Kemet Units of Measure

Ancient Kemetic units of measurement

Ancient Kemetic  standards of measure evolved over a period of several thousand years as a combination of two systems. The oldest Kemetic body measures date to the late Pre-Dynastic where the glyph for cubit measure is included in several palettes. The oldest glyphs related to agricultural measure show up on the palette of the Scorpion king which shows the fields being divided up by irrigation ditches.

One system was decimal, written in Horus-Eye binary fractions, and used by surveyors to reestablish the metes and bounds of fields after the innundation or 3ht and to measure long distances such as roads and canals, and the other essentially septenary system was a cannon of proportions developed from body measures used in inscription grids and in the measure of commodities such as rations of grain and beer.

The second system was always exact, partitioning a hekat into Horus-Eye quotients followed by Egyptian fraction quantified remainders, scaled to 1/320th units called ro. Both systems were designed to be accounted for with unit fractions, the decimal one being an infinite series and the exact one being a finite series.

1 ordinary Kemetic cubit = 6 palms = 24 fingers = 450 mm.: 1 royal Egyptian cubit = 7 palms = 28 fingers = 525 mm.

Evidence for Unit Measures


The best and clearest evidence is found on Kemetic ceremonial rulers where it is carved in stone and where even those not fluent in reading hieroglyphic writing can observe the mh or foot cubit glyph spanning 15 fingers (3 hands) and 16 fingers (four palms = 300 mm).

The ceremonial ruler identifies the foot cubit mh placed across 15 and 16 fingers allowing a foot to be measured in palms or hands the remen has the nibw glyph above 20 fingers.

5 palms = 1 remen = 375 mm

The Romans whose uncia became the English oynch made their remen 15" or 381 mm. The Egyptian inch was the basis for the Romans Uncia and English inch.

Unit Measures

Kemetic measures are systematic to this standard but on actual measuring rods and artifacts may vary about one millimetre per cubit.: 1 finger, db = 18¾ mm: 1 palm, šsp = 4 db = 75 mm: 1 hand, drt = 5 db = 93¾ mm: 1 fist, amm = 6 db = 112½ mm: 1 span, spd = 12 db = 225 mm: 1 foot, bw = 16 db = 300 mm: 1 remen, rmn = 20 db = 375 mm: 1 ordinary cubit, mh = 6 šsp = 450 mm: 1 royal cubit, mh = 7 šsp = 525 mm: 1 nibw = 8 šsp = 600 mm: 1 double remen = 2 rmn = 750 mm: 1 rod, h3yt = 10 mh (royal) = 5.25 m: 1 ht, ht n nhw = 10 h3yt = 52.5 m: 1 minute of march = 350 mh (royal) = 183.75 m: 1 hour of march, atur, itrw = 21,000 mh (royal) ≈ 11 km

Kemetic Rulers

Kemetic rulers vary from rough wooden sticks scored in fingers or palms to elaborate stone rulers. On the later rulers the db or finger units of 18.75 mm are individually named and divided into both unit fractions or ro. On the lower register a few special fractions like the rwy or 2/3 and the hmt rw or ¾, which are the only two non unit Kemetic fractions, are also shown. Other divisions are named as well.

The Kemu used rulers to solve seked problems using rise and run to define the angle of a slope and in at least one case at Saqqara to define the arc of a circle.

The cubit of the inscription grids foot holds a stylus and that of the nibw is shown spanning 18 fingers (three fists) and 19 fingers on this ruler.

the ro or portion

: 1 ro := ½ db

The word ro is found in the Akhmim Wooden Tablet and RMP as a common divisor, and in other texts with values other than 1/320. Therefore the use of ro as a simple volume unit is misleading. For example, to divide 1/3rd of a hekat scribes like Ahmes used the expression:

(64/64)/3 = 21/64 + 1/(3*64) such that ro was later introduced

= (16 + 4 + 1)/64 + (5/3)* ro, since 1/64 = 5/320

= (1/4 + 1/16 + 1/64) + (1 + 2/3)* ro

Note the binary (Horus-Eye) fractions in the first half of the statementand Egyptian fracions in the second half, with ro = 1/320 as a scaling factor in this case, and other cases for divisors n being less than 64.

