivertsen | Books - Academia.edu

Harry Sivertsen (harry_sivertsen) on Scribd | Scribd

Read on site or buy paperback versions from

Completelynovel.com Harry Sivertsen




John Michel, who sadly passed away last year, was the first to really tie down the units of measure that were developed in the ancient world. His investigations followed those of Stechini, Greaves and others. The uncovered measures were carried forward and were in use until the onset of metrication. However, Michell stopped working on these investigations during the 1980s. His work has since been expanded by John Neal, [All Done with Mirrors] and yours truly with Measurements of the Gods [MOTG].

As some of the basic counts involved were derived from astronomical observations, the title inclusion 'of the Gods where the gods were the lights in the sky, sun, moon etc, becomes an acceptable description.

Measures are a fascinating study that has been ignored by academia and the historians of math are included here.

As my book shows there are variations between units and we even have a Welsh Mile being 3/4 of an English mile while the Scottish and Irish were different again. However, rest assured that one of the basic units was the foot which again varied but with the singular British foot as a base unit.

This is a complex subject and dictionaries will not give the real picture. I suggest use these sources with my book as I don't cover all measures, that would fill a large reference book...if they could be discerned in the first place. However I give the values of a number of units, their connections to others and the history of the developments including weights. The history is a surprising story that dates far into the past and involves some elements that emerge in the book Deluge.

Please help yourself and down load the works, they are large, over 500pp each, as noted above paperback versions are available but they are just over 15 each, I feel worth it but if you are happy reading on a screen then have them free.

Enjoy and learn about two branches of history so long neglected. All is verifiable as will eventually become apparent.

Harry Sivertsen

h.sivertsen@btinternet.com
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Old May 10th, 2012, 04:57 PM   #9
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Medeival weights and measure are known as the English System and are still used in the US.
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Old May 10th, 2012, 05:32 PM   #10
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Most early measures are simply varying interpretations of Human dimensions.

An ounce is about as much liquid as you sip, a cup, about as much as you can hold in a cupped hand, a foot is pretty much a foot ( when the shoe is taken into account ) A yard is a robust walking stride... and a Mile is about a thousand of these strides.
These measure made sense because they were directly related to how human beings engage with the world.

And here's a lesson... the "rule of thumb" is NOT, as is commonly claimed, the thickness of stick you were allowed to beat your wife with...
It refers to the fact that a man's thumb is almost exactly an inch wide... thus you can measure an object by alternately laying each thumb in front of the other... using your thumb as a 'rule'.

Most mediaeval measures are variations on this same theme, of relating the average human experience into the average measure.

Keep in mind that, though it varied a lot from culture to culture... it did not vary any more than human beings, themselves vary.
A bushel basket is the size it is because anything much larger a man can not carry when full of grain.


This influence of Our dimensions on the size of things extends even to such things and the size of the solid rocket boosters used on the space shuttle. Their width and length was determined by the fact that they would be shipped by rail and had to be able to fit on standard rail cars and thru railway tunnels and bridges.
And these dimensions were determined by rail road gauge- the distance between rails... that That was determined because the earliest railways were horse drawn, and the rails had to be wide enough to allow a horse good footing between them, Or three horses good footing with one on either size.

So something as esoteric as the diameter and length of pre-assembled rocket boosters is ultimately determined by how wide a horse's ass generally is.
trace things back far enough, and most things come down to human scale.

Metric might make sense from the perspective of math... but it makes little sense to human beings experientially.
Even measuring temperature in Celsius is ridiculously stupid... anchoring the scale with the phase points of water at an arbitrary sea level pressure... what the hell sense is there in that?

Fahrenheit set his 100 degree range by marking the coldest day in the part of Europe he lived in, and marking the hottest day....
That is a temperature measure that is directly relatable to human experience of heat and cold.

Man is the measure of all things... and measures should keep their relation to our immediate perception of ourselves and our scale in dealing with the world around us.
And THAT is the reason the US still has the good sense to keep to imperial measures.
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