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euclid
03-02-2010, 06:47 PM
I remember one of you history buffs told me that kilometres should not be used in Medieval HF.

Does the same apply to Metres?

lkp
03-02-2010, 09:26 PM
Yes.

ETA Even measurement forms that did exist in the Middle Ages should be used with care and sensitivity. People would be likely to reckon distance as a day's march or a day's ride, or by their own handspan or foot length. Weight would also be compared to known quantities, except by people whose profession was weighing things. Temperature might be described by its effects ("Cold enough to..." "Hot enough to...")

Kitti
03-02-2010, 10:16 PM
All of the measurements of the metric system were invented much later.

In the medieval period, it was very common to measure distance by some qualitative standard (e.g. 3-days journey, the length of a crossbow shot). Other units of measurement that were (used in medieval England, because that's what I know best) include the mile, English league, rod (also perch, pole), chain, furlong. Larger distances could be halved or quartered (half mile, quarter mile) but weren't usually broken down any further.

The key thing to remember about even these measurements is that no one could quite agree on exactly how long they were. Different parts of the country meant different things by them. (Just read any of the long and convoluted literature on weights and measures and you'll soon see what I mean.)

The best example I can think of off the top of my head is the acre, by which is meant the amount of land that can be plowed in one day. So the size of the acre depends on the quality of the soil being plowed and can vary greatly, by our definitions. But for the medieval ploughman, it was far more important to know how many days it was going to take to plow his fields than to have some arbitrary field size.

euclid
03-02-2010, 10:52 PM
Brilliant!

So how do I describe, say, a length of one metre?

lkp
03-02-2010, 10:55 PM
The length of his arm? I know that's a bit short. The span of his arms? I know that's a bit long. But it gives you an idea.

Kitti
03-03-2010, 12:01 AM
Where are you, chronologically, within the medieval period? If it's post 1305 the "yard" is an option.

You might want to consider checking out Charles Watson's British Weights and Measures. The book is out of copyright so you can find it online. (If I've done the link right, you can go directly to it from HERE (http://www.archive.org/stream/britishweightsme00watsuoft#page/n7/mode/2up).)

euclid
03-03-2010, 12:32 AM
1096, the first crusade, in France, Germany, etc all the way to the Holy Land. Not anywhere near England.

How should I describe 20 metres? the height of twelve men, maybe?

DeleyanLee
03-03-2010, 12:34 AM
Sounds to me like a long stone's throw or yonder.

Kitti
03-03-2010, 07:33 AM
If your characters are in the middle of a crusade, maybe use a military comparison? E.g. twice the height of the walls of (xyz city) or the height of the siege engines at (xyz siege).

Medievalist
03-03-2010, 08:22 AM
I'd suggest looking into league. It's derived from a Celtic measurement, and was commonly used all over Western Europe until the nineteenth century, since the Romans adopted it.

Here's a good source on measurement terms in general:

http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/

MattW
03-03-2010, 08:28 AM
How should I describe 20 metres? the height of twelve men, maybe?
Paces.

pdr
03-03-2010, 11:25 AM
to use it but an arm's reach, a stride, a pace. A yard at your date was usually what became a rod - around 5 metres I believe. Horse lengths may be?

Ruv Draba
03-03-2010, 12:28 PM
I try and avoid using numbers as measures in fiction -- even modern fiction -- because numbers don't have much mood. Instead I try and use qualities whenever sensible, unless a precise quantity is needed. So 'noon' becomes 'lunchtime', and 'twenty metres' becomes 'a spearcast', 'a few boatlengths', 'a bell-tower's shadow' or 'a Hail Mary stroll' -- whatever suits the characters and situation.

waylander
03-03-2010, 04:14 PM
Paces.

seconded

euclid
03-03-2010, 05:24 PM
Thanks for all those delicious suggestions!

I'm trying to describe a fortified building (chateau). The height of the wall and towers, how far the door is off the ground and how high the door is. Can't use paces. I've tried using the height of a man. "The Walls were as high as twenty tall men, the door as high as twelve and set high in the wall so a man would have to stand on another's shoulders to reach it." (paraphrasing)

euclid
03-03-2010, 05:26 PM
I try and avoid using numbers as measures in fiction -- even modern fiction -- because numbers don't have much mood. Instead I try and use qualities whenever sensible, unless a precise quantity is needed. So 'noon' becomes 'lunchtime', and 'twenty metres' becomes 'a spearcast', 'a few boatlengths', 'a bell-tower's shadow' or 'a Hail Mary stroll' -- whatever suits the characters and situation.

What's 'a Hail Mary stroll'?
I've heard of a Hail Mary pass in football...
:tongue

Ruv Draba
03-03-2010, 06:51 PM
What's 'a Hail Mary stroll'?It's a stroll of around 20 metres, of course. :tongue

I figured it's about as far as you'd get at a crisp stroll reciting a Hail Mary. It's obviously a much shorter distance than a Paternoster Gallop, say. :tongue :tongue :tongue

Puma
03-03-2010, 06:57 PM
Delightful and very informative thread!

