schoinos

A unit of itinerant distance in ancient Egypt and Persia. Also romanized as schoenus.

sources

1

Ἀπὸ δὲ Ἡλίου πόλιος ἐς Θήβας ἐστὶ ἀνάπλοος ἐννέα ἡμερέων, στάδιοι δὲ τῆς ὁδοῦ ἑξήκοντα καὶ ὀκτακόσιοι καὶ τετpακισχίλιοι, σχοίνων ἑνὸς καὶ όγδώκοντα ἐόντων.

From Heliopolis to Thebes it is nine days' journey by river, and the distance is four thousand eight hundred and sixty stadia, or eighty-one schoeni.

Herodotus, Histories, Book 2, 6.

Further, the length of the seacoast of Egypt itself is sixty schoeni, that is, of Egypt as we judge it to be, reaching from the Plinthinete gulf to the Serbonian marsh, which is under the Casian mountain; between these there is this distance of sixty schoeni. Men that have scanty land measure by orguia; those that have more, by stadia; those that have much land, by parasangs; and those who have great abundance of it, by schoeni. The parasang is 30 stadias long, and the schoenus, which is an Egyptian measure, is sixty.

Herodotus, Histories, Book 2, 9.
Herodotus's dates are c. 484 – c. 425 bce. He witnessed the use of the schoinos first hand.

2

Other writers say that [Lake Mareotis] is forty schœni in length, making the schœnum to be thirty stadia; hence, according to them, it is 150 miles in length and the same in breadth.

Book 5, chapter 11.

The circumstance that so many different authors have treated of this subject, accounts for all these variations, seeing that even the Persian writers themselves do not agree as to what is the length of their schœni and parasangœ, each assigning to them a different length.

Book 6, chapter 30.

The forests extend twenty schoeni in length, and half that distance in breadth. The length of the schoenus, according to the estimate of Eratosthenes, is forty stadia, or, in other words, five miles ; some persons, however, have estimated the schoenus at no more than thirty-two stadia.

book 12, chapter 30.

The Natural History of Pliny the Elder.
John Bostock and H.T. Riley, translators and editors.
London: Henry G. Bohn, 1855.
We include these examples merely to show the reader how slim the pickings regarding the schoinos are in Pliny, despite his being frequently cited in other sources. Pliny's dates are 23/24 – 79ce, or more than four centuries after Herodotus.

3

SCHOENUS (ὁ, ἡ, σχοῖνος), literally, a rope of rushes, an Egyptian and Persian itinerary and land measure (Herod. i. 66). Its length is stated by Herodotus (ii. 6, 9) at 60 stadia, or 2 parasangs; by Eratosthenes at 40 stadia, and by others at 112 or 30. (Plin. H. N. v. 9. s. 10, xii. 14. s. 30.) Strabo and Pliny both state that the schoenus varied in different parts of Egypt and Persia. (Strabo, p. 803 ; Plin. H. N. vi. 26. s 30; comp Athen. iii. p. 122, a.) [--Phillip Smith]

William Smith, editor.
Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. 2nd ed.
London: Walton and Maberly, 1848.
Page 1011.

3

15. Σχοῖνος, das agyptische Wegmass, betrug 4000 Xyla oder 12000 königliche Ellen und wurde spater im Ptolemlischen System zu 30 Stadien des Philetarischen Fusses festgesetzt (§ 41, 6. 53, 5). Eratosthenes rechnete auf diesen Schoinos 40 Stadien mittleren Schrittmasses (§ 9, 4).

15. Σχοῖνος, the Egyptian unit of itinerant distance, amounted to 4000 xylon or 12000 royal Ells and would later in the Ptolemaic system be set at 30 stadia of Philetarian feet (§ 41, 6. 53, 5). Eratosthenes reckoned this schoinos at 40 stadia of average pace lengths (§ 9, 4).

Hultsch (1882), page 39.

Da die Schoinen ursprünglich die Stationen für die Schiffszieher am Nil und als solche von verschiedener Lange (30, 40, 60, ja 120 Stadien) waren, so ist es wohl erklärlich, dass Herodot durch Missverständnls den Itinerar-Schoinos zu 60 Stadien nahm. Man darf aber nicht etwa glauben, dass er wirklich ein besonderes kurzes Stadion (von nur 105 Meter) fur Ägypten gebraucht habe; es gab für ihn, wie für alle Griechen, nur ein Stadion, der Fehler ist also lediglich in seiner irrtümlichen Reduktion des Schoinos zu suchen. Ebenso wenig ist an ein solches Halbstadion zu denken, wenn man seine Angaben über die Ausdehnung des Pontos (4, 86 f.) mit den wirklichen Entfernungen vergleicht.

Since the schoinen were originally the stations for the ship pullers on the Nile and as such of different lengths (30, 40, 60, even 120 stadia), it is understandable that Herodotus, through misunderstanding, took the itinerant schoinos to be 60 stadia. But one shouldn't believe that he really needed a particularly short stadia (only 105 meters) for Egypt. For him, as for all Greeks, there was only one stadia. The mistake is therefore only to be found in his erroneous reduction of the schoinos. Such a half-stadia is just as unthinkable when one compares his statements on the extent of the Pontus (4, 86 f.) with the real distances.

Hultsch (1882), page 58,footnote 3.

resources

Wilhelm Schwarz.
Der Schoinos bei den Aegyptern, Griechen und Römern. Eine metrologische und geographische Untersuchung.
Berliner Studien für classiche Philologie und Archaeologie, vol. 15, part 3.
Berlin: S. Calvary and Co., 1894.

Reprinted in facsimile by Kraus in 1975.

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