measures-art - 1/5/98
A listing and definition of many medieval measurements by Marc Carlson (Diarmaid).
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.
This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.
The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.
Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).
Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
NOTE: The latest version of this article can also be found at:
Date: Wed, 25 Nov 1998 8:11:36 -0600
From: "I. Marc Carlson" <LIB_IMC at centum.utulsa.edu>
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: RE: Melanie's measurements
If I may be so gauche as to quote from my website:
Originally, the Imperial system of Measurement was based on that
used in the Roman Empire, and during that time, all were
standardized. After the collapse of the Empire, the definitions
of the measurements began to wander a bit until by the 18th C,
they were completely different in different countries and often
different in separate regions of the same country.
Such was the situation in France at the time of the Revolution,
and it was the need for a new standard that brought about the
introduction of the Metric System. Eventually other countries
adopted this new standard as well. It should be noted that in
the century since its adoption, the length of the meter has been
redefined a number of times until a standard that was based on a
real figure could be rationalized (I believe it's currently
something like "the distance that light travels in 1.2 x 10^-9
I'll define the major units first:
Pound A measure of weight and mass derived from the
ancient Roman libra (which is equal to 327.25
grams), but this ancient standard has been
modified variously over the course of time, and in
The pound consisted originally of 12 ounces,
corresponding more or less to that of troy weight.
This is still used by goldsmiths and jewellers in
stating the weight of gold, silver, and precious
stones; but as early as the thirteenth or
fourteenth century a pound of sixteen ounces was
used for more bulky commodities. This was made a
standard for general purposes of trade by Edward
III, and known as the pound aveir de peis, i.e. of
merchandise of weight, now called avoirdupois,
At other times the pound has varied locally from
12 to 27 ounces, according to the commodity,
pounds of different weight being often used in the
same place for different articles, as bread,
butter, cheese, meat, malt, hay, wool, etc.
Foot The length of a Man's Foot. A measure of length.
From town to town, country to country, this
measurement could differ, but as a rule a French
Pied was equal to 12.8 English inches, while a
Spanish Pie was 10.96 English inches
Gallon An English measure of capacity. The imperial
gallon contains 27714 cubic inches: the winegallon
of 231 cubic inches is the standard in the United
Grain The Weight of 1 Barleycorn.
Inch English. From the Latin "Uncia" (or a twelfth
part), an inch is 1/12 Foot. A measure of length.
In French, the unit of 1/12 a "foot" is the
Pounce. In Spanish, Pulgadas. nb. A 12th of a
Pounce is a Ligne, and a 12th of a Pulgadas is a
Lignas. English inches are traditionally divided
into 12 Lines. English inches are also defined as
being the length of "Three good sized barleycorns
placed end to end".
Mile Originally, the Roman lineal measure of 1,000
paces (mille passus or passuum), computed to have
been about 1,618 yards. Hence, the unit of measure
derived from this, used in the British Isles and
in other English-speaking countries. Its length
has varied considerably at different periods and
in different localities, chiefly owing to the
influence of the agricultural system of measures
with which the mile has been brought into relation
(see furlong). The legal mile in Britain and the
U.S. is now 1,760 yards (5280 feet). The Irish
mile of 2,240 yards is still in rustic use. The
obsolete Scottish mile was longer than the
English, and probably varied according to time and
place; one of the values given for it is 1,976
Ounce English. From the Latin "Uncia" (or a twelfth
part), an ounce is 1/12 Pound (or was originally,
and is still in "troy" weight). A measurement of
Ell English. From the Latin "Ulna". A unit of linear
measure equal to 45 inches. The word ell seems to
have been variously taken to represent the
distance from the elbow or from the shoulder to
the wrist or to the finger-tips, while in some
cases a "double ell" has superseded the original
measure, and has taken its name.
English ell = 45 in.
Scots = 37.2 in.
Flemish = 27 in.
