czech units
Culture & Science History

Old Czech Units of Measurement

Although the Czech Republic uses the metric system, the Czech forefathers used very different units. Let’s take a look at the Old Czech Units of Measurement.

Maybe you know the Czech words metr (meter), litr (liter) or kilo, kilogram (kilogram). Those are the units of measurement used currently but they were not always in use. Go just a few generations back and many Bohemians, Moravians and Silesians wouldn’t know what a milliliter is. Although the metric system was invented in 1790, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire of which the current Czech territory was a part, made it its official system much later, in 1876. However, people still commonly used the old units until the beginning of the 20th century and a few units are sometimes used today. Interestingly, some of them bear resemblance to the imperial system.

Why is it good to know the Old Czech Units of Measurement?

Despite the fact that you don’t really need to know them for any practical reasons, you might still sometimes hear words like tucet in common speech. These units frequently appear in the Czech literature from the time they were commonly used and knowing the most used is recommended if you’re a fan of Czech book from that era. Karel Jaromír Erben’s rhyme and song collection Prostonárodní české písně a říkadla contains, for example, the following rhyme:

„Sedum sáhů kameníčka, vosum sáhů dřívíčka, k tomu je mě připravila.” „Seven fathoms of stones, eight fathoms of wood she has prepared for me.“

Being acquainted with these Czech units might also help you with some details in search for your Czech ancestors and understanding a little bit of how they lived.

Last but not least, you can hear these measurements in popular movies. In Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella, the mother orders Vincek to purchase “sametu třicet loket” (thirty ells of velvet) and “čtyřicet loket nejdražšího atlasu” (forty ells of the most expensive atlas).

Old Czech Units of Measurement

Some internet sources indicate different measurements than those in the pictures below. Bear in mind that before the metric system, the measuring systems could differ a little region to region. The following is not an exhaustive list of old Czech measurement units, there were quite a bit more.

Length

czech units

  • čárka – coma: 2 mm/0.0798 in
  • palec/coul – inch: 2,47 cm/1 in
  • dlaň – palm: 7,97 cm/3.14 in
  • píď – span: 19,76 cm/7.48 in
  • střevíc – foot/shoe: 29,64 cm/11.42 in
  • loket – ell: 59,28 cm/23.23 in
  • sáh – fathom: 177,4 cm/69.84 in
  • látro – lachter: 207,48 cm/81.5 in
  • prut – rod: 4,78 m/15.68 ft
  • provazec: 24,84 m/81.49 ft
  • lano – cord: 189,6 m/622 ft
  • míle – mile: 9.14 km/5.68 miles

The basic unit of length, loket (ell), wasestablished during the era of Přemysl Otakar II (Ottokar II of Bohemia) in 1268. It was carved at the gate of the town hall of the New Town of Prague and later in several other towns as well.  Some of the units of length were different in each region of Austria-Hungary, and so, for example, there was sáh český (Bohemian fathom), sáh moravský (Moravian fathom), sáh vídeňský (Viennese fathom), loket slezský (Silesian ell) or loket moravský (Moravian ell).

Weight

czech units

  • lékárnický grán: 0,073 g/0.003 oz
  • karát – carat: 0,2 g/0.007 oz
  • denár: 1,0034 g/0.035 oz
  • špetka – pinch: 1,458 g/0.05 oz
  • kvintlík/kventlík: 4,014 g/0.14 oz
  • lot/loth – lot: 16,6 g/0.59 oz
  • unce – ounce: 31,11 g/1.09 oz
  • hřivna: 280 g/9.88 oz
  • libra – pound: 514,37 g/18.14 oz
  • kámen – stone: 10,26 kg/22.62 lbs
  • centýř/cent: 61,68 kg/135.98 lbs

 

 

Volume

czech units

  • kapka – drop: 5 ml/0.17 fl oz
  • žejdlík: 0,353 l/0.09 gallons
  • holba: 0,7 l/0.18 gallons
  • pinta – pint: 0,956 l/0.25 gallons
  • mázMaß: 1,42 l/0.38 gallons
  • soudek/sud – barrel: 11,62 l/3.1 gallons
  • věrtel – one fourth part: 23,4 – 25,2 l/6.2 – 6.7 gallons
  • vědro – bucket: 56,6 l/14.95 gallons
  • korec/strych: 93,54 l/24.7 gallon

Once again, the regions weren’t united in these measurements, and so, you could say vědro české (Bohemian bucket) or vědro moravské (Moravian bucket) and both units would differ (by about 2 liters). Probably the most confusing is the unit called bečka (which could be translated as “barrel” or “cask”). The exact amount remain unknown, it’s estimated at 70 – 100 l. The volume differed significantly for liquids and loose substances such as salt. In Horní Slavkov, bečka was even used as weight unit for the tin ore.

The unit věrtel comes from the German word Viertel which means “one fourth part” and it was 1/4 of korec. Hájek’s chronicles even define věrtel as 248 liters (65.5 gallons). Just like other units, korec was the denomination for different volumes before its formalization. Before 1764, depending on the town, it could be anywhere between 93,23 and 146 liters. It was also an area unit, and for example, one korec viničný (wineyard korec) was 2,865 m²/30,838.60 ft².

Amount

  • vrh – litter: 3 pcs
  • tucet – dozen: 12 pcs
  • mandel: 15 pcs
  • půlkopa – half-kopa: 30 pcs
  • kopa: 60 pcs
  • veletucet/veltucet – gross/12 dozen: 144 pcs

 

 

Did you like the pictures in this article? They are circulating the internet but I haven’t been able to find out where they’re from. If you know, please let me know, I would like to give the author credit!

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