Another possible measurement comparison, Euclid, would be height of a specific type of locally found tree, i.e., in my part of the midwestern US the sycamore trees are some of the tallest - comparing a height to a tall sycamore makes an immediate impression (for anyone who knows what a sycamore looks like). Other thoughts would be heights of stable doors, church bell towers, etc. I think comparison is probably your best way to go. Puma

euclid
03-03-2010, 08:55 PM
It's a stroll of around 20 metres, of course. :tongue

I figured it's about as far as you'd get at a crisp stroll reciting a Hail Mary. It's obviously a much shorter distance than a Paternoster Gallop, say. :tongue :tongue :tongue

A Matins march
A Canticle canter
A Credo creep / crawl

euclid
03-03-2010, 09:17 PM
As long as you're there, you lot:

What about time?
Can I talk about days, weeks, months?
What about hours, minutes, seconds?

Kitti
03-03-2010, 09:37 PM
*N.B. This applies primarily to European time-measurements.*

Days, weeks and months are all okay, just make sure you are using the Julian Calendar (the start of the new year varies by country and isn't always Jan. 1). If your characters are very religious, they'll probably reference dates by the nearest religious holiday (e.g. the feast of St. xyz or two weeks after Easter). If they feel any particular loyalty to their monarch, they might also date by regnal years (e.g. the the 31st year of Philip I).

Be careful with the term hours, as in a medieval context you would generally be referring to canonical hours (e.g. terce, sext, which are marked by the ringing of bells) not the hours we think of. These hours are not equal in length, year-round. The length of time from dawn to noon is different in the winter and the summer, by our reckoning, but not by medieval canonical hours. Hours of equal length are a latter medieval development (see Jacques LeGoff's essays for more details.)

Seconds (and, to a lesser extent, minutes) are probably out - only an astronomer would need to measure time/space that precisely. But divisions of the hour into three quarters, half and a quarter should be okay.

Deb Kinnard
03-03-2010, 10:26 PM
Suggest you google "canonical hours" if you're not already familiar with them. Another terrific source for me has been Ian Mortimer's TIME TRAVELER'S GUIDE TO THE 14th CENTURY. Although it's a bit late for your purposes, the information in it won't be that far off. Wish he'd write one set in the 12th or earlier!

For short practical measures of time, I've used "quicker than you can say an Ave" and for heights, "as a tall tree" "knee height" and the like. Your characters might also use handspan, arm's length, bowshot (as mentioned above), a quick walking pace, a marching pace for the time it takes to cover a distance. "A day's journey" would be quite different on the flatlands of France as it would be crossing the Alps.

Mentioning days, weeks and months is okay. Keep in mind they might use "fortnight" for two weeks and "sevennight" or "sen'night" for a week.

For the height of your keep you might say that the battlements were higher than a thrown stone could reach; tall as an oak; that sort of thing. You could also mention "high as Castle Coucy" or make comparison with another extant fortress that was state of the art for your time. For the door height, you might mention the number of steps on the external (wooden, and therefore easily destroyed if the keep came under attack) staircase.

Interesting stuff. How much of our current terminology is of very recent invention, and we take it all for granted.

Medievalist
03-03-2010, 10:39 PM
How much of our current terminology is of very recent invention, and we take it all for granted.

Just the metrical stuff is recent.

Even minutes and seconds are used in Middle English, just not by non-scholars/navigation users. Inch, foot, hide, acre, yard, ell, span, etc. are all used in Old English, and were used by common folk.

Canonical hours are tricky though, in terms of accuracy (and how important that is in fiction is up to you). They differ in terms of era, and monastic form (i.e. Cistercian vs. other abbeys and rules).

Deb Kinnard
03-03-2010, 10:46 PM
But those measures weren't necessarily defined. An inch here measures the same as an inch in the U.K. In the middle ages, this wasn't the case. A gallon of ale didn't measure the same as a gallon of wine. Even ploughlands or hides referred to different amounts of land, depending on what portion of England you name.

It's the standardization we take for granted. This all happened slowly, in fits and starts, until eventually the norms were created by royal decree. In Euclid's time frame this uniformity was still far in the future.

euclid
03-03-2010, 10:51 PM
A gallon of ale didn't measure the same as a gallon of wine.

TYPICAL!

In Euclid's time frame this uniformity was still far in the future.

Steady on, girl. I'm not THAT old!

waylander
03-04-2010, 05:04 PM
For very short periods of time (eg seconds) I used heartbeats or breathes for the POV character

euclid
03-04-2010, 06:13 PM
For very short periods of time (eg seconds) I used heartbeats or breathes for the POV character

Good idea. I use "moments". Shouldn't that be "breaths"?

Deb Kinnard
03-04-2010, 06:33 PM
Steady on, girl. I'm not THAT old!

Gaah! I meant, of course, the setting of your NOVEL. LOL.

I'M the one who's two years older than dirt.