The Span of His Fingers

Photographer Unknown, (The Span of His Fingers)

The span was used as a fixed measurement in ancient Greece since at least the Archaic period, which lasted from the eighth century BC to the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. The word trispithamos, meaning three spans long, occurs as early as the eighth century BC in the Greek poet Hesiod’s work. The word spithame, meaning span, is verified in the work of Greek historian Herodotus of the 5th century BC.

A span is the distance measured by a human hand, from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger. This measurement in ancient times was considered to be half a cubit. In English usage a span is equal to nine inches or  0.2286 meters. The old Portuguese customary unit referring to a span was the palm de craver, equivalent to eight polegadas or Portuguese inches.


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