Furlong Originally the distance an Ox could pull a plow
before needing to rest, ie., "a furrow long". As
early as the 9th c. it was regarded as the
equivalent of the Roman stadium, which was 18 of a
Roman mile; and hence furlong has always been used
as a name for the eighth part of an English mile,
whether this coincided with the agricultural
measure so called or not. The present statute
furlong is 220 yards, and is equal both to the
eighth part of a statute mile, and to the side of
a square of 10 statute acres.
League An itinerary measure of distance, varying in
different countries, but usually estimated roughly
at about 3 miles; app. never in regular use in
England, but often occurring in poetical or
rhetorical statements of distance.
Although the league appears never to have been an
English measure, leuca occurs somewhat frequently
in Anglo-Latin law-books (Bracton, Fleta, etc.);
it is disputed whether in these works it means one
mile or two.
Mark A denomination of weight formerly employed
(chiefly for gold and silver) throughout western
Europe; its actual weight varied considerably, but
it was usually regarded as equivalent to 8 ounces
(= either 23 or 12 of a pound, according to the
meaning given to the latter term).
Nail A measure of weight for wool, beef, etc., usually
equal to eight pounds = clove
A measure of land.
A measure of length for cloth; 2.14 inches, or the
1/16th part of a yard. "The precise origin of
this sense is not clear. The use of the nail in
early examples suggests that one sixteenth from
the end of the yard-stick may have been marked by
a nail." (OED)
Pint A measure of capacity for liquids (also for corn
and other dry substances of powdery or granular
nature), equal to 1/2 a quart or 1/8 of a gallon;
of varying content at different times and places.
Pound, Tower (12 "tower" oz.) used as a standard from Ethelred
until Henry VIII abolished it in favor of the Troy
(16 "Tower" oz.) is *different* from the
Avoirdepois Pound (of 16 A. oz), being a ratio of
Quart An English measure of capacity, one-fourth of a
gallon, or two pints.
Sack of Wool Defined by Edward III to be equal to the weight of
26 times the Big Rock used to measure the "Aveir
de peis" weight. That specific rock, or "Stone"
weighed (at that time 14 pounds) (n.b., a sack of
wool was equal in weight to 1/6th a cartload of
lead) or 364 pounds aveir de peis.
Ton Tun. A unit used in measuring the carrying
capacity or burden of a ship, the amount of cargo,
freight, etc. Originally, the space occupied by a
tun cask of wine. Now, for the purposes of
registered tonnage, the space of 100 cubic feet.
For purposes of freight, usually the space of 40
cubic feet, unless that bulk would weigh more than
20 cwt., in which case freight is charged by
weight. But the expression "ton of cargo" is also
used with regard to special packages which are
conventionally assumed as going so many packages
to the ton.
Yard 1. A unit of linear measure equal to equal to 3
feet or 36 inches. Also the corresponding measure
of area (square yard = 9 square feet) or of
solidity (cubic yard = 27 cubic feet). Aka Verge.
NOT to be confused with: 2. A unit of linear
measure equal to 16 1/2 feet or 5 1/2 yards (but
varying locally); AKA rod, pole, or perch.
Sometimes distinguished as land-yard.
Hand English 1. A unit of linear measure, formerly
taken as equal to three inches, but now to four; a
palm, a hand-breadth. Now used only in giving the
height of horses and the like.
Finger English 1. A unit of linear measure equal to the
breadth of a finger, or 3/4 inch. 2. (US) A unit
of linear measure equal to the length of a finger,
or about 4 1/2 inches.
Span English. Generally the distance from the tip of
the thumb to the tip of the little finger, or
sometimes to the tip of the forefinger, when the
hand is fully extended; the space equivalent to
this taken as a measure of length, averaging nine
Pace A vague measure of distance with two widely
differing definitions: 1. Historically, the
distance between successive stationary positions
of the same foot or two "Steps", or about 5 feet
(60 inches). 2. The distance from where one foot
is set down to where the other is set down, or
about 2 1/2 feet (30 inches).
