Monday, July 24, 2017


Tepebaşı, Beyoğlu - Istanbul - Turkey

GPS : 41°01'54.4"N 28°58'30.1"E / 41.031788, 28.975019

Pera Museum / Anatolian Weights And Measures photo peramuseum_weights122.jpg



The Anatolian weights and measures collection that Suna and İnan Kıraç began to create in the 1980s has grown rapidly over the years with the purchase of pieces accumulated by some collectors as well as regular purchases from other sources both in Turkey and abroad, and is now one of the most remarkable collections of its type in Turkey.

Today this collection consists of nearly a thousand objects dating from prehistory to the present day used in Anatolia. These comprise the main types of scales and measuring instruments used for measuring weights, length and volume in every field from land measurement to commerce, architecture to jewellery making, and shipping to pharmacy. Illustrating as it does the relations between measuring systems of different periods and regions, enabling us to follow the various changes and continuities, the collection is a very valuable source of historical and scientific knowledge.

A broad selection focusing on the Islamic periods in Anatolia, but also including examples from other periods so as to show the full picture, is displayed in this gallery arranged in chronological order. Endeavour will be made to show pieces that it has not been possible to exhibit on this occasion at future thematic exhibitions from time to time, so throwing light on this exciting aspect of Anatolian cultural history.

Weights And Measures Systems From Egypt And Mesopotamia To Anatolia

Systems of weights and measures first developed in Egypt and Babylonia for the purpose of measuring quantities of agricultural products and land, and standardizing commercial transactions. The Egyptians are known to have first used scales around 3500 BC, and the ancient Greeks and Romans made wide use of instruments such as scales, steel yards, measuring containers and rulers, many examples of which have survived to the present day.

In the prehistoric period weights were often made in the form of animals, particularly sleeping ducks with their heads swivelled along their backs, and detailing worked in relief and engraved. Such weights in various sizes were most often carved from hematite, but also occasionally from white or cream coloured rock crystal. Motifs engraved on the undersides are thought to be marks identifying the owner.

Dating from 2000-1000 BC, such weights have been discovered at the sites of many Anatolian cities, and must have represented multiples of units such as the mana and shekel, used in the countries of the Near East at that period. Bronze balance pans and a cylindrical seal impression dating from 1900 BC demonstrate that scales were used, and that their weights were either of lead or stone. During the Assyrian Trading Colonies period silver ingots or marked rods measured by weight were used as vehicles of exchange.

The use of metal in Anatolia increased significantly towards the end of the Chalcolithic period, reflecting the development of trade relations in the region, and from commercial documents that have been deciphered, we know that units of weight originating in Mesopotamia were used in Anatolia. Although there is no firm evidence about the use of weights and measures in Anatolia prior to the Assyrian Colonies period, finds made of valuable metals with graduated markings are thought to have been used for measuring or for exchange in trade. For example, at Troy small gold bars and in particular graduated rods seem beyond doubt to show the existence of trade based on measurement.

The Hittites, like the other tribes of the Near East, used silver as a medium of exchange, in the form of rings or rods of specific size and weight. As in earlier times, hematite weights continued to be used to measure shekels and manas, units of weight that originated in Babylon.

Anatolian Weights and Measures in the Hellenic Period

The laws of Solon implemented around Athens in the Greek period are also thought to have been used in Anatolia. Solon ruled that the talent of weight (Greek talanton) should be 3 manas heavier than the monetary talent, distributing the difference between the constituent parts of the weight talent. This unit was the stater (873.2 g), equivalent to the old currency unit, the didrachmon. Fractions of this unit were also used.

The main Greek units of weight were the talent and mana, but these were not identical everywhere. For example, in Athens after the introduction of the Solonian standard this was equivalent to 36.39 kg when weighing commodities. As a monetary unit it was equivalent to metal weighing 25.92 kg. One sixtieth of a talent was a mna or mana. The principal liquid measures were the katule (0.27 liters) and the amphora (1.27 liters), while dry measures were the khonix (1.08 liters) and medimnos (51.84 liters).

In the famous History by Herodotus of Halicarnassus we find almost all the measurements of length used in Anatolia during the ancient Greek period:
foot : 0.296 cm (the modern foot is 30.48 cm)
finger : one sixteenth of a foot, 0.0185 meters
cubit : 1.5 feet, 0.444 meters
fathom : 6 feet, 4 cubits, 1.776 meters
plethron : 100 feet
stadium : 600 Greek feet. The Athens stadium was equivalent to 177.6 meters.
palm : one quarter of a foot, 6 palms equalled one cubit
skenes : Egyptian unit equivalent to 60 stadiums, 10.656 km
parasang : Iranian unit equivalent to 30 stadiums, 5.328 km

Roman and Byzantine Steelyards and Scales

In the Roman and Byzantine periods we find the steelyard (statera) being used as well as the scales or balance (libra) that had been the only means of weighing in antiquity. The steelyard consists of a square-section arm fitted with a sliding weight, and a hook for hanging the object to be weighed. Two or three faces of the arm are graduated with notches at equal intervals enabling light, medium and heavy loads to be weighed.

