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Measuring length in Ancient Egypt

For larger measures, inscriptions record a ‘river-unit’ (Egyptian itrw): an early source for this unit is the White Chapel of Senusret I at Karnak. It seems to correspond to 20,000 cubits (see below), in modern terms about 10.5 kilometres; the Greek term was skhoinos

New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC) written sources refer to a smaller unit, the ‘cord measure’ (Egyptian xt n nwH), corresponding to 100 cubits; a unit of 1000 cubits is also recorded.

The standard unit of length for smaller measures was the cubit, in Egyptian mH

Surviving cubit rods:

(click on the pictures)

From these examples, it has been calculated that the cubit corresponded to 52 centimetres.

Divisions of the cubit:

One cubit = 7 palms (Egyptian Ssp)

One cubit = 28 fingers (Egyptian Dba)

The formalised rods found in New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC) burials include other divisions:

These special divisions have not been found in accounts, and they may never have been used in practical measuring work.

A rare unit of measurement is the ‘pole’ (Egyptian nbi), apparently used by craftsmen and corresponding to about 65 cm


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