The Akhmim Wooden Tablet lists 1/3, 1/7, 1/10, 1/11 and 1/13problems in this manner, as do over 30 cases in the RMP itself,as Gillings sites with respect to hinu- data and several problems,one being #81. The AWT proves its answers by computing 3/3, 7/7, 10/10, 11/11 and 13/13 as G. Daressy first documented in 1906. The RMP does not prove its answers in the manner shown in the AWT.

The systematic standard or standards of length based on body measure and the systematic standard or standards based on distance derived from agricultural measures such as the irrigation ditch or plowed furrowdiffer in that agricultural units have an associated width.

Ro or parts of areas are found as strips such as the khet which is 100 cubits long by 1 cubit wide and the aroura which is 1000 orquia long by 1 orquia wide and laid out as a boustrehedron so that it contains 10 parallel strips of 1000 feet x 1 orguia wide

Ro of cubits can be palms or hands. The difference between palm based cubits before Egypt becomes a part of Persia, and hand based cubits which have slightly differentlengths and result in the different varieties of Greek pous or feet and Roman pes and consequently the different stadia of 500 remen = 222 m, 600 pous = 185 m, 625 pes = 185 m and 300 cubits = 157.5 m.

Agricultural measures are multiples of the foot, yard, nibw, (elle or double foot), pace, fathom, rod, and cord. Agricultural or areas measures thought of as lengths with a width based on the dimensions of plowed fields and result in stadia and chains.

Gardiner § 266 says the st3t is divided into rmn = 1/2 st3t: hsb = 1/4 st3t and s3 = 1/4 st3t

A thousand of land is equal to a sTAT because its a strip, the Greeks plowed boustrahedron.

The aroura (sTAt) is a mia chilioi or thousand (orquia or fathoms) of land plowed (as the ox plows). A distance of 6000 feet and a width of 6 feet, or 36,000 SF (Greek feet or pous of 308.4 mm) ;laid out back and forth in (10) 600 foot stadia strips. The sTAt would have the same area as the Aroura but a different arrangement being square rather than rectangular.

Gardiner says "A measure of ten arouras is written h3 literally thousand more fully h3 t3" thousand of land. That is not 10 arouras but one aroura divided into 10 parts.

"3ht n ht 10 r ht 2, a field of 10 rods by 2 rods"

Gardiner says there are both large and small itrw "irw n itrw 6 ht rmn hsb mh 4" ( makes an itrw [river measure] 6 rods of rmn hsb mh 4) or read as in the above example [1 itrw = 6 rods of rmn hsb by 4 mh]

A rod of cord of rmn hsb by 4 cubits is the side of 1/4 of 100 rmn or 37m, instead of 1/4 of 100 royal cubits. 6 rods is 222 m Thats the stadion of Marinus and Ptolemy and 1/50 of the larger itrw of 21,000 royal cubits implying a royal cubit used to measure distance thats in the range of 528.6 mm.

"3ht h3 2 st3t 2 literally 22 arouras of field" (a field of 2 thousands by 2 st3t = 4 st3t ?)"h3 4 st3t 2 rmn 42 1/2 arouras"" st3t 8 1/2 1/4 1/8 mh ro 1/2 1/4, 8 7/8 aroura 10 3/4 cubits or 89,825 square cubits.

Examining the accounts of land in the Wilbur papyrus, Khatary, "Land Tenure in the Rameside Period" speaks of fields measured in mh t3 or land cubits as well as aroura. The word Aroura isGreek for measuring reed (orquia)

The ro of both sets of standards are joined together before the 18tyh dynasty. From time to time and place to place there is substantive variation in things actually measured but the conceptualstandards of measure remain the same. When Herodotus speaks of the Egyptian itrw as equivalent to 60 stadions he means its 210 sTAt.

