:: The old measures
used in France ::
Aune, Toise, Pied De Roi, Setier,
the end of the 18th century, measures were extremely diverse. Measures of
the same nature and almost the same value had names which were different
according to the provinces they came from, or even according to towns and
villages situated in the same region. On the contrary, the physical contents
of measures which had the same name, generally speaking differed according
to places, but also according to the concerned guild or the object that was
measured. Besides, scales of multiple and submultiples were not coherent and
varied depending on regions.
certain uniformity had reigned at the beginning of the christian era, in the
gallo-roman period, when the roman foot and pound became widespread
throughout Europe. However, in that country that was to become France, power
was at the time shared between a substantial number of lords and towns. This
huge division ,made measure names and values evolve "in isolation".
a measure "system" developped within each human group, territorial authority
or guild. The system suited the needs of each group and it was often
homogeneous as far as places or jobs are concerned. However, the French
measures as a whole were considered as "a preposterous and undefined chaos"
by Gattey, a contemporary of that time (1801).
the variety of measure names was no surprise, if one considers the
multiplicity of local patois, and the presence of two big linguistic groups,
"langue d’oïl" in northern provinces, and "langue d’oc" in southern ones.
the various names of these old measures were often very colourful and linked
either to people size (foot, thumb, etc.), or to their skills (journal :
area of land people could till in one day, a day being "jour" in French)…
modern conception of measuring, which consists in determining physical size,
may distort the judgment on our ancestors’ measurement methods. Indeed, in
their minds, the notion of physical size was often only of secondary
importance and gave way to the notion of "value/ labour" or "value/ money"
notably in terms of cereals or land.
in the 18th century, the mutliplicity of these measures – which had no
common denominator – began to become extremely annoying especially regarding
administrative, commercial and scientific activities.