Not to be confused with the quantum computing concept Qubit. For the bone, see Ulna. For other uses, see Cubit (disambiguation).
Egyptian cubit rule of 0.52m
The Nippur cubit-rod in the Archeological Museum of Istanbul, Turkey

The cubit is a traditional unit of length, based on the length of the forearm. Cubits of various lengths were employed in many parts of the world in Antiquity, in the Middle Ages and into Early Modern Times.

The Egyptian hieroglyph for the cubit shows the symbol of a forearm. The Egyptian cubit was subdivided into 7 palms of 4 digits each; surviving cubit rods are between 52.3 and 52.9 cm in length.[1]

Over time, various cubits and variations on the cubit have measured:

  • 6 palms, or 24 digits
  • 7 palms, or 28 digits[1]



The English word 'cubit' comes from Latin cubitum 'elbow', from the verb cubāre, -cumbĕre 'to lie down'; cf. 'recumbent'.[2]

The Egyptian royal cubit and Sumerian Nippur cubit

The earliest attested standard measure is from the Old Kingdom pyramids of Egypt and was called the royal cubit (mahe). The royal cubit was 523 to 529 mm (20.6 to 20.8 in) in length,[1] and was subdivided into 7 palms of 4 digits each, for a 28-part measure in total. Evidence for the royal cubit unit is known from Old Kingdom architecture, from at least as early as the construction of the Step Pyramid of Djoser from around 2,700 B.C.[3]

In 1916, during the last years of Ottoman Empire and in the middle of WWI, the German Assyriologist Eckhard Unger found a copper-alloy bar while excavating at Nippur. The bar dates from c. 2650 BC. and Unger claimed it was used as a measurement standard. This irregularly formed and irregularly marked graduated rule supposedly defined the Sumerian cubit as about 518.6 mm.[4]

Other systems

The Indian Hasta and Thai sok are other traditional units based on the length of the forearm.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Dieter, Arnold (1991) Building in Egypt: pharaonic stone masonry Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press ISBN 9780195063509 p.251
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition, 1989; online version September 2011. s.v. 'cubit'
  3. ^ Lauer, Jean Philippe (1931) 'Étude sur Quelques Monuments de la IIIe Dynastie (Pyramide à Degrés de Saqqarah)' Annales du Service des Antiquités de L'Egypte IFAO 31:60 p. 59
  4. ^ Acta praehistorica et archaeologica Volumes 7–8. Berliner Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte; Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut (Berlin, Germany); Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Berlin: Bruno Hessling Verlag 1976 p. 49


  • Arnold, Dieter (2003). The Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egyptian Architecture. Taurus. ISBN 1860644651. 
  • Petrie, Sir Flinders Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh (1881)

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Cubit — Cu bit (k[=u] b[i^]t), n. [L. cubitum, cubitus; elbow, ell, cubit, fr. (because the elbow serves for leaning upon) cubare to lie down, recline; cf. Gr. ky biton elbow, ky ptein to bend, stoop, kyfo s bent, stooping, humpbacked. Cf. {Incumbent},… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Cubit — ist eine alte ägyptische und sumerische Maßeinheit, siehe dazu Alte Maße und Gewichte (Antike) ein altes anglo amerikanisches bzw. britisches Maß ein Längenmaß, siehe Cubit (Einheit) eine in der Fernsehserie Kampfstern Galactica benutzte Währung… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • cubit — ► NOUN ▪ an ancient measure of length, approximately equal to the length of a forearm. ORIGIN Latin cubitum elbow, forearm, cubit …   English terms dictionary

  • cubit — [kyo͞o′bit] n. [ME & OE < L cubitum, the elbow, cubit: for IE base see CUBE1] an ancient unit of linear measure, about 18 22 inches (45.4 55.5 cm); orig., the length of the arm from the end of the middle finger to the elbow …   English World dictionary

  • Cubit — (engl., spr. Kjuhbit), 1) altes englisches Längenmaß = 18 engl. Zoll = 202,67 Par. Linien; daher 2) als solches in Indien sehr gewöhnlich, so v.w. Covid …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Cubit — (spr. kjūbĭt, »Vorderarm«), älteres engl. Maß zu 2 Span von 6 Palm = 45,719 cm. Als Covid in der Präsidentschaft Madras noch gebräuchlich …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Cubit — (spr. kjuhbĭt, vom lat. cubĭtus, Ellbogen, Vorderarm, als Maß Elle), älteres engl. Ellenmaß = 1/2 Yard = 0,457 m; in Ostindien noch unter dem Namen Covid, Covit in Gebrauch …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Cubit — (Kiubit), die alte engl. Elle = 2022/3 Par. Linien …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • cubit — (n.) ancient unit of measure based on the forearm from elbow to fingertip, usually from 18 to 22 inches, early 14c., from L. cubitum the elbow, from PIE *keu(b) to bend. Such a measure, known by a word meaning forearm or the like, was known to… …   Etymology dictionary

  • cubit —    a historic unit of distance frequently mentioned in the Bible. The word comes from the Latin cubitum, elbow, because the unit represents the length of a man s forearm from his elbow to the tip of his outstretched middle finger. This distance… …   Dictionary of units of measurement

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