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1. Weights and Measures

There was no single system or standard of weights and measures in Greater Syria during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the value of units carrying the same name varied from region to region, town to town, village to village, and even from one soap factory or granary to the next. As seen in Chapter 3, a measuring container could also be made to yield different results depending on who was giving and who was taking. None of this was unusual in agricultural societies that enjoyed a degree of autonomy from central state control. Nevertheless, the shift in the economic center of gravity to the coastal cities, the increasing importance of international trade, and greater urban control over the rural surplus all militated for standardization in the weighing and measuring of agricultural products.[1] A more intrusive Ottoman state set in motion a process of “creeping” standardization in Palestine beginning in the 1840s. Its basic concern was to rationalize taxes on the movement of goods through ports and city gates and to control the units with which taxes collected in kind were measured.[2] Whenever possible, I have defined the value of units on the basis of contemporary local sources, such as records of the Nablus Advisory Council. All of the following units, unless otherwise cited, are for the city of Nablus.[3] Measures of weight, it should be noted, were based on one common denominator: a grain of wheat.[4]

Measures of weight

Equal to 64 grains of wheat, or 3.2 grams[5]
Equal to 1.5 dirhams, or 4.8 grams
Equal to 75 dirhams, or 240 grams
Equal to 400 dirhams, or 5.3 uqiyyas, or 1.28 kilograms
Equal to 900 dirhams, or 12 uqiyyas, or 2.88 kilograms
Equal to 10 ratels, or 28.8 kilograms
Equal to 100 ratels, or 225 uqqas, or one camel load, or 288 kilograms[6]

Measures of Capacity

A dry measure the value of which differed depending on the type of grain as well as on the locale. A sa of wheat in the city of Nablus was equal to 3 ratels and 4 uqiyyas, or 9.6 kilograms; and a sa of barley equaled 2.5 ratels, or 7.2 kilograms. In the subdistrict of Bani Sa‘b, the values were 7.2 kilograms and 5.76 kilograms, respectively.
Equal to 2 sa[7]
Equal to 2 mudd, or 4 sa[8]
Kayla Istanbuliyya(Islambuliyya in local sources)
Equal to 35.27 liters. This became the standard unit of the Ottoman Empire in 1841.[9] On June 3, 1850, the Nablus Advisory Council was notified that they would soon receive a standardized measuring container, called kaylaislambuliyya, in three sizes: 1/8, 1/4, and 1/2. All other measuring containers, the order continued, must be destroyed, and henceforth no one was to use the irdabb as a unit of measure.[10]
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, an irdabb equaled 182 liters, or about 133.7 kilograms of wheat.[11]
Jar of olive oil
Equal to 16 uqqas[12]

Units of Length

Dhira of fabric
Equal to 68 centimeters
Hindaza of fabric
Equal to 65.6 centimeters[13]
Dhira of builders
Equal to 75 centimeters[14]


1. For example, in 1735 the French consul in Sidon urged Zahir al-Umar to impose a uniform standard of weights for the Galilee (Cohen, Palestine, p. 14). [BACK]

2. Invariably, units of weights and measures appeared in local sources within the context of letters about taxes (NMSR, pp. 43, 50, 132; NICR, 11:18). [BACK]

3. Unless otherwise cited, the following is based on NIMR, 2:275–277. For a detailed survey of weights and measures used in Palestine as a whole, see Arraf, Al-Ard, pp. 224–229. [BACK]

4. NIMR, 2:275. [BACK]

5. Arraf, Al-Ard, p. 224. [BACK]

6. A qintar of Nablus soap was defined as equal to 225 uqqas in NMSR, p. 132; dated August 19, 1851. [BACK]

7. Arraf, Al-Ard, p. 226. [BACK]

8. Ibid. [BACK]

9. Walther Hinz, Al-Makayil wa al-awzan al-islamiyya wa ma yu‘adiluha fi al-nizam al-mitri (Islamic Weights and Measures and Their Metric Equivalent) (trans. Kamil al-Asali; Amman, 1970), pp. 72–73. [BACK]

10. NMSR, p. 43. [BACK]

11. Hinz, Al-Makayil, pp. 58–59. [BACK]

12. NMSR, p. 50; dated July 28, 1852. That same year, another customs document defined a jar of oil destined for soap making in the Jerusalem region as containing 13.5 uqqas (NMSR, p. 132; dated August 15, 1852). [BACK]

13. Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (ed. J. Milton Cowan; 3d ed.; New York, 1976), p. 1036. [BACK]

14. Arraf, Al-Ard, p. 226. [BACK]

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