Weight measurement in the Early Middle Ages Britain

I was asked recently about units of weight were used in Anglo Saxon and Danish Britain, and in particular in York, so I thought I’d give it a shot.  I have already done a more general page on weights and measurements in the Middle Ages here.  The following are rough.

The problem is that there are so many different variations of what are considered “correct”, going from source to source, it’s hard to determine what should be the actual weights, trying to work downword.  For example, a Norse “Mark” is given as 203 grams, 226.8 grams

OTOH, I noticed that in general, silver pennies from the period of Pepin the Short, through Offa and Coenwulf and even William of Normandy seem to be about 1.3 grams (although there is some variation with at least one from 1066 weighing in at more than 1.4 grams). This would suggest that:

1 Grain (Barleycorn) = = = = = = 0.054 Grams
24 Grains = 1 Pennyweight = = = = = 1.3 Grams
384 Grains = 16 Pennyweight = 1 Ore = 1 Ounce = = = 20.8 Grams
2304 Grains = 128 Pennyweight 8 Ora 8 Ounces = 1 Mark = = 166.4 Grams
5760 Grains = 240 Pennyweight = 15 Ora = 12 Ounce = 1.5 Marks = 1 Pound = 312 Grams

 

 

Comparing this to measures found at  archaeological sites (which may not be perfectly accurate because of chemical alterations during burial, not to mention coming from unsubstantiated websites)

Birka

  • 284 Grams = 218.46 Pennyweight or 13.6 Ora.

  • 226 Grams = 173.85 Pennyweight, 1 Mark or 10.865 Ora.

  • 70.5 Grams = 54.23 Pennyweight, or  3.39 Ora.

Gokstadt

  • 819 Grams =  630 Pennyweight, or 39.38 Ora.

  • 57.25 Grams =  44.04 Pennyweight, or 2.75  Ora.

  • 32.65 Grams = 25.12 Pennyweight, or  1.57 Ora.

  • 32.4 Grams =  24.92 Pennyweight, or  1.56 Ora.

  • 24.38 Grams = 18.75 Pennyweight, or  1.17 Ora.

Riazan, near Moscow (11th century)

  • 144.3 Grams = 111 Pennyweight, or 6.94  Ora.

  • 56.167 Grams = 43.21 Pennyweight, or  2.7 Ora.

  • 39.808 Grams = 30.62 Pennyweight, or  1.91 Ora.

  • 39.429 Grams = 30.33 Pennyweight, or  1.9 Ora.

  • 31.177 Grams = 23.98 Pennyweight, or  1.5 Ora.

Which looks like the weights were likely in some version of an Ora, say at increments of 1, 1.5, 2, 3, etc.

Is this perfectly right?  I have no idea.

Other things to muddy the issue:

A Danish Pund, established in 1683 and used until 1607 was 499.75 grams

In Norway, before 1683, the Pund was 466.65 grams, the Merke was 218.7 grams, the ort was .9735 grams.

In Sweden there were a variety of local measures before the country standardized things in 1665, which lasted more or less until 1855, and the Metric system being adopted in 1889.  The ort was 4.2508 gram The Mark was 212.5 grams, although in the Viking era it may have been as little as 203 grams.  The Skalpund was 423 grams

Anglo-Saxon measurement (More or less, for comparison)

1 Grain (Barleycorn) = = = = = = .0648 Grams
24 Grains = 1 Pennyweight = = = = = 1.552 Grams
288 = 12 Pennyweight = 1 Shilling = = = = 18.66 Grams
384 = 16 Pennyweight = = 1 Ore = = = 24.88 Grams
480 Grains = 20 Pennyweight = = = 1 Ounce = = 31.104 Grams
5760 Grains = 240 Pennyweight = 20 Shillings = 15 Ora = 12 Ounce = 1 Pound = 373.25 Grams

Sources:

  • Cribb, Joe, Barrie Cook, and Ian Carradice. The Coin Atlas the World of Coinage from Its Origins to the Present Day. New York: Facts on File, 1990.
  • Davies, Glyn, and Bank Julian Hodge. A History of Money: From Ancient Times to the Present Day. 3rd, with revisions. ed. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2002.
  • Hobson, Burton, and Robert Obojski. Illustrated Encyclopedia of World Coins. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970.
  • Jones, Stacy V. Weights and Measures: An Informal Guide. Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1963.
  • Junge, Ewald. World Coin Encyclopedia. 1st U.S. ed. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1984.
  • Oxford University Press. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd / prepared by J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner. ed., ed. J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Woolhouse, Wesley Stoker Barker. Historical, Measures, Weights, Calendars & Moneys of All Nations and an Analysis of the Christian, Hebrew and Muhammadan Calendars (with Tables up to 2000 A.D.). Chicago: Ares Publishers, 1979.
  • Zupko, Ronald Edward. A Dictionary of English Weights and Measures: From Anglo-Saxon Times to the Nineteenth Century. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968.
  • Zupko, Ronald Edward. French Weights and Measures before the Revolution a Dictionary of Provincial and Local Units. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.
  • Zupko, Ronald Edward. Italian Weights and Measures from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, 145. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1981.
  • Zupko, Ronald Edward. A Dictionary of Weights and Measures for the British Isles the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, 168. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1985.
  • Zupko, Ronald Edward. Revolution in Measurement Western European Weights and Measures since the Age of Science Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, 186. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1990.

About marccarlson20

Historical Researcher, Librarian
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