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Weights and measures

Volume and capacity

The modius and its subdivision the sextarius are the most commonly used measure of capacity and in the Vindolanda texts are used as measure for liquid (e.g. beer, wine) and 'dry goods' (e.g. cereals). There is also a reference to a metreta of beer (186). These units are usually, though not always, abbreviated, modius (plural modii) to m with a bar above it, sextarius (plural sextarii) to s divided horizontally by a bar. Again half is indicated by semis, abbreviated to s.

Roman units

Roman units Metric (litres) Imperial (gallons: pints)
1 modius = 16 sextarii 8.62 1.93: 15.44
1 metreta = 100 sextarii 0.54 0.12: 0.96

We have some information on the volumes of containers in which items brought to Vindolanda as supplies would have been transported. For example many complete amphorae have survived in shipwrecks and burials and barrels too when re-used as linings for wells. This allows archaeologists to calculate the volumes they would have carried. The records of their contents painted on amphorae (tituli dipinti) note capacities close to these assessments. The volumes of some common types of amphora and barrels are tabled here, recorded in Roman and modern metric and imperial units. (NB as well as being a term for a type of container, amphora is also a term for a Roman unit of measurement equivalent to three modii).

Amphora capacities

Amphora Capacity (modii: sextarii) Capacity (metric) Capacity (imperial)
Dressel 1 (wine) 2.8: 44.5 24 litres 5.28 gallons
Dressel 2-4 (wine) 3.5: 55.7 26-34 litres 5.72-7.48 gallons
Dressel 20 (olive oil) 6.9: 111.4

40-80 litres (60-65 average) 8.8-17.6 gallons
Barrels (wine, beer) 40.6-156.6: 649.6-2505.8 350-1350 litres 77-297 gallons



The principal measure of weight used in the Vindolanda tablets is the Roman pound, the libra, although this term itself occurs in only one tablet (180). The pound is more frequently referred to as pondo, abbreviated to p. The Roman pound is less than the modern imperial pound, at just under three quarters of its weight, or c.323g. As usual half is indicated by semis, abbreviated to s. The Roman pound was subdivided into 12 unciae (approximately 27g), which was in turn subdivided into 24 scrupula. These subdivisions are not however referred to in the Vindolanda tablets.

For further information see Transport and supplies, Diet and dining and The use and formats of writing tablets in the exhibition.

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