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Numbers & Metrology

The metrological systems adopted in cuneiform sources vary considerably according to place, time, and sector of activity. This section aims at representing this diversity of notations of numbers and quantities. Each system will be described in relation to a well delimited set of sources.

The representations are based on the so-called “factors diagrams” introduced by Jöran Friberg in 1978 (The third millennium roots of Babylonian mathematics, I. Göteborg: Department of mathematics, Chalmers University of technology) and now widely used by assyriologists.

For an extensive information on cuneiform metrologies, see the reference article by Marvin A. Powell "Masse und Gewichte." in Reallexikon der Assyriologie vol. 7, 1987-1990, pp. 457-517 (in English). For proto-cuneiform metrologies, see Nissen, Hans J. , Peter Damerow, and Robert Englund. 1993. Archaic Bookkeeping. Writing and Techniques of Economic Administration in the Ancient Near East. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


MesoCalc automates the basic operations that were performed routinely in mathematical and economic activities in Mesopotamia. The numerical and metrological systems adopted in MesoCalc reflect the standard of Old Babylonian scribal schools. Most of the operations attested in other documentations (for example, third or first millennium texts) can be performed with MesoCalc, with some adaptations. MesoCalc attempts to adhere as far as possible to the ancient notions of numbers, quantities and operations as explained in the tutorial (below).

MesoCalc is available here.

For an extensive tutorial which explains the use of MesoCalc, with exercises extracted from cuneiform school tablets, go here.

numbers_metrology.txt · Last modified: 2017/04/27 12:30 by lafont
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