As stated in the preface, the nomenclature to be adopted for weights and measures
has presented great difficulty. Agricola uses, throughout, the Roman and the Romanized
Greek scales, but in many cases he uses these terms merely as lingual equivalents for the
German quantities of his day. Moreover the classic language sometimes failed him, whereupon he coined new Latin terms adapted from the Roman scale, and thus added further
confusion. We can, perhaps, make the matter clearer by an illustration of a case in weights.
The Roman centumpondium, composed of ioo librae, the old German centner of ioo pfundt,
and the English hundredweight of 112 pounds can be called lingual equivalents. The first
weighs about 494,600 Troy grains, the second 721,900, and the third 784,000. While the
divisions of the centumpondium and the centner are the same, the libra is divided into 12 undue
and the pfundt into 16 untzen, and in most places a summation of the units given proves that
the author had in mind the Roman ratios. However, on p. 509 he makes the direct statement
that the centumpondium weighs 146 librae, which would be about the correct weight if the
centumpondium referred to was a centner. If we take an example such as " each centumpondium of lead contains one uncia of silver", and reduce it according to purely lingual equivalents, we should find that it runs 24.3 Troy ounces per short ton, on the basis of Roman
values, and 18-25 ounces per short ton, on the basis of old German. If we were to translate these into English lingual equivalents of one ounce per hundredweight, then the value
would be 17.9 ounces per short ton.
Several possibilities were open in translation : first, to calculate the values accurately in the English units ; second, to adopt the nearest English lingual equivalent ; third,
to introduce the German scale of the period ; or, fourth, to leave the original Latin in the
text. The first would lead to an indefinite number of decimals and to constant doubt as to
whether the values, upon which calculations were to be based, were Roman or German. The
second, that is the substitution of lingual equivalents, is objectionable, not only because
it would indicate values not meant by the author, but also because we should have, like
Agricola, to coin new terms to accommodate the lapses in the scales, or again to use decimals.
In the third case, that is in the use of the old German scale, while it would be easier to adapt
than the English, it would be more unfamiliar to most readers than the Latin, and not so
expressive in print, and further, in some cases would present the same difficulties of calculation as in using the English scale. Nor does the contemporary German translation of De
Re Metallica prove of help, for its translator adopted only lingual equivalents, and in consequence the summation of his weights often gives incorrect results. From all these possibilities
we have chosen the fourth, that is simply to reproduce the Latin terms for both weights and
measures. We have introduced into the footnotes such reductions to the English scale as we,
considered would interest readers. We have, however, digressed from the rule in two cases,
in the adoption of " foot " for the Latin pes, and " fathom " for passus. Apart from the fact
that these were not cases where accuracy is involved, Agricola himself explains (p. 77)
that he means the German values for these particular terms, which, fortunately, fairly closely
approximate to the English. Further, we have adopted the Anglicized words " digit ",
"palm", and "cubit", instead of their Latin forms.
For purposes of reference, we reproduce the principal Roman and old German scales,
in so far as they are used by Agricola in this work, with their values in English. All students
of weights and measures will realize that these values are but approximate, and that this is
not an occasion to enter upon a discussion of the variations in different periods or by different
authorities. Agricola himself is the author of one of the standard works on Ancient Weights
and Measures (see Appendix A), and further gives fairly complete information on contemporary scales of weight and fineness for precious metals in Book vu. p. 262 etc., to which
we refer readers.
ROMAN SCALES OF WEIGHTS.