How Was Mass Measured in Ancient Times?

In ancient times, the measurement of mass was an important aspect of daily life. With no digital scales or measuring devices, people relied on various methods to weigh items accurately. These methods varied across different cultures and time periods, but the underlying principles remained the same.

Early Forms of Measurement

The earliest known form of mass measurement was the use of balance scales. These consisted of a beam supported by a pivot point with two pans hanging from either end. Objects were placed on one pan and standard weights were added to the other until balance was achieved.

In ancient Egypt, stones were used as standard weights, while in Mesopotamia, metal weights were common. In India, seeds such as rice and wheat were used as units of measurement.

The Roman System

The Romans developed a system of measurement based on the libra (pound), which was divided into 12 unciae (ounces). This system was widely used throughout Europe until the 19th century.

To measure weight using this system, a balance scale with standardized weights was used. The weight of an item would be compared to these standardized weights until balance was achieved.

The Islamic Golden Age

During the Islamic Golden Age (8th-13th centuries), scholars made significant advances in mathematics and science, including the field of metrology (the study of measurement). They developed new methods for measuring mass using geometric shapes such as cubes and spheres.

One method involved filling a cube with water and weighing it. The weight of an object could then be determined by placing it in the water-filled cube and measuring how much water overflowed.

The Modern Era

The modern era brought about more sophisticated methods for measuring mass. In 1795, French scientist Antoine Lavoisier developed a precise balance scale that could measure tiny variations in weight. This paved the way for more accurate measurements in chemistry and other scientific fields.

Today, digital scales are the most common method of measuring mass. These scales use electronic sensors to detect weight and display the measurement on a screen.


The history of mass measurement is a fascinating one, with different cultures and time periods developing unique methods for weighing objects. From balance scales to digital scales, the evolution of measurement has played a significant role in scientific discovery and everyday life.