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Levantine weights and standard parcels: a contribution to the metrology of the later Middle Ages

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 December 2009


Scholars dealing with sources which cite the names of weights and measures of capcity used in the countries of the Near East in the Middle Ages will have recourse to the classic treatise of H. Sauvaire and the monograph of W. Hinz. Sauvaire collected his materials mainly from Oriental sources, while Hinz also included data from various European sources such as travelogues and a few Merchant Guides. A significant number of these medieval Merchant Guides, often called ‘Pratica della mercatura’ or ‘Tarifa’ by the Italians, has been preserved in European libraries and MSS collections, and others, additional to the few cited by Hinz, have been printed. There is also an abundance of revelant data concerning Levantine weights in the registers of the Venetian and Genoese customs offices of the later Middle Ages and in judicial acts referring to their activities. In theses records both the weights used in Venice and Genoa those of the Levantine emporia are accurately noted and these data are very reliable. Finally, there is much information to be gleaned from the protocols of the pleadings before the Venetian tribunal of the Guidici di petiziòn, a law court dealing with commercial litigations. These acts too contain authentic data, although those comprised in the claims of the litigants should be accepted cumgrano salis. The purpose of this paper is to present materials from these European sources which complement and, it would seem, correct those collected from the theoretical treatises of Oriental authors of the Middle Ages. Although the various Oriental weights are often confused in these souces, they do make it possible to clarify certain questions in teh field of historical metrology.

Copyright © School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 1982

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1 ‘Matériaux pour servir à l'historie de la numismatique et de la métrologie musulmances’, JA, VIIIe Sér., avr.-mai-juin, III, 1884, 368 ff.

2 Islamische Masse und gewichte (Handbuch der Orientalīstik, Ergänzungsbd. I, Ht. I), Leiden, 1955Google Scholar

3 For a full list of the sources most often quoted in this paper, see Appendix, p. 487.

4 See Gir. Priuli, diarii, I, 109, ‘Kargo’ for sporta; Gp. Sent., 75, f. 43a, ‘cargo’ for the Damascene quintār.

5 Hinz, Islamische Masse, 3.

6 SeeCahen, Cl‘Documens et commerce dans les ports méditerranéens de I' Égypte médiévaled'aprés le Minhādj d' al-Makhzūhzūmī’, Jesho, VII, 1964, 276Google Scholar

7 Goitein, S. D., Letters of medieval Jewish traders, Princetion, 1973, 289; itemGoogle Scholar, A Mediterranean society, I (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London,1967),227361.Google Scholar

8 SeeGil, M., ‘Supplies of oil medieval Egypt: a Geniza study, JNES, XXXIV, 1975, 68Google Scholar

9 On the commodities weighed by this ratl, see Ibn, Mammātī, Kitāb Qawānīn al-dawāwīn (Alexandria, 1943), 361Google Scholar

10 See Melis, F., Documenti per la storia economica dei secoli XIII–XVI (Florence, 1972), 320Google Scholar

11 loc. cit.

12 loc. cit.

13 See further on other equivalences of the dirham, my paper ‘Makāyil’ (EI, second ed., forthcoming). The equivalence given by adh-Dhahabī for the Venetian libra sottile, viz. 102 dirhams, (see Sauvaire, JA, VIIIe Sér., août-setp.-oct., Iv, 236, 238) is a strong argument for the conclusion reached above.

14 Ma'ālim al-kurba, ed. Levy, R. (Cambridge, 1938)Google Scholar; cf. Sauvaire, JA, VIIIe Sér., avr.-maj-juin, III, 1884, 385 ff.

15 cf. Sauvaire, JA, VIIIe Sér., avr.-mai-juin, III, 1884, 387; idem, août-sept.-oct., IV, 236, 238.

16 On the commodities weighed by the mann, see Ibn Mammātī, op. cit., 362.

17 In the latter document, Melis's text needs correction; it should give a centinaio di mann as lib. 250 as, i.e. sottile).

18 Hinz, 13. See further al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk IV, 791, 824, 869, 972, 1004; Ibn Hadjar, Inbā III, 473.

