Ancient Mesopotamia And Egypt

In order to conduct foreign trade and build elaborate structures such as the Tower of Babel, the Pyramids, and the Parthenon, the ancients required a uniform system of measurement. The Mesopotamians invented a system of linear measurement over 6,000 years ago as a prerequisite for the construction of the many monumental buildings that the emerging epochs demanded, and this is easily recognizable as ancestral to our own imperial system.

The cubit was based on parts of the body (Figure 1.1), and was commonly used throughout the Near East with slight variations. The Egyptian cubit differed from the Sumerian (Mesopotamian) cubit and was rarely used outside Egypt. Just as a system of linear measurement was invented out of an urgent need to assist in the design and construction of temples and secular buildings, so too was writing invented out of a strategic need to control trade and the economy.

Today, we have basically two major systems of measurement: the Imperial system based on feet and inches as used primarily in the United States, and the Metric system which was developed much later using meters and centimeters, and which is widely used in Europe and much of the world. These two systems have displaced the cubit system used in antiquity.

FIGURE 1.1 Sumerian units of measurement were based on parts of the body.
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