A balance consists of a horizontal beam pivoted onto a vertical support, with pans attached by silk strings of equal length to the two ends of the beam. Scales of this kind were used to measure precious metals, coins, and other light but valuable substances.

Examples in museums and private collections enable us to track the modifications made to steelyards from the Roman and Byzantine periods until modern times (use of the steelyard continuing until about two decades ago). For example while Roman and Byzantine steelyards had three hooks, those used by by the Seljuks and Ottomans had only two. The traditional balance, on the other hand, has not changed at all over the centuries, and remains in use with the same form today.

Seljuk And Beylik Period Weights And Measures

The pre-Ottoman Turkish system of measurement had its origins in Central Asia as a result of trade relations with Iran and China. The 11th century dictionary of Turkish dialects, Divanu Lugati't-Türk, is an important source of information about units of weight and measurement, defining the artık as half a yük (load), the kırklım as a pile, and the sagu as a measure of cereals, for example. Sources dating from the 14th century reveal that the pre-Ottoman Anatolian system of measurements was based on the lodra, an Iranian-Ilkhanid unit of weight, the kantar, okka and batman (menn); and that the main units of grain measurement were the kile and müdd.

The most important source of information about Seljuk period weights and measures are the deeds of pious endowments. From these we learn that the ukiyye, irdeb, müd and batman were the basis of the measuring system of this period that was largely adopted by the Turkish principalities and the Ottoman Empire. The expansion of trade relations between the Menteşe and Aydınoğulları Turkish emirates in western Anatolian and the Byzantines, Venetians and Genoese, led to the introduction of Byzantine and Italian units of measurement, which began to be used in Anatolia in the 14th century. One example was the Italian rotolo, used in western Anatolia

Ottoman Units of Length

The fundamental unit of length in the Ottoman Empire was the arşın. Three types of arşın were used : the mimari arşın (architect's arşın), the çarşı arşın (market arşın) and the endaze. The mimari arşın was 75.8 cm, longer than the other two, and so named because it was used for measuring land and buildings. It was also known as the bina arşını (building arşın). One twenty-fourth of an architect's arşın was called a parmak, one twelfth of a parmak a hat, and one twelfth of a hat a nokta. In other words one architect's arşın equalled 24 parmak, 288 hat and 3456 nokta respectively.

The metric equivalents of these units are as follows :
1 architect's arşın = 75.8 cm
1 parmak = 3.158 cm
1 hat = 0.263 cm
1 nokta = 0.0219 cm

Arşın measuring rods were made of boxwood, ebony, ivory, iron or steel, and graduated in parmak. For excavation purposes, another unit of length called the kadem, half of the architect's arşın and equivalent to 12 parmak, was used. The kulaç (fathom) was used for excavations, boring wells, and measuring water depth. One kulaç was equivalent to 2.5 architect's arşın, and 100 kulaç was equivalent to 2500 architect's arşın, or a mil (mile), while one fersah (league) was equivalent to 3 mil or 7500 architect's arşın. A fersah was approximately the distance covered in an hour by a person walking at ordinary speed. Four fersah was known as a berit or menzil, and two berit as a merhale.

Introduction of the Metric System

The process of introducing the metric system began during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz with an imperial edict and statute dated 20 Cemaziyelahir H 1286 (1869). Under this statute the meter was accepted as the unit of length, and named the zira-ı a'şari (decimal zira) to encourage public acceptance by use of the accustomed term zira (an alternative term for arşın).

At the same time the are (100 square meters) became the unit of land area; the cubic decimeter, named öşr-i zira küp (tenth of a zira cubed) and the liter units of volume; and the dirhem-i a'şari (decimal dirhem) or gram the unit of weight. Under articles 2 and 7 of the new law a standard zira-i a'şari rule and a standard kilogram weight were to be manufactured from platinum and kept in the Imperial Treasury. The new law was to go into effect for official transactions in March H 1287, but the general public could continue to use both old and new measures together until March H 1290, when use of the old measures would be prohibited.

These initiatives during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz failed to bring the new metric system into widespread general use, and another statute was passed by Sultan Abdülhamid II in 1881. From 1883 metric weights began to be stamped. However, in 1895 the country reverted to use of the dirhem, and the metric system was not finally and irrevocably instituted until the Measurements Act was promulgated on 26 March 1931 after the establishment of the Turkish Republic.


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