19 See a document of the year 1057, S. D. Goitein, letters of medieval Jewish traders, 289.

20 See Cessi-Samibin, . Le deliberazioni del consiglio deri Rogati, I (Venice, 1960), 131Google Scholar

21 See, However, ibid. f. 35a, that this includes a tare of 23 ratls.

22 According to Pegolotti (p.71)the sports was also a weight used for Brazil-would and indigo. It was used too to weigh frankincense; see Desimoni, Actes Passé à Famagouste de 1299 à 1301 par devant le notaire gànois Lamberto di Sambuceto, ROLI (1893), pp. 64, 67 (a. 1300); idem, AOL II, documents, p. 119 (no. 219). On the basis of these latter documents one can conclude that such a sporta was equal to 3 cantars of Famagusta, i.e. 675 kg. Further, the sporta was sometimes used for weighing cinnamon; see a Sicilian document published in Zeno, R., Documenti per la storia del diritto marittimo dei secoli XIII–XIV (Turin, 1936), 133Google Scholar, no. CLII.

23 See also p. 69 where the text quoted is corrected in note I.

24 According to the Pseudo-Chīarini it was also in Sarmīn (called Siamo by the Italian traders).

25 Sauvaire, JA, VIIIe Sér., août-sept.-oct., 1884, 238, 239.

26 See a notarial act of 1606 quoted by Tucci, U in Studi Veneziani, X, 1968, 88Google Scholar

27 According to a document in the archives of the Venetian merchant Lorenzo Dolfin in the first half of the fifteenth century in Lattakia two ratls were used, 100 of the light one being equal to 80 heavy ones (ASV, proc. di San Marco, Commissarie di citra, Ba 182, fasc. Ii, tomo III; (this is an account of a purchase of spun cotton made in the year 1423 by an agent).

28 A similar weight, namely (according to our calculations), 2.85 kg. to the ratl, is indicated by Sauvaire, JA, VIIIe Sér., août-sept.-oct., Iv, 1884, 237.

29 cf. Sauvaīre, JA, VIIIe Sér., fév.-mars-avr., VII, 1886, 137, quoting the Guide de Katib.

30 A staīo contained 70.5 kg. wheat. See Cechetti in Archivio Veneto, XXIX, 254. However, according to Luzzatto, Il costo della vita nel Trecento’, Ateneo Veneto, 125, 1934, 221Google Scholar, it contaīned only 64.15kg. (83.82 1).

31 On the bigger irdabbs of the later periods see Sauvaire, JA, VIIIe Sér., sept.,-oct., VIII, 1886, 284 ff.

32 See Sauvaire, JA VIIIe Sér., mai-juin, VII, 1886, 424 f., Hinz, islamische Masse, l.c., and al-'Ainī, quoted in my paper, ‘Prix et salaries à l'époque mamlouke’, REI, 1949, 55.

33 It seems that in later times the ghirāra became much heavīer, see Sauvaire, JA, VIIIe Sér., mai-juin, VII, 1886, 425.

34 This judical act undoubtedly refers to the important of grain into northern Syria in the years 1469–70, when both Egypt and Syria suffered from a dearth.

35 See H. Sauvaire, ‘A treatise on weights and measures, by Eliyà, Archbishop of Nisibis’, JRAS, 1880, 112, and cf.idem, JA, VIIIe Sér., juillet-aoûut, VIIi, 1886, 151.

36 See ibid., 177.

37 This text has been published by Heers, J., Il commercio nel Mediterraneo alla fine del sec-XIV e neī neī primī annī del XV, Archivīo Storico Italiano, 113, 1955, 174.Google Scholar

38 CI. Cahem, ‘Douanes et commerce dans ies ports méditerranéens de I' Égypte médiévale’ 177.

39 Goitein, Letters of medical Jewish traders, 90, believes that it was goat's skin.

40 See op. cit., p. 274.

41 Heers. Il commercio mediterraneo, 181 ff., has assumed that they were the same.

42 See Thomas-Predelli, , Diplomatarium Vento-Levantinum, I, 335Google Scholar

43 See other date quoted in my paper ‘The volume of Levantine trade in the later Middle ages (1370–1498)’. JEEH, IV, 1975, 577Google Scholar

44 In an act. GP, Sent. 19, f. 88a f., a parcel of 247 kg. is spoken of. But some verdicts of the Giudici di petizion of the 1440s are based on the assumption that an Egyptian pondo is equal to l sporta, that is 337.5 lg. see GP, Sent. 102, f. 79a f. 104, f. 101b f. These verdicts point to the equivalence, l pondo = 360 kg.

