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measures-art - 1/5/98


A listing and definition of many medieval measurements by Marc Carlson (Diarmaid).


NOTE: See also the files: measures-msg, Eng-Wts-Meas-art, guilds-msg, commerce-msg, coins-msg, p-prices-msg, p-prices-srcs-art, p-Engsh-coins-lst, scales-msg.





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).


Thank you,

    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

               different countries.

               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



Pound, Merchantile

               (16 "Tower" oz.) is *different* from the

               Avoirdepois Pound (of 16 A. oz), being a ratio of

               36/35 MP/AP.


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

               in blood-letting.


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.




<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org