Weight - ROM2014_14145_24



Medium:Bronze, cast
Geography: Possibly excavated at Naukratis, Egypt
Date: c. 332 BC-295 AD
Period: Late Ptolemaic to Roman Period
1.5 × 1.9 cm, 28.3 g
Object number: 909.80.336
Not on view

Currency in the form of coins was introduced into Egypt during the Late Period, but for most of Ancient Egyptian history a barter-exchange system based on the value of various weights of silver or copper was used.  Goods were valued in terms of how much copper or silver would be required to buy them, and then exchanged for other goods with the same value in metal.  For example, an Ostracon from Deir el Medina, #73, verso, described by Jac Jansen in Commodity Prices from the Ramesside Period (Leiden, 1975) gives an example of a coffin worth 25.5 deben of copper, which was purchased for two goats, one pig, two sycamore logs, and 13.5 deben of actual copper. There are many such exchanges recorded from Ancient Egypt.  Units of grain and oils were also used in exchange-barter.  As in modern economies, rates of exchange varied with supply. The weight, in grams, of a deben changed from the Old and New Kingdoms to the Late Period, but a qedet, (also known as a kite) was always valued at one tenth of a debenStone and bronze weights equivalent to specific amounts of copper were used in everyday market transactions, and could be checked against more official weights kept in temples.

In addition to the native system of deben and qedet, Egyptians also used a system called beqa or, ‘the gold standard,’ as well as Mesopotamian, Syrian, Greek and eventually Roman systems. The beqa system was in use in Egypt since at least the reign of Khufu in the Old Kingdom. It is sometimes called the 'gold standard,' because some examples have the Egyptian hieroglyph for 'gold' stamped on them. Metal weights generally belong to Greco-Roman times and later.

This small barrel-shaped weight, carinated around the middle, probably belongs to the Ptolemaic period. The word ‘ tilat’ is inscribed on one flattened end, and other signs, unfortunately illegible, are on the other. It may correspond to the beqa system, though it is sometimes difficult to determine the precise value of metal weights.  As Petrie wrote: 

“Metal weights have almost always undergone alteration over the centuries, both losing and gaining weight.  The loss is by wear, by solution of compounds, and, especially on bronze weights, by scaling of compounds; the gain is by the oxygen and carbonic acid locked up in the compounds, for nearly half the weight of green carbonate of copper is gain from the air.” Glass Stamps and Weights, British School of Archaeology, 1926, p.22.

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