Talent (measurement)

ancient unit of mass

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The talent was a unit of weight that was introduced in Mesopotamia at the end of the 4th millennium BC, and was normalized at the end of the 3rd millennium during the Akkadian-Sumer phase.

Akkadian talent

The Akkadian talent was called kakkaru[1][2] in the Akkadian language,[3] corresponding to Biblical Hebrew kikkar כִּכָּר‎ (translated to Greek τάλαντον 'talanton' in the Septuagint,[4] English 'talent'), to Ugaritic kkr (𐎋𐎋𐎗),[5] Phoenician kkr (𐤒𐤒𐤓),[6] Syriac kakra (ܟܲܟܪܵܐ),[7] and apparently to gaggaru in the Amarna Tablets.[8] The name comes from the semitic root KKR meaning 'to be circular',[9] referring to the round coins of weighted gold or silver.[10] It was divided into 60 minas, each of which was subdivided into 60 shekels: the use of 60 illustrates the attachment of the early Mesopotamians to their useful sexagesimal arithmetic. These weights were used subsequently by the Babylonians, Sumerians, and Phoenicians, and later by the Hebrews. The Babylonian weights are approximately: shekel (8.4 g, 0.30 oz), mina (504 g, 1 lb 1.8 oz), and talent (30.2 kg, 66 lb 9 oz). The Phoenicians took their trade to the Greeks with their weight measures during the Archaic period, and the latter adopted these weights and their ratio of 60 minas to one talent; a Greek mina in Euboea around 800 BC was hence 504 g;[11] other minas in the Mediterranean basin, and even Greek minas in other parts of Greece, varied locally in some small measure from the Babylonian values, and from one to another. The Bible mentions the unit in various contexts, like Hiram king of Tyre sending 120 talents (Hebrew כִּכָּר‎ kikkar) of gold to King Solomon as part of an alliance,[12] or the building of the candelabrum necessitating a talent of pure gold.[13]

The weight talent (Latin: talentum, from Ancient Greek: τάλαντον, talanton "scale, balance, sum") was one of several ancient weight units for commercial transactions. An Attic weight talent was approximately 26.0 kg[14] (approximately the mass of water required to fill an average amphora), and a Babylonian talent was 30.2 kg (66 lb 9 oz).[15] Ancient Israel adopted the Babylonian weight talent, but later revised it.[16] The heavy common talent, used in New Testament times, was 58.9 kg (129 lb 14 oz).[16] A Roman weight talent in ancient times is equivalent to 100 librae; a libra is exactly three quarters of an Attic weight mina, so a Roman talent is 1.33 Attic talents and hence approximately 32.3 kg (71 lb 3 oz). An Egyptian talent was 80 librae.[14] and hence approximately 27 kg (60 lb).[14]

Homeric talent

The original Homeric talent was probably the gold equivalent of the value of an ox or a cow.[17] Based on a statement from a later Greek source that "the talent of Homer was equal in amount to the later Daric [... i.e.] two Attic drachmas" and analysis of finds from a Mycenaean grave-shaft, a weight of about 8.5 grams (0.30 oz) can be established for this original talent.[17] Homer describes how Achilles gave a half-talent of gold to Antilochus as a prize.[18] The later Attic talent was of a different weight than the Homeric, but represented the same value in copper as the Homeric did in gold, with the price ratio of gold to copper in Bronze Age Greece being 1:3000.[17]

Attic talent

An Attic talent was the equivalent of 60 minae or 6,000 drachmae.[19]

An Attic weight talent was about 25.8 kilograms (57 lb). Friedrich Hultsch estimated a weight of 26.2 kg,[20] and Dewald (1998) offers an estimate of 26.0 kg.[21] An Attic talent of silver was the value of nine man-years of skilled work.[22] In 415 BC, an Attic talent was a month's pay for a trireme crew,[23] Hellenistic mercenaries were commonly paid one drachma per day of military service.

Aeginetan talent

The Aeginetan talent weighed about 37 kg. The German historian Friedrich Hultsch calculated a range of 36.15 to 37.2kg based on such estimates as the weight of one full Aeginetan metretes of coins, and concluded that the Aeginetan talent represented the water weight of a Babylonian ephah: 36.29 kg by his reckoning (the metretes and the ephah were units of volume).[24] Percy Gardner estimated a weight of 37.32 kg, based on extant weights and coins.[25]

An Aeginetan talent was worth 60 Aeginetan minae, or 6,000 Aeginetan drachmae.

Other talents

The talent as a unit of value is mentioned in the New Testament in Jesus' parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30).[26] The use of the word "talent" to mean "gift or skill" in English and other languages originated from an interpretation of this parable sometime late in the 13th century.[27][28] Luke includes a different parable involving the mina.[29] According to Epiphanius, the talent is called mina (maneh) among the Hebrews, and was the equivalent in weight to one-hundred denarii.[30] The talent is found in another parable of Jesus[31] where a servant who is forgiven a debt of ten thousand talents refuses to forgive another servant who owes him only one hundred silver denarii. The talent is also used elsewhere in the Bible, as when describing the material invested in the Ark of the Covenant.[32] Solomon received 666 gold talents a year.[33]


  • Herodotus (1998) [440 BC]. Dewald, Carolyn (ed.). The Histories. Translated by Waterfield, Robin. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192126092.
  • Hultsch, Friedrich (1882). Griechische und Römische Metrologie [Greek and Roman Metrology] (in German) (2nd ed.). Weidmannsche Buchhandlung.


