Talent (measurement)

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The talent (Latin: talentum, from Ancient Greek: τάλαντον, talanton "scale, balance, sum") was one of several ancient units of mass, a commercial weight, as well as corresponding units of value equivalent to these masses of a precious metal. The talent of gold was known to Homer, who described how Achilles gave a half-talent of gold to Antilochus as a prize.[1] A Greek, or Attic talent, was 26 kilograms (57 lb)[2] (approximately the mass of water required to fill an amphora[citation needed]), a Roman talent was 32.3 kilograms (71 lb), an Egyptian talent was 27 kilograms (60 lb),[2] and a Babylonian talent was 30.3 kilograms (67 lb).[3] Ancient Israel, and other Levantine countries, adopted the Babylonian talent, but later revised the mass.[4] The heavy common talent, used in New Testament times, was 58.9 kilograms (130 lb).[4]

Homeric talent[edit]

The original Homeric talent was probably the gold equivalent of the value of an ox or a cow.[5] Based on a statement from a later Greek source that "the talent of Homer was equal in amount to the later Daric [... i.e.] two Attic drachmas" and analysis of finds from a Mycenaean grave-shaft, a weight of about 8.5 grams (0.30 oz) can be established for this original talent.[5] The later Attic talent was of a different weight than the Homeric, but represented the same value in copper as the Homeric did in gold, with the price ratio of gold to copper in Bronze Age Greece being 1:3000.[5]

Attic talent[edit]

An Attic talent was the equivalent of 60 minae or 6,000 drachmae.[6]

An Attic talent was about 26 kilograms (57 lb). Friedrich Hultsch estimated a weight of 26.196 kg,[7] and Dewald (1998) offers a weight of 25.992 kg.[8]

An Attic talent of silver was the value of nine man-years of skilled work.[9] In 415 BC, an Attic talent was a month's pay for a trireme crew,[10] Hellenistic mercenaries were commonly paid one drachma per day of military service.[citation needed]

Aeginetan talent[edit]

The Aeginetan talent weighed about 37 kg. The German historian Friedrich Hultsch calculated a range of 36.15 to 37.2kg based on such estimates as the weight of one full Aeginetan metretes of coins, and concluded that the Aeginetan talent represented the water weight of a Babylonian ephah: 36.29 kg by his reckoning (the metretes