Gardiner, Faulkner, Gilings, Wilkenson and Khatary discuss royal cubits being used to mark out sTAt with sides of 1 khet, but according to Gardiner, ht or rods of cord based on feet, ordinary cubits, remen, and nibw (elles or double feet)were all used as ro of the khet

1 rwy := 2/3 db: 1 hmt rw := 3/4 db

The lengths are from measures of surviving rulers with the caveat that the Kemu of the 3rd millennium were not working to an accuracy of 2 decimal places.
Kemu worked to 100% accurate standards when possible, which was 100% of the time in the case of hekat and cubit divisions. That is, there was no round off to 2 decimal places except for extreme situations, one being the use of the ratio pi.

Special Unit Measures

The bw or foot is marked with the glyph mh for forearm or cubit spaced across the division between 15 and 16 fingers with 15 fingers being 3 hands and 16 fingers 4 palms.

The Remen

The remen (5 palms) is interesting in that if it is the hypotenuse of a triangle (3:4:5) and one of the sides is a foot (4 palms or 3 hands), then the other side is a span (3 palms) similarly if the ordinary cubit is used as the short side (3) then the double remen (10 palms) can be the long side (5) and the nibw (8 palms) becomes the middle side (4).

The h3yt or rod

The next multiple used by the Egyptians was the h3yt or rod of 10 royal cubits as in the Mesopotamian system. 10 h3yt were used as a ht of 100 cubits or ht n nhw a rod of cord to mark the side of an 3ht or field the Greek aroura or area is literally h3 t3 or a thousand of land.

The Itrw and Atur

For longer distances the Kemu used a minute of march of 350 royal cubits and an atur (hour of march) or itrw (river journey) of 21,000 royal cubits.


*1 st3t spd := 1/5 st3t, a field of sides 100 spd ≈ 550 m², 5625 ft²
*1 st3t mh bw := 1/3 st3t, a field of sides 100 mh bw ≈ 916 2/3 m², 10,000 ft²
*1 st3t remen := 1/2 st3t, a field of sides 100 remen ≈ 1375 m², 15,000 ft²
*1 st3t khet, a field of sides 100 ordinary cubits ≈ 2000 m², 21,000 ft²
*1 st3t, a field (3ht) of sides 100 royal cubits or 1 ht n nhw ≈ 2750 m², 30000 ft²


*1 hekat, hk3t := 1/30 royal cubit³ ≈ 4.8 l, used for grain
*1 oipe, ipet := 4 hekat ≈ 19 l
*1 jar := 5 oipe ≈ 96 l
*1 hinu := 1/10 hekat ≈ 0.48 l, used for perfume as well as grain
*1 ro := 1/32 hinu ≈ 0.015 l
*1 des :≈ 0.5 l, for liquids
secha: for beer
hebenet: for wine
*Fractions of 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32 and 1/64 hekat, by an "Eye of Horus" rule, were also in use for bread and beer.


*1 deben :≈ 91 g, normally of copper, but also silver, gold and probably lead. Also used as money.
*1 qedety := 1/10 deben
shaty := 1/6 silver deben or 1/3 lead deben


The 365 day year was introduced by 2773 BC.

Calculation of slope by unit rise and run

seked, seqt: Unit of inclination. Indicates horizontal dimension measured in palms (and digits fractions as necessary) per vertical Royal cubit rise, e.g. 5 seked is 54.46°, 5¼ seked is 53.13°, 5½ seked is 51.84°.

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article Kemet Units of Measure is published by asar tehuti on day Sunday, December 26, 2010.Hopefully this article can be useful.Thank you for your visit please leave a comment.already there 0 comment: about the post Kemet Units of Measure


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