Spanish Measurements

punto: An extensively used word in the Spanish language in many idiomatic expressions, meaning a point or dot, the
punto was the smallest of Spanish measurements. Used exclusively in sewing, shoe and boot making, and later printing,
it was 1/12th of a línea (line) and a little over six-thousandths of an SAE inch.

línea: Spanish for line, línea denotes a "twine's thickness," used for stitch measuring in sewing and most commonly in
the fishing industry. It was 12 puntos and 1/9 of a dedo, equaling about 0.076 SAE inch.

dedo: The Spanish word for finger or toe, dedo, begins the scale of measurements associated with the human form.
The finger's breadth was handed down centuries earlier. The Egyptian digit (zebo) of 18.7mm and later the Roman
digitus (finger) of 18.44mm was transferred to the New World as 17.4mm, using the Burgos definition of the vara (48
dedos to the vara). In SAE units, the dedo measures 0.686 of an inch.

pulgada: The Spanish word for inch, the pulgada was the third most widely used linear measurement, after the vara
and legua. These three were used traditionally as small, medium and long lengths throughout antiquity. A man's thumb
width (quite often larger during prosperous times) denoted the inch in many cultures. From the Latin uncia, literally a
twelfth, we get the words INCH and OUNCE. Starting out as 24.58mm, it arrives in the New World as 23.2mm and is
exactly 1/3 of a palmo menor, equaling 0.914 SAE inch.

palmo menor: This measurement came from minor palmus (small palm) or 4 Roman digits, or approximately 3 inches. It
was used in Spanish colonial times as subdivisions: 1/2 of the sesma and 1/3 of the palmo mayor. It is about 2.74 SAE

sesma (jeme): A variation of the Spanish word sexma (for 1/6), the sesma was 1/6th of a Burgos vara, or six pulgadas
at 5.48 SAE inches.

palmo mayor: (curato, c.1620 DF): Derived again from the Roman concept of a " large palm," the Roman major palmus
was 12 digits or three times larger than the small palm. Spain's adoption is similar, with the palmo mayor being exactly
three times larger than the menor,or 8.227 SAE inches and is exactly 1/4 vara.

pie: (tercio, c.1620 DF): Spanish word for foot, the pie is 2/3 the size of a codo and 1/3 larger than the palmo mayor.
From the Roman pes, a foot of 295.7mm survives to become the Spanish foot at 278.6mm or 10.969 SAE inches.

codo geométrico: (media, c.1620 DF): Spanish for elbow. Traditional naming for measures from anatomical
appendages continues. The Roman cubitus, at around 18", now becomes Spain's codo geométrico, at 16.45 SAE
inches. Theoretically, it is the distance between the elbow and the outstretched middle finger.

codo real (de ribera): Used primarily in shipbuilding (lit. "along the shoreline"), the codo real is 1/3 larger than the codo
geométrico and was exactly 8 palmos menores In SAE terms, approximately 1.83 feet.

paso ordinario: Spanish for a man's length of step or pace and is 1/2 of a paso geométrico. The Roman gradus or
half- passus most closely resembles the ordinario, measuring approximately 2.3 SAE feet.

vara: Established within Spain's northern central power province of Burgos in the early 16th century, vara was
considered very early on as the Spanish YARD and was used for many other integer multiples. The legal value of the
vara set in early 1900 Texas was 33-1/3 inches, but Spanish-speaking countries (including Mexico and California) and
those outside of Mexico had many other definitions for this most-used of Spanish measurements. (Burgos Province vara
= 32.909 SAE inches). In St. Augustine 1 vara equaled 2 3/4 feet

paso geométrico: Twice the length of the paso ordinario where again Roman influence predominates with the passus,
or man's pace, about 5 feet, considered a "long" Roman yardstick. The Spanish paso geométrico measures slightly less
than 4.6 SAE feet.

braza: A length used primarily in the shipbuilding industry (meaning "marine fathom"), was actually measured differently
for length and height. From Greek times the fathom (orguia), was defined as the distance between fingertip to fingertip
of a man's outstretched arms. About 1.83m in antiquity, the fathom transferred to Nueva España as a shorter 1.67m or
5.485 SAE feet.

toesa: A Spanish measurement that had absolutely no common multiples or divisions with any other Spanish
measurement. Rather, the toesa was adopted quite independently from an Old French measurement (toise) of
approximately 6.38 SAE feet.

marca: As with the toesa, the miarca has no common divisors or integer combinations between the toesa or other
Spanish lengths. It appears that this length was used as a height measuring stick, approximately 7.88 SAE feet, for sea
and land measurements. It was apparently another French legacy.

estadal: A Spanish linear measurement of about 3.3 meters or 11 SAE feet. The estadal is many even multiples of
other Spanish measures. (Please see Editor's Note for the explanatory Table.)

cordel: In Spanish colonial times there were three cordels with distinct integer equivalents of 10, 50 and 69 varas, each
measuring in at 27.4, 137. 1, and 189 SAE feet respectively. Used primarily in the agrarian and cattle industries.

milla: The Spanish equivalent MILE or 1/3 of a legua. From the Roman mille passus, or 8 stadia, which contains 1000
paces, came the mile (milliarium). Spain's bequeathal, the milla, similarly contained 1000 pasos geométrico or twice as
many pasos ordinaries with many other integer multiples along the way. The milla is 1393m or 0.866 SAE mile. The
Roman milliarium was used extensively in antiquity, e.g., along highways where stones were equally spaced and served
to form military positions; also in highway maintenance.

legua: The largest of Spanish measurements was the legua, or LEAGUE, which has many divisors and multiplying
subdivisions. Exactly 3 millas, 5000 varas or 10,000 codos; it was 2.597 SAE miles or 4180 meters in length.


Barnes, T. C., Thomas N. Naylor and Charles W. Polzer.
NORTHERN NEW SPAIN: A RESEARCH GUIDE. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1981, 68-75.
Berriman, A. E.
RELATING TO WEIGHTS AND MEASUREMENTS. London: British Museum Press, 1953.

Meigs, III, Peveril.
THE DOMINICAN MISSION FRONTIER OF LOWER CALIFORNIA.. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1935, 165.

Perez, Crisostomo N.
LAND GRANTS IN ALTA CALIFORNIA.. Rancho Cordova: Landmark Enterprises, 1996.
Stampa, Manuel Carrera.
"The Evolution of Weights and Measures in New Spain." HISPANIC AMERICA HISTORICAL REVIEW 29: #1 (February
1949): 2-24.

Wattles, Gurdon. (original by William Wattles)
LAND SURVEY DESCRIPTIONS, 10th ed. Tustin: Wattles Publications, 1974.
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