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 p893  Article by Philip Smith, B.A., of the University of London
on p893 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

PES (ποῦς), a foot, the standard measure of length among the Greeks and Romans, as well as among nearly all other nations, both ancient and modern. Very little needs to be added to what has been said of the Greek and Roman feet under Mensura.

The Romans applied the uncial division [As] to the foot, which thus contained 12 unciae, whence our inches; and many of the words used to express certain numbers of unciae are applied to the parts of the foot (Veget. de Re Milit. I.5; Plin. H. N. XXVII.5 s11, XIII.15.) It was also divided into 16 digiti (finger-breadths): this mode of division was used especially by architects and land-surveyors, and is found on all the foot-measures that have come down to us. Pollex (the thumb), which is used in modern Latin for an inch, is not found in the ancient writers, but Pliny (H. N. XXVII.49,º XV.26,º XIII.23) uses the adjective pollicaris (of a thumb's breadth or thickness).

From the analogy of the as, we have also dupondium for 2 feet (Colum. III.15, &c.), and pes sestertius for 2½ feet (Leg. XII Tab., Tab. VIII). The chief subdivisions and multiples of the foot will be found mentioned under Mensura, and more fully described in their proper places (see also the Tables). One itinerary measure, which has been omitted in its proper place, is the Leuga, or Leuca, which was a Gallic measure = 1500 passus or 1½ mile (Ammian. Marc. XVI.12; Itin. Antonin.). Stones are still found on the roads in France with distances marked on them in Leugae. [Milliare.]

The square foot (pes quadratus) is called by Frontinus constratus, and by Boëthius contractus. Frontinus applies the term quadratus to the cubic foot, and the same, as a measure of capacity, was called Quadrantal.

Certain peculiar foot-measures, differing from the ordinary ones, are mentioned by ancient writers. The Samian, which was the same as the Egyptian foot, is known from the length of the Egyptian cubit as derived from the Nilometer (namely, 17·74278576 inches) to have contained 11·82852384 inches, or more than 11¾ inches. A larger foot than the common standard seems to have been used in Asia Minor. Heron (de Mens. p368) names the Royal or Philaeterian foot as being 16 finger-breadths, and the Italian as 13⅓, and he also mentions a mile (μίλιον) of 5400 Italian or 4500 royal feet. Ideler supposes that the Italian foot means the common Roman, and the royal a Greek foot larger than the common standard, corresponding to the stadium of 7 to the mile, which had been introduced before Heron's time, namely, the tenth century. The Pes Drusianus or foot of Drusus, contained 13½ Roman inches = 13·1058 English inches. It was used beyond the boundaries of Italy for measuring land, and was the standard among the Tungri in Lower Germany.

(Hussey, on Ancient Weights, &c., Appendix; Wurm, de Pond. chaps. 6 and 7; Böckh's Metrolog. Untersuch., pp196, &c.; Ideler, Längen und Flächenmasse, Fréret, Observations sur le Rapport des Mesuresº Grecques et des Mesures Romaines, Mém. de l'Acad. d'Inscrip. t. XXIV, pp551, &c.)

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Page updated: 17 Feb 21