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Headword: Milion
Adler number: mu,1064
Translated headword: mile, milion
Vetting Status: high
A measurement of land.[1]
Stade [stadion]: 10 milia contain 80 stadia.[2] Alternatively, a stadion has 600 feet and a milion has 4,200 feet.[3]
Greek Original:
Milion: metron gês. stadion: hoti ta i# milia echousi stadia p#. allôs. hoti to stadion echei podas ch#, to de milion podas #22ds1#.
For the headword in another sense see mu 1065.
A milion is an ancient Roman mile, which consists of 5000 Attic-Roman feet. Since a Roman foot is equal to 296mm or 11.65 inches, a Roman mile is equal to 0.92 modern statute miles.
This entry illustrates the difficulty in understanding ancient measurements of distance. Although the entry’s second and third sentences both use stadion (sigma 981) as a subdivision of a 'milion', the number of stadia per milion is inconsistent: in the second sentence there are 8 stadia to the milion, while in the third sentence there are only 7 stadia to the milion. This incongruity, however, is not the result of authorial or textual error but rather an artifact of the existence of at least 6 distinct systems of measuring distance in antiquity, each of which employed similar terminology to represent different absolute distances. As the Suda author indicates with his 'alternatively', he is listing two possible definitions for a milion, the first based on the Italian Stadion and the second on the Phoenician-Egyptian Stadion. The Suda entry for stadion (sigma 981) refers to yet a third possibility: 7.5 Babylonian-Persian Stadia per milion. See web address 1 for a comparison of the different systems of ancient feet and stadia and their conversion into modern measurements.
Most systems of measurement in antiquity employed two basic units to denote distance: the pous/pes (foot) and the stadion (stade). Generally speaking a stadion was the length of one drought of a plow, which was understood to be 600 feet. Unfortunately, the absolute value of a foot was different in each of the 6 major systems of measurement in antiquity. Moreover, even within an individual system the terms were often used without precision. For example in Thucydides, an ancient historian who appears concerned with topographical accuracy, the length of a stadion varies between 130 and 290 meters. Unsurprisingly ancient systems of measurement also had regional variations and evolved through time. The best treatment of this complicated topic is Lehmann-Haupt’s article in German for RE (Real-Encyclopädie d. klassichen Altertumswissenschaft).
[1] Likewise, according to Adler, in the Ambrosian Lexicon (787), and also in ps.-Zonaras 1362; cf. Hesychius mu1351.
[2] This ratio is based on the Italian Stadion, which contains 625 Roman or 606.94 modern feet. 80 stadia would be the equivalent of 48,555.2 modern feet or 9.2 statute miles. The feet in this system were called Lesser Ptolemaic Feet. 4,800 such feet would be the equivalent of 4,855.5 modern feet or 0.92 statute miles.
[3] This ratio is based on the Phoenician-Egyptian or 1/7th Mile Stadion, which equals 714.29 Roman or 693.64 modern feet. The feet in this system were called Phoenician-Egyptian Greater Ptolemaic Feet. 4,200 such feet would be the equivalent of 4,855.5 modern feet or 0.92 statute miles.
The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (New York, 1991)
Bauslaugh, R.A. "Thucydides IV 8.6 and the South Channel at Pylos", Journal of Hellenic Studies 1979: 1-6.
Hultsch, F. Griechische und römische metrologie (Berlin 1882)
Lehmann-Haupt, RE III: 1930-1963
Schilbach, E. Byzantinische Metrologie (Munich, 1970)
Associated internet address:
Web address 1
Keywords: daily life; definition; dialects, grammar, and etymology; science and technology
Translated by: Bret Mulligan on 12 November 2003@13:28:04.
Vetted by:
Catharine Roth (cosmetics) on 12 November 2003@17:26:03.
David Whitehead (added x-ref and keyword; cosmetics) on 15 November 2003@07:50:27.
David Whitehead (tweaking; raised status) on 23 May 2013@06:42:47.
Catharine Roth (coding) on 3 January 2015@00:20:41.
Catharine Roth (modified link) on 5 January 2015@00:42:56.


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