Cup 1. A measure of capacity for liquids (also for
corn and other dry substances of powdery or
granular nature), equal to half a quart or 18 of a
gallon; of varying content at different times and
places. 2. A vessel holding a definite quantity
(usually four ounces), used to receive the blood
Pint 1. English. The pint is equal to 34.66 cubic
inches. 2.(US) The standard pint is that of the
old wine measure, equal to 28.78 cubic inches. 3.
The old Scotch pint was equal to about 3 imperial
pints (104.2 cubic inches). In local use also a
weight, e.g. of butter in East Anglia = 1 1/4lb.
Dram A weight, orig. the ancient Greek drachma; hence,
in Apothecaries' weight, a weight of 60 grains =
1/8 of an ounce; in Avoirdupois weight, of 27.13
grains = 1/16 of an ounce; = drachm
Gill 1. A measure for liquids, containing one fourth of
a standard pint. 2. In many districts the gill is
equivalent to a half-pint, the quarter-pint being
called a jack.
1 Grain (1/7000th of a pound Avoirdupois) = .0648 grams
1 Penny Weight = 1.55 grams
1 Dram (1/16 of an ounce Avoirdupois) = 1.77 grams
1 Dram (1/8 of an ounce Troy) = 3.89 grams
1 Shilling = 18.67 grams
1 Ore (an old Anglo-Saxon unit of Measure) = 23.3 grams
1 "Uncia" = 27.2 grams
1 Ounce (Avoirdupois) = 28.4 grams
1 Ounce (Tower) = 29.2 grams
1 Once (French) = 30.6 grams
1 Ounce ("Scotch Troy") = 30.8 grams
1 Ounce (Troy) = 31.1 grams
1 "Tron" Ounce (Edinburgh/Scots) = 38.97 grams
1 Mark (French) = 245 grams
1 Pound (Italian - low end) = 300 grams
1 Roman Libre (12 Unciae) = 326 grams
1 Pound (12 Tower Ounces) = 349.9 grams
1 Pound (Italian - high end) = 350 grams
1 "Livre de Charlemagne" (12 Onces) = 367.5 grams
1 Pound (12 Troy Ounces) = 373.25 grams
1 Pound (16 Avoirdupois Ounces) = 453.6 grams
1 Pound (Hapsburg? low end) = 459 grams
1 Pound (Mercantile; 16 Tower Oz.) = 466.6 grams
1 Pound (Hapsburg? high end) = 469 grams
1 Livre (French; 16 Onces) = 490 grams
1 Pound ("Scotch"; 16 "Troy Ounces") = 493.1 grams
1 Pound ("Dutch"; 16 Troy Ounces) = 497.6 grams
1 Pfund (Modern) = 500 grams
1 ? Pound (1/100 of a Hundredweight) = 508 grams
1 "Tron" Pound (Edinburgh/Scots) = 623.5 grams
1 Mark (English) = 746.6 grams
1 Clove (7 pounds Avoirdupois) = 3175.2 grams (3.2 kg)
1 Stone (12 Mercantile (listed in 1303)) = 5599.2 grams (5.6 kg)
1 Stone (14 pounds Avoirdupois) = 6350.4 grams (6.4 kg)
1 "Quarter" weight = 12700.4 grams (12.7 kg)
1 Fotmal (72 lbs Avoirdupois) = 32659.2 grams (32.7 kg)
1 ("Quarter Sack") = 41277.6 grams (41.3 kg)
1 "Hundredweight" = 50803.2 grams (50.8 kg)
1 Sack (???) = 163296 grams (163 kg)
1 Sack (Wool) = 165110 grams (165 kg)
1 Ton (2000 lbs Avoirdupois) = 907200 grams (907 kg)
1 "Cartload of lead" = 979776 grams (980 kg)
1 "Ton" (2240 lbs Avoirdupois) = 1016064 grams (1016 kg)
I assume that the modern Metric Tonne is based on the old "Long Ton"
A ton is also a measure of 40 cubic feet, either as carrying capacity, or
or 40 cubic feet of solid wood.