45 For early samples of this heavy pondo: Nic. Turiano, fasc. V, f. 56b.

46 Sometimes even much heavier pondi are mentioned, see GP, Ter. VII, f. 82a; 13, f. 107a f.; 14, f. 50a.

47 This conclusion has already bee drawn by F. C. Lane, ‘Venetian shipping during the commercial revolution’ AHR, XXXVIII, 1933, 228. Sometimes, however, the Venetian authorities ruled according to other proporions of these standard parcles, see for instance, ASV, Savi alla mercanzia, Ba, 947, f. 61 (a.1499), and impost of 2 ducats for a Syrian collo and 5 ducats for and Egyptian.

48 See Reyssbuch des Heyligen Lands, Francfort, 1609, 692Google Scholar F. C. Lane dealing with the tonnage of the Egyptian ships in that perior assumed that the Egyptian pondo contained 495 kg., see his paper ‘Tounages, medieval and modern’ in his Venice and history (Baltimore, 1968), 368.

49 Consequently the assumption of C. H. H. Wake, ‘The changing pattern of Europe's pepper and spice imports, ca. 1400–1700’, JEEH, VII, 1979, 367, that the Egyptian pondo was in thatperiod equal to 506 kg. is an overestimate.

50 cf. my paper, ‘The volume of Levantine trade in the later Middle Ages (1370–1498)’, JEEH, IV, 1975, 578Google Scholar; see further, Drictus Alexandrie, f. 14b.

51 But this standard parcel was also used in Syria, see GP, Sent VII, f. 64a if. (a. 1402): zurlo l = 120 libb. sott. of Venice, that is 36–12 kg. See further, Tucci, U., Lettres d'un marchavd vénitien, Andrea Berengo, 1553–1556, (Paris 1957), 360Google Scholar, who says that in Aleppo in the sixteenth century it was equal to 27½ raṠls; that is, it was much heavier. The zurlo used for cinnamon in the fourteenth century was of course a different standard parcel.

52 I found this expression in only one document of the first half of the fifteenth century, namely, GP, Sent. 60, f. 177a ff. (a. 1432).

53 A schiba of pepper coming from Damascus weighed, according to GP, Ter. IX, f. 148a, ⅗ collo (i.e. Syrian). This parcel thus weighed 54 kg. and was different form the Egyptian schiba.

54 It is sometimes also to be found in literary works of the later Middle Ages, see sl-Sakhāwī, al-Ḍau al-lāmi', I, 113.

55 See Wansbrough, J., ‘A Maml؛k ambassador to Venice in 913/1507’, BSOAS, XXVI, 3, 1963, 527Google Scholar

56 See Wanbbrough, J., ‘Venice and Florence in the Maml؛k commercial privileges’, BSOAS, XXVIII, 1965, 505, 520Google Scholar

57 See GP, Sent 38, f. 29b f.; Priuli, Diarii, I, 59; Cl., Carrére, Barcelone, centre économique (Paris, 1967), 644Google Scholar

58 Il commercio nel mediterraneo, 183 f.

59 For a document of the middle of the fourteenth century, ASV, Proc. di San Marco, Commiss. miste, Ba 100, Comm. Francesco Querini, sub a. 1347, see my paper ‘La découverte de la voie maritime aux Indes et les prix des épices,’ Mélanges en honneur de Fernand Brandel, (Toulouse 1973), I, 35.

60 Against the assumption of Wake that the Syrian collo became bigger in the fifteenth century and was equal to 120 or 126 kg., see my paper ‘The volume of medieval spiee trade’, JEEH IX, 1980, 754Google Scholar

61 See my paper ‘Makāyil’, Enc. Isl. (second ed., to appear shortly).

62 Mufākahat al-khillān, I, (Cairo, 1962),163Google Scholar

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