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

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...

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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.


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 Aeginamarker a foot or pous was approximately 13 inches or 333 mm, whereas in Athensmarker (Attica) it was about 11.6 inches or 296 mm). 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 finger breadth
kondylos 2 daktyloi middle joint of finger
palaistē or dōron , 4 daktyloi palm
dichas or hēmipodion , 8 daktyloi half foot
lichas 10 daktyloi span of thumb
orthodōron 11 daktyloi
spithamē 12 daktyloi span of all fingers
pous 16 daktyloi foot; Attic foot ≈ 296 mm; Aeginan foot ≈ 333 mm
pygmē 18 daktyloi elbow to base of fingers
pygōn 20 daktyloi
pēchys 24 daktyloi cubit
pēchys basilēïos 27 daktyloi royal cubit

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

Unit Greek name Equivalent Description
pous 16 daktyloi foot; Attic foot ≈ 296 mm
haploun bēma 2.5 podes single pace
diploun bēma 5 podes double pace
orgyia 6 podes fathom or stretch of both arms
akaina 10 podes
plethron 100 podes breadth of Greek acre
stadion 600 podes Attic stadion ≈ 185 m
diaulos 2 stadia
hippikon 4 stadia
dolichos 12 stadia
parasanga 30 stadia adopted from Persiamarker
schoinos 40 stadia adopted from Egyptmarker


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 .


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.):

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

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


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


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. There were two dominant standards of weight in the eastern Mediterranean - a standard that originated in Euboeamarker and that was subsequently introduced to Atticamarker by Solon, and also a standard that originated in Aeginamarker. 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:
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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 calendarcommences just after midnight, the Greek day began just after sunset. Athenians named each year after the ArchonEponymos 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 intercalarymonth, the Athenian or Attic calendarwas still fairly inaccurate and days had occasionally to be added by the ArchonBasileus. 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:


See also

External links

Greek name
Attic/Euboic Standard
Aeginetic Standard
obol or obolus
6 obols
100 drachmae
60 minae
Greek name
Gregorian equivalent

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