Anatolian Weights and Measures
Ottoman Units of Length
The fundamental unit of length in the Ottoman Empire was the arşın. Three types of arşın were used: the mimari arşın (architect's arşın), the çarşı arşın (market arşın) and the endaze.
The mimari arşın was 75.8 cm, longer than the other two, and so named because it was used for measuring land and buildings. It was also known as the bina arşını (building arşın).
One twenty-fourth of an architect's arşın was called a parmak, one twelfth of a parmak a hat, and one twelfth of a hat a nokta.
In other words one architect's arşın equalled 24 parmak, 288 hat and 3456 nokta respectively.
The metric equivalents of these units are as follows:
1 architect's arşın = 75.8 cm
1 parmak = 3.158 cm
1 hat = 0.263 cm
1 nokta = 0.0219 cm
Arşın measuring rods were made of boxwood, ebony, ivory, iron or steel, and graduated in parmak.
For excavation purposes, another unit of length called the kadem, half of the architect's arşın and equivalent to 12 parmak, was used.
The kulaç (fathom) was used for excavations, boring wells, and measuring water depth. One kulaç was equivalent to 2.5 architect's arşın, and 100 kulaç was equivalent to 2500 architect's arşın, or a mil (mile), while one fersah (league) was equivalent to 3 mil or 7500 architect's arşın. A fersah was approximately the distance covered in an hour by a person walking at ordinary speed.
Four fersah was known as a berit or menzil, and two berit as a merhale.
Introduction of the Metric System
The process of introducing the metric system began during the reign of Sultan Abdulaziz with an imperial edict and statute dated 20 Cemaziyelahir H 1286 (1869). Under this statute the metre was accepted as the unit of length, and named the zira-ı a'şarî (decimal zira) to encourage public acceptance by use of the accustomed term zirâ (an alternative term for arşın).
At the same time the are (100 square metres) became the unit of land area; the cubic decimetre, named öşr-i zirâ küp (tenth of a zirâ cubed) and the litre units of volume; and the dirhem-i a'şarî (decimal dirhem) or gram the unit of weight. Under articles 2 and 7 of the new law a standard zira-i a'şarî rule and a standard kilogram weight were to be manufactured from platinum and kept in the Imperial Treasury. The new law was to go into effect for official transactions in March H 1287, but the general public could continue to use both old and new measures together until March H 1290, when use of the old measures would be prohibited.
These initiatives during the reign of Sultan Abdulaziz failed to bring the new metric system into widespread general use, and another statute was passed by Sultan Abdülhamid II in 1881. From 1883 metric weights began to be stamped. However, in 1895 the country reverted to use of the dirhem, and the metric system was not finally and irrevocably instituted until the Measurements Act was promulgated on 26 March 1931 after the establishment of the Turkish Republic.