Weight to weigh

Article

May 23, 2022

Weights, sometimes called scales, are the accessories of different materials used together with a balance to determine the mass (the weight), that is to carry out the weighing of an object, a thing, a body. In scientific terms, they are called “marked masses”. The weight of things reported to the unit takes the physical and real form of the measuring accessories that are the "weights", calibrated pieces of copper, iron or lead or other materials, associated with the use of primitive instrument of measurement that is the balance: is heavy what tilts the balance. The adjusted and calibrated weight is placed in one pan of the balance, while the body whose weight (gravity) we want to know is in the other. The weights are different according to the places, the countries and the times and one can sometimes make the estimate from one system to another by arithmetic way when the archaeological testimonies are sufficient. We have always been able to draw a parallel between weight and money, because the first often regulates the size of the second. Hence the ambiguity in the terms 'livre', 'pound', 'drachma', 'marc', etc. which designate in turn a currency or a weight. The estimation of currencies of exchange is more problematic since the value of a metallic currency is largely due to its speculative value, its legal tender and to the remote era when fiduciary money was not yet generalized, i.e. second recourse, its weight and its title. “The weight alone first regulated the value of the coins, then the authority made them worth by the imprint of the die”. The control method most practiced during Antiquity was the comparison of densities, by immersing the precious object in water and comparing the overflowing volume of the container with a known sample. According to Vitruvius, Archimedes would have used this method to confuse a dishonest goldsmith.

Mesopotamian weight system

Assyrian lionweights are a group of Mesopotamian bronze weights from the 8th century BCE, with bilingual inscriptions in both cuneiform and Phoenician characters. Lion weights were discovered at Nimrud in the late 1840s and are now in the British Museum (Assyrian lion weights). The Babylonian weights, reason has been lost, willingly affected the shape of an olive, or even the vague shape of a duck with a long neck folded over the back.

Akan, Agni and Baoulé weight system

In the Beninese weight system, all the weights are different and the execution of the form, the exact weight to be given to the material, the comprehensible arrangement of the signs which allow identification, are a masterpiece. Since the earliest times, in the Akan, Agni and Baoulé countries, transactions were made using gold powder and nuggets. Buyers and sellers checked the quantities of gold with their personal weights, and each transaction required double weighing. The old geometric weights were held by the notables, who from father to son revealed the secret of their interpretation.

Ancient Roman and Medieval European weight system

The successive kings of France tried to make a general regulation so that there is only one weight and one measure in all the kingdom. Charlemagne, Philippe V le Long, Louis XI, François Ier, Henri II, Charles IX and Henri III published various ordinances to this effect which have not been executed.

Weight of Charlemagne

All the reforms of the weights of the Middle Ages had their origin in the Mints and were intended to regulate the size of the new currencies. It is in the following that the new weights of the Mints become of use at the same time as the preexisting weights. These great reforms o