How Did People Measure Time and Length in Ancient Times?

In today’s world, measuring time and length is as simple as glancing at your phone or pulling out a ruler. But have you ever wondered how people in ancient times managed to measure these things without the technology we have today? In this article, we will explore the various methods that were used to measure time and length in ancient times.

Measuring Time

Sun Dials: One of the earliest methods of measuring time was through the use of sun dials. These were devices that used the position of the sun to determine the time of day. The earliest known sun dial dates back to ancient Egypt in 1500 BC.

Water Clocks: Water clocks, also known as clepsydra, were another method used to measure time. They worked by regulating the flow of water from one container to another. The most famous water clock was created by Ctesibius of Alexandria in 250 BC.

Sand Clocks: Sand clocks, also known as hourglasses, were used during the Middle Ages to measure time. They consisted of two glass bulbs connected by a narrow neck with sand flowing from one bulb to another. When all sand had flowed from one bulb to another, an hour had passed.

Measuring Length

Cubit: A cubit was a unit of measurement that was commonly used in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. It was based on the length from a person’s elbow to their fingertips and was roughly 18 inches long.

Fathom: A fathom was a unit of measurement that was commonly used for measuring depth or distance at sea. It was equal to six feet or roughly two meters.

Mile: The mile is an ancient Roman unit of measurement that has been used for centuries throughout Europe and is still commonly used today. It was originally defined as 1,000 paces or 5,000 feet.


In conclusion, the methods that people used to measure time and length in ancient times were not as precise or convenient as the methods we use today. However, they were still effective and allowed people to keep track of time and measure distances with a reasonable degree of accuracy. It’s fascinating to see how far we’ve come in terms of technology and measurement, but it’s important to remember the ingenuity of our ancestors who developed these early methods.