Some bibliography on weights

A long time ago I wrote this in a draft of the book that has now been superseded by a very different version (without any real discussion beyond a footnote about the pound…word limits and all):

“Duncan-Jones uses the figure 322.8g for the Roman pound based solely on weights in the Naples collection.[1]  Other estimates are more wide ranging and often higher.  Crawford surveyed various estimates noting their different source materials – coins, stone weights, balances, metal weights – and in the end used c. 324g, with the caveat that it was not reasonable to assume “that the Romans were able to maintain the weight of their pound absolutely constant, at all times and in all places”.[2]  He conceptualizes the target weight standards for the precious metal coins as fractions of the Roman pound, 6 scruples for the didrachm, 4 scruples for the early denarius, sometimes falling to 3 scruples.[3]  A scruple was a fractional measure, 288 scruples in a pound, 24 in an uncia or ‘ounce’.[4]   One finds other scholars using other figures sometimes with no particular justification; so for instance, Heinrichs uses c. 327g without further comment in his discussion of Gratidianus’ reforms of 85/84 BC, a figure common enough in Late Roman and Byzantine studies.[5]

[1] Duncan-Jones 1994: 214-215; 1995: 110.

[2] Crawford 1974: 591.

[3] Crawford 1974: 3, 7, 11, and 34.

[4] The same vocabulary of was used by Romans to also discuss small divisions of land and time, so a scruple could also be 1/288th of a iugerum or 1/24th of an hour as well.

[5] Heinrichs 2008: 265-6; cf. Entwistle 2008: 39″

This morning I’m worrying again about want we can know or not know about the Roman pound and other weight standards in antiquity.  Riggsby does not concern himself with reconstruction of the weights itself but instead with how Romans thought about weights, which lends itself to very much to an idea about the futility of a search for a universal standard (2018: chapter 3).

I  also have some older posts on weights here on this blog.

All I really want to do in this post is record new stuff that might be relevant to a future write up on the topic.

Stone weights from Jerusalem! Not useful for ‘reconstructing’ the Roman pound, but certainly very useful for thinking about standardization in a community that had a cultural habit of regularly weighing.  Also what is the whole unit?  what are its standard fractions and multiples?  Along with linked article which is newer also:

Reich, Ronny. “The distribution of stone scale weights from the Early Roman Period and its possible meaning.” Israel exploration journal 59, no. 2 (2009): 175-184.

Abstract: In Jerusalem were discovered 525 measuring weights, which date from the 1st century BC and 1st century AD The study of 168 of them, in stone, reveals that Jerusalem is the main city of this region to include so many (elsewhere, they are metal), and they are concentrated in the private houses of the Temple district and in the residential area of the upper town. Although these weights could be used to weigh certain foods (eg meat), their usefulness was not primarily commercial but religious: it was a matter of weighing a tithe of food, offered by each household to the priest’s family.

Gill, David W. J.. “Inscribed silver plate from tomb II at Vergina.” Hesperia 77, no. 2 (2008): 335-358.

Abstract: Five items of silver plate from tomb II at Vergina are inscribed with their ancient weights. The inscriptions, using the acrophonic and alphabetic systems, suggest that the pieces were made to a drachma weight of ca. 4.2 g. This weight of drachma was introduced to Macedonia by Alexander the Great and does not appear to have been used by Philip II. The inscriptions on the silver add to the cumulative evidence provided by the cremated remains, black-gloss saltcellars, and iconography of the lion-hunt frieze, that tomb II was the final resting place not of Philip II, but of Philip III Arrhidaios and Adea Eurydike.

[Riggsby has a good discussion on why donatives/votives might have custom of precise weights recorded on them so that the divine or dead receiver not be ‘cheated’ of any of their fair portion. Good thematic connection with interpretation of Jerusalem weights, re: precision being about religious/pious scruples, pun intended.]

Hadad, Shulamit. “Weights from the Early Roman period at Ramat Hanadiv.” Israel exploration journal 57, no. 2 (2007): 208-210.

Abstract: Publishes seven lead and copper alloy weights from excavations of 2000-2004, of ill defined context but datable of the 1st century. 1st-1st century AD. AD according to the associated ceramic and glass. A weight of 28 g carries the Greek letter H, 8 (drachmas) = 30 g.

[Inscription is interesting, but assumption we know what  8 drachmas were ‘supposed’ to weigh seems ill founded.]

Alberti, Maria Emanuela, ed. Weights in context: Bronze Age weighing systems of Eastern Mediterranean : chronology, typology, material and archaeological contexts : proceedings of the international colloquium : Roma, 22nd-24th November 2004. Studi e Materiali; 13. Roma: Istituto Italiano di Numismatica, 2007.

From Weingarten’s AJAonline review the following jumps out at me:

“In Egypt there are no secure weights before the Fourth Dynasty, and most early weights are squared stones; the Old Kingdom Gold Deben (13.6–13.9 g) fluctuates by as much as ±7%.”

“While the main local unit at Ebla was the 7.8 g shekel at 60 units to the mina, Ascalone and Peyronel (49–70) demonstrate, from in situ weights in Royal Palace G, that units based on 50 and 40 shekels were also found—sometimes all three in the same room (L 3532).”

“Two weights from the cella of Temple N (dedicated to the sun-god Shamash?) suggest that the words “weight of Shamash” symbolically indicate a “correct” standard of measure with concomitant concepts of justice and rectitude.”

Mari during Zimri Lim’s reign: “Although based on the same unit, documents distinguish “weights of the king’s office” from “weights of the market.” The “weight of the city of Karkemish” is also mentioned, as is a set of weights belonging to a man named Burqân, who witnessed loans between merchants.”

Thera: “one large cone marked with a circle—the sign of an Egyptian deben—weighs 91 g, exactly a deben”

“An Old Babylonian copy of a Sumerian law attributed to Ur-Nammu, first king of the Ur III, boasts, “I standardized weight stones from the pure one shekel weight to the one mina weight.” Such standards were probably placed in the temple of Nanna in Ur; a number of inscribed weight stones were dedicated in this and other temples.”

Crete: “More than 100 copper ingot fragments from the artisans’ quarter suggest intentional division into Minoan fractions.”

[Again there is a tension between the seeking of precise standards and the observed variation.  More interesting than the modern interpretations of the variations are the ancient ways of dealing with the samevariation (i.e. identifying weights themselves and location, religious ‘guarantees’, regal posts of standardization… The last quote in bold may be good comparative evidence for aes rude.]

De Zwarte, Ruud. “On the use of the balance as a device for measuring commodities and the accuracy of ancient weighing.” Talanta  26-27 (1995): 89-139.

Abstract: An attempt is made to rectify the wide-spread misunderstanding regarding the adjustment of ancient weights and to demonstrate that a basic principle of mass measuring was already known in various parts of the world millenniums before our era.

This article on early Islamic weights is very certain about c. 324 based on weight of water volume in Byzantine times:



[I will have to chase footnotes to find primary evidence; all the citations are too secondary literature.]

Steelyards are another means for finding local weight standards (link to article)


[Use of Michon as authority on ‘true’ weight of Roman pound is interesting… This number corresponds to Crawford’s highest quoted weight (1974: 591) and derives from the weighing of coins by Boeckh 1838.]


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