seed measures
of arable land

Imagine that you own a suburban home, and a friend asks, “How big is your front lawn?” If you replied, “About five pounds of grass seed,” and your friend tends a similar lawn, he or she would have a pretty good idea of how big your lawn was.

In the Bible, Leviticus XXVII specifies that land should be “estimated according to the seed thereof, an homer of barley seed shall be valued at 50 shekels of silver.” It is not the barley seed itself that is worth 50 silver shekels (a lot of money), but the “homer of barley seed,” namely the amount of land that would be sown with 1 chomer of barley seed.

Seed measures of land area often have the same name as the unit of capacity used for the seed. With no exception I know of, they were applied only to land on which grain was grown, and not for land used for vegetables or other crops.

As farmers became more accustomed to geometric land area units, many seed measures of land acquired geometric definitions – as so-and-so many square meters or square yards.

Seed measures of land are not stupid. In fact, they have several advantages over geometric units:

Other examples include the moggio, setier

Region Unit of
land area
Unit of
capacity
Unit of
mass
Typical
grain
Size of unit of land area Size of unit of capacity
liters
Bohemia Strich Strich     2877.32 sq. m  
Bolivia chaca 18 kg barley 36 sq. m
Denmark fjerding fjerding     887 sq. m 34.78
fjerdingkar fjerdingkar        
tönde tönde        
Finland tunnland tunna        
tynnyrinala tynnyri     4936.5 sq. m about 165 L
France seterée          
estrée          
charge charge        
havotée havot     ? 17.545
boisselée boisseau        
ancient Hebrew chomer chomer     2.4 ha (6 ac) 230 L (6½ bu)
Holland mud          
India kula          
Japan bu          
Libya sâa sâa     9600 sq. m 118.8
Malta tomna tomna     1124 sq. m 181.84
siegħ siegħ        
modd modd     1.798 ha 290.95
Nepal matomana        
Oldenburg Scheffelsaat Scheffel        
Russia diesyatina          
Sicily mondello mondello        
Spain fanegada fanega        
cahizada cahiz     3814.3 sq. m 666
Spain (Galacia) ferrado ferrado     639.58 sq. m 16.15
ferrado ferrado     444.16 sq. m 20.87
Sweden tunnland tunna     4936 sq. m 146.6
kappland kappe     1.54 a 4.58

sources

1

Land Measures.-In Southern India, it appears to have been the custom in ancient times to name an area of land after the quantity of grain that it was thought would sow it, or the quantity it was thought it would produce. Thus for instance, a candy of land was as much as would produce a candy of grain, and this was by estimate and not by actual measurement, or if a measured area was considered a candy in one village, it would not be so in the next.

[above, page 505. … Below, page 508, referring to the South Canara District.]

Land Measures

It has been the practice of the country to estimate the area of a portion of land by the quantity of seed required to sow it. This quantity varies with the quality of the land and the variations of the local seed measure, so that great diversity exists.

Several experiments have been made by actual measurement to obtain such an average as may represent in defined terms what is meant by a moody or extent of land requiring a moody of 60 seer measures (of 80 tolahs' weight in rice) of seed to sow it. In the “byle” or first sort low level land, the average moody is .912 acre. In “majal” or second sort land it averages 1.0711 acres, and in the “bettoo” or third sort high level land 1.116 acres, so that one acre may be assumed as the average equivalent of the moody. In some places the moody is 56, 50, 48, 45, 40 and 35 seers and in those localities the corresponding quantity of land is of course less than an acre.

Manual of the Administration of the Madras Presidency… Volume II.
Madras: Printed by E. Keys, at the Government Press, 1885.

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