solive [French]

In France, at least as early as the 16ᵗʰ century – 19ᵗʰ century, a unit of volume used to describe a quantity of sawn lumber, similar in concept to the board foot. Also called a pièce. It = 3 cubic pied = ⅛ somme (about 0.10283 stere). Upon metrication (by the law of 13 brumaire an IX) the solive was made = ¹⁄₁₀ of a stere.

The solive was divided into 6 pieds de solive, the pied de solive into 12 pouces de solive, the pouce de solive into 12 lignes de solive; all of these were measures of volume. So 1 solive = 6 pieds de solive = 72 pouces de solive = 144 lignes de solive.

Alternatively, in Normandy the solive was divided into 432 chevilles, each of 12 cubic pouce.

The solive was also used in Rome (as the soliva) for sawn lumber.

Of course the volume of a board can be found by multiplying the dimensions in pouce and dividing the result by 11664, the number of cubic pouces in 3 cubic pieds. Doursther describes how workers actually did it: Imagine a board 12 pied long, 9 pouce wide and 9 pouce thick. Multiply the pied by the pouce, divide the result by 6, and divide that result by 72. 12 × 9 × 9 = 972; a sixtieth of that number is 162. Divide by 72, and the result is 2 with a remainder of 18, which is in pouce de solive, so the board is 2 solive, 18 pouce de solive.

One hundred solive were called a grand cent.

Doursther, 1840. Page 501.



Bien que le mètre cube soit l'unité de vente légale, on entend souvent prononcer le mot de solive. C'était, en effet, la mesure la plus employée avant l'invention du Système métrique; son nom a donné naissance aux expressions soliver et solivage, qui sont encore les synonymes de cuber et cubage.

La solive était, au moins dans l'Ile-de-France, un prisme de deux toises (12 pieds) de long et six pouces (½ pied) d'équarrissage. Son volume était, par conséquent, de trois pieds cubes. Mais ce volume variait suivant les régions, non seulement parce qu'elle pouvait avoir pour dimensions des nombres différents de pieds et de pouces, mais encore parce que les valeurs du pied et du pouce étaient variables. Calculée avec les dimensions des mesures dites d'ordonnance, elle cubait 0mc,1028; la solive nouvelle n'est autre chose que le dixième du mètre cube ou 100 décimètres cubes. La différence entre ces deux unités est donc de 3 p. 100, environ, au profit de la solive ancienne. Celle-ci se subdivisait en six pieds de solive; le pied de solive en douze pouces et le pouce en douze lignes de solive.

Though certainly the cubic meter is the legal unit for sale, one frequently hears the word “solive” spoken. It was, in effect, the measure most often employed prior to the invention of the metric system; its name has given birth to the expressions “soliver” and “solivage”, now synonyms for cubing and cubic content.

The solive was, at least in the Ile de France, a rectangular solid two toises (12 pieds) in length and 6 pouces (half a pied) square. Consequently its volume was 3 cubic pieds. But this volume varied by region, not only because they took for its dimensions different numbers of pieds and pouces, but also because the values of the pied and pouce were variables. Calculated with the dimensions of the units known as “d'ordonnance”, it occupies 0.1028 cubic meters; the new solive is nothing but one-tenth of a cubic meter or 100 cubic decimeters. The difference between the two units is about 3%, favoring the old solive. That is subdivided into 6 pieds de solive; the pied de solive into 12 pouces, and the pouce into 12 lignes de solive.

H. Nanquette.
Cours de Technologie Forestière.
Paris: Berger-Levrault et Cie, 1887.
Page 185.


Legname da costruzione. - Il legname da costruzione si vende di presente in Roma e sue vicinanze alla misura francese antica detta Soliva. Questa si suppone essere una trave di 12 piedi della tesa francese di pollici 6 di altezza, e 6 pollici di lunghezza corrispondente a palmi cubi architettonici 9, e once 381 circa. La soliva si divide in 6 piedi, il piede in 12 pollici, e il pollice in 12 linee, onde il piede corrisponde a palmi cubi architettonici 1, e once 927 e 0.5 in circa.

Construction lumber. - At present in Rome and its vicinity lumber for construction is sold by the ancient French measure called Soliva. This is supposed to be a timber 12 piedi (of the French toise) by 6 pollici in height, and 6 pollici of length, corresponding to about 9 cubic palmi architettonici and 381 once. The soliva is divided into 6 piedi, the piede into 12 pollici, and the pollice into 12 linee, thus the piede corresponds to about 1 cubic palmi architettonici and 927½ once.

Giuseppe Guidi.
Ragguaglio delle Monete, dei Pesi e delle Misure… 2nd Ed.
Florence: Presso Giovan-Gualberto Guidi e Ulisse Pratesi, 1855.
Page 47.

If 1 soliva = 3 (cubic) piedi ≈ 9+ cubic palmi architettonici, how can 1 piede = 1+ palmi architettonici? The confusion comes from confounding two different units. One is the unit of length, the pied, and the volume found by cubing the pied. The second unit, which Guidi also calls a pied, is actually the "pied de solive", a volume = 1/6th of the solive.

Guidi's description of the standard timber is the same as that of Nanquette, given above: a timber 12 pieds long with a cross-section 6 pouces by 6 pouces. Since 6 pouces = ½ pied, its volume is 3 cubic pieds. Thus far we have not used Italian units. Guidi says this volume ≈ 9 cubic palmi architettonici and 381 once. Using Guidi's value of 0.2234 meter for the Roman palmi architettonici, makes the cubic palmi architettonici 0.0111 cubic meter, and 9 of these 0.0999 cubic meter. There being 1728 cubic once in a cubic palmo, 381/1728 = 0.22048611, which times 0.0111 cubic meter gives 0.0025 cu. meter. 0.0999 plus 0.0025 is 0.1024, which is a good match to the solive calculated from the French pied d'ordonnance, prior to metrication. So Guidi's math checks out.

Taking the soliva at 0.1024 cubic meter, dividing it into 6 pied (di solive) makes each = 0.0171 cubic meter. 927/1728 = 0.536458333. 1.5365 × 0.0111 = 0.0171 cu. m, a good match to the sixth of the soliva.


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