  1. ^ Jeremy Black, Andrew George, Nicholas Postgat (2000). A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian. Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden. p. 141.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ http://www.assyrianlanguages.org/akkadian/dosearch.php?searchkey=kakkartum&language=rawakkadian
  3. ^ or less specifically biltu 'tribute, load', corresponding to Biblical Aramaic בְּלוֹ (belu) 'tribute, tax' (Akkadian Lexicon Companion for Biblical Hebrew Etymological, Semantic and Idiomatic Equivalence, Hayim Tawil, 2009. Also Jastrow Dictionary.)
  4. ^ "Melachim1 (1 Kings) 9 :: Septuagint (LXX)". Blue Letter Bible. Retrieved 2020-07-28.
  5. ^ Stieglitz, Robert R. (1979). "Commodity Prices at Ugarit". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 99 (1): 15–23. doi:10.2307/598945. ISSN 0003-0279.
  6. ^ Krahmalkov, Charles R. Phoenician-Punic Dictionary. p. 225.
  7. ^ "Search Entry ܟܲܟܪܵܐ". www.assyrianlanguages.org. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  8. ^ Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, Charles Augustus Briggs (1906). A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. England. ISBN 1-56563-206-0.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Ludwig Köhler, Walter Baumgartner, Johann Jakob Stamm, Benedikt Hartmann, Ze’Ev Ben-Hayyim, Eduard Yechezkel. The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT). pp. Entry כִּכָּר.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Gregorio del Olmo Lete, Joaquín Sanmartín, Wilfred G. E. Watson. A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition. p. 430.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ See J.H. Kroll, "Early Iron Age balance weights at Lefkandi, Euboea". Oxford Journal of Archaeology 27, pp. 37–48 (2008)
  12. ^ "1 Kings 9:14 Interlinear: And Hiram sendeth to the king a hundred and twenty talents of gold". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2020-07-28.
  13. ^ "Exodus 25:39 Interlinear: of a talent of pure gold he doth make it, with all these vessels". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2020-07-28.
  14. ^ a b c John William Humphrey, John Peter Oleson, Andrew Neil Sherwood, Greek and Roman technology, p. 487.
  15. ^ Herodotus, Robin Waterfield and Carolyn Dewald, The Histories (1998), p. 593.
  16. ^ a b "III. Measures of Weight:", Jewish Encyclopedia.
  17. ^ a b c Charles Theodore Seltman (1924) Athens, Its History and Coinage Before the Persian Invasion, pp. 112–114.
  18. ^ Homer, The Iliad, Hom. Il. 23.784.
  19. ^ Renfrew & Wagstaff (1982): "One Attic talent was the equivalent of 60 minae or 6,000 drachmae..."
  20. ^ Hultsch (1882) p 135
  21. ^ Dewald (1998), in Appendix II
  22. ^ Engen, Darel. "The Economy of Ancient Greece", EH.Net Encyclopedia, 2004.
  23. ^ Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Book 6, verse 8: "Early in the spring of the following summer the Athenian envoys arrived from Sicily, and the Egestaeans with them, bringing sixty talents of uncoined silver, as a month's pay for sixty ships, which they were to ask to have sent them."
  24. ^ Hultsch (1882), p 502
  25. ^ Gardner (1918)
  26. ^ Matthew 25:14–30
  27. ^ Talent. (F.-L-Gk.) The sense of 'ability' is from the parable; Matt. xxv. F. talent, 'a talent in money; also will, desire;' Cot. —L. talentum. — Gk. тоЛа»Tov, a balance, weight, sum of money, talent. Named from being lifted and weighed; cf. Skt. tul, I.. tollere, to lift, Gk. Tcsa-m, sustaining. (TAL.) Allied to Tolerate. Der. talent-ed, in use before A. D. 1700. p 489 A concise etymological dictionary of the English language, Rev. Walter W. Skeat
  28. ^ talent late 13c., "inclination, disposition, will, desire," from O.Fr. talent, from M.L. talenta, pl. of talentum "inclination, leaning, will, desire" (1098), in classical L. "balance, weight, sum of money," from Gk. talanton "balance, weight, sum," from PIE *tel-, *tol- "to bear, carry" (see extol). Originally an ancient unit of weight or money (varying greatly and attested in O.E. as talente), the M.L. and common Romanic sense developed from figurative use of the word in the sense of "money." Meaning "special natural ability, aptitude," developed mid-14c., from the parable of the talents in Matt. xxv:14–30. Related: Talented. Online Etymological Dictionary
  29. ^ Luke 19:12–27
  30. ^ Epiphanius, Treatise on Weights and Measures (Syriac Version) James Elmer Dean (ed.), Chicago University Press: 1935, §45
  31. ^ Matthew 18:23–35
  32. ^ Exodus 38
  33. ^ 2 Chronicles 9:13
    1 Kings 10:14

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