Cubit

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For other uses, see Cubit (disambiguation).
Egyptian cubit rod in the Liverpool World Museum
Cubit rod of Maya, 1336-1327 BC (Eighteenth Dynasty)

The cubit is an ancient unit of length based on the length of the forearm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. Cubits of various lengths were employed in many parts of the world in antiquity, during the Middle Ages and as recently as Early Modern Times. The term is still used in hedge laying, the length of the forearm being frequently used to determine the interval between stakes placed within the hedge.[1]

Other units of measure based on the length of the forearm include some kinds of ell, the Indian Hasta, Khmer hat and Thai sok.

Etymology[edit]

The English word "cubit" comes from the Latin noun cubitum "elbow", from the verb cubo, cubare, cubui, cubitum "to lie down",[1] from which also comes the adjective "recumbent".[2]

The Egyptian royal cubit[edit]

Cubit rod from the Turin Museum.

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Hieroglyph of the royal cubit, meh niswt

The earliest attested standard measure is from the Ancient Egypt and was called the royal cubit (meh niswt). Early evidence for the use of the royal cubit comes from the early dynastic period: on the Palermo stone, the flood level of the Nile river during the reign of the Pharaoh Djer is given as measuring 6 cubits and 1 palm.[3] Use of the royal cubit is also known from Old Kingdom architecture, from at least as early as the construction of the Step Pyramid of Djoser in around 2,700 B.C.[4]

In Ancient Egypt, cubit rods were used for the measurement of length. A number of these have survived: two are known from the tomb of Maya, the treasurer of Tutankhamun, in Saqqara; another was found in the tomb of Kha (TT8) in Thebes. Fourteen such rods, including one double cubit rod, were described and compared by Lepsius in 1865.[5] These cubits range from 523 to 529 mm (20.6 to 20.8 in) in length, and are divided into seven palms; each palm is divided into four fingers and the fingers are further subdivided.[3][5][6]

The Sumerian or Nippur cubit[edit]

The Nippur cubit-rod in the Archeological Museum of Istanbul, Turkey

In 1916, during the last years of Ottoman Empire and in the middle of WWI, the German assyriologist Eckhard Unger found a copper-alloy bar while excavating at Nippur. The bar dates from c. 2650 BCE and Unger claimed it was used as a measurement standard. This irregularly formed and irregularly marked graduated rule supposedly defined the Sumerian cubit as about 518.6 mm or 20.42 in.[7]

Near Eastern or Biblical cubit[edit]

In biblical exegesis, the Near Eastern or Biblical cubit is usually estimated as approximately 450 mm or 18 in.[8]

Ancient Rome[edit]

In ancient Rome, according to Vitruvius, a cubit was made up of six palms and was thus equal to one and a half Roman feet or pedes.[9]

Other systems[edit]

Other measurements based on the length of the forearm are the Indian hasta and Thai sok.

Cubit arm in heraldry[edit]

A heraldic cubit arm, dexter, vested and erect

A cubit arm in heraldry may be dexter or sinister. It may be vested (with a sleeve) and may be shown in various positions, most commonly erect, but also fesswise (horizontal), bendwise (diagonal) and is often shown grasping objects.[10] It is most often used erect as a crest, for example by the families of Poyntz of Iron Acton, Rolle of Stevenstone and Turton.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cassell's Latin Dictionary
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition, 1989; online version September 2011. s.v. "cubit"
  3. ^ a b Marshall Clagett (1999). Ancient Egyptian science, a Source Book. Volume Three: Ancient Egyptian Mathematics. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. ISBN 978-0-87169-232-0. p.
  4. ^ Jean Philippe Lauer (1931). "Étude sur Quelques Monuments de la IIIe Dynastie (Pyramide à Degrés de Saqqarah)". Annales du Service des Antiquités de L'Egypte IFAO 31:60 p. 59
  5. ^ a b Richard Lepsius (1865). Die altaegyptische Elle und ihre Eintheilung (in German). Berlin: Dümmler. p. 14–18.
  6. ^ Arnold Dieter (1991). Building in Egypt: pharaonic stone masonry. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-506350-9. p.251.
  7. ^ Acta praehistorica et archaeologica Volumes 7–8. Berliner Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte; Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut (Berlin, Germany); Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Berlin: Bruno Hessling Verlag, 1976. p. 49.
  8. ^ W. Gunther Plaut, Bernard J. Bamberger, William W. Hallo (eds.) (1981). The Torah. New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations. ISBN 9780807400555. Footnote to Gen. 6:15: "figuring a cubit to be about 18 inches"
  9. ^ H. Arthur Klein (1974). The Science of Measurement: A Historical Survey. New York: Dover. ISBN 9780486258393. p. 68.
  10. ^ Allcock, Hubert (2003). Heraldic design : its origins, ancient forms, and modern usage, woth over 500 illustrations. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. p. 24. ISBN 048642975X. 

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]