In classical times, an important Greek unit of length, in concept the distance from the tips of the fingers to the elbow (so it belongs to the cubit family of units).
|Attic||44.4 cm||50.0 cm|
|Olympic||48.0 cm||54.0 cm|
|Pergamene||49.5 cm||55.7 cm|
|Aeginetan||41.6 cm||46.8 cm|
An interesting and almost unique functional test of the length of an ancient unit occurred when enthusiasts built and rowed a reconstruction of a Greek trireme.¹ Vitruvius says that the distance between oars (the interscalium) was 2 pechoi. The ship, the trieres Olympias, was built taking 1 pechus = 44.4 centimeters.
© John Coates, The Trireme Trust. Reproduced by permission.
“Sea trials...demonstrated, even after taking into account the likely stature of ancient Athenian oar-crews, that the room of 0.888 m is insufficient to allow an oar-crew to develop its full potential in acceleration and endurance.”² Further research showed a value of 49.1 cm, which would have been more efficient for the rowers, was also more accurate historically.
In the Bible in English, pechus is usually translated “cubit” (Matthew 6:27; Luke 12:25; Rev. 21:17), but the RSV translates the 200 pechus in John 21:8 as “a 100 yards.”
1. J. F. Coates, S. E. Platis, and J. T. Shaw.
The Trieme Trials of 1988.
Oxford: Oxbow Books, 1990.
2. John Morrison.
Ancient Greek measures of length in nautical contexts.
Antiquity, volume 65, pages 298-305 (1991).
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Last revised: 22 July 2010.