How Was Length Measured in Ancient Times?

In ancient times, the concept of measuring length was not as simple or standardized as it is today. People used different methods to measure length depending on their location, culture, and available tools. Let’s explore some of these methods in more detail.

Rope Measurement

One of the earliest methods of measuring length was using a rope. The rope was stretched out between two points, and the distance between those points was measured by counting the number of rope lengths needed to cover that distance.

This method was commonly used in ancient Egypt where ropes made from papyrus or other natural fibers were used for measurement. Interestingly, this method is still used today in some parts of Africa and Asia.

Body Parts Measurement

Another interesting way to measure lengths in ancient times was using body parts. People would use their feet, hands, or even hair as a unit of measurement.

For example, in ancient Rome, the foot (or “pes”) became a standard unit of measurement because it was roughly equal to the length of an average man’s foot. Similarly, the hand (or “cubit”) became another common unit because it was roughly equal to the length of an average man’s forearm.

Standardized Units

Over time, people started to realize that using body parts or ropes for measurement could lead to inconsistencies and inaccuracies. As a result, standardized units were introduced.

One of the earliest standardized units was the cubit which we mentioned earlier. However, different cultures had different definitions for what a cubit actually meant in terms of length. For instance, the Egyptian cubit measured about 52 cm while the Roman cubit measured about 44 cm.

Eventually, more standardized units were developed such as inches and feet which we still use today.


In conclusion, measuring length in ancient times was not as straightforward as it is today. People used ropes, body parts, and different standardized units depending on their location and culture. It’s interesting to see how the concept of measurement has evolved over time and how we have arrived at the standardized units that we use today.