Mathematics Throughout History

Development Ofweights and Measures

What were the ancient definitions of a foot?

Not all feet (or the foot) are created equal. The term foot in measurement has had a long history, with many stories claiming the origin-of-the-first-foot status. In fact, it seems as if the foot has ranged in size over the years—from 9.84 to 13.39 inches (25 to 34 centimeters)—depending on the time period and/or civilization.

For example, the ancient Harappan civilization of the Punjab (from around 2500 to 1700 B.C.E.) used a measurement interpreted by many to represent a foot—a very large foot, at about 13.2 inches (33.5 centimeters; see above for more about the Harappan). Around 1700 B.C.E., the Babylonians put their foot forward: A Babylonian foot was two-thirds of a Babylonian cubit. There are even records from Mesopotamia and Egypt showing yet another measurement system that included a foot of 11.0238 inches (300 millimeters). This is also known as the Egyptian foot, and it was standard in Egypt from predynastic times to the first millennium B.C.E. The Greek foot came close to today’s foot, measuring about 12.1 inches (30.8 centimeters); a Roman foot measured in at 11.7 inches (29.6 centimeters). The list goes on, depending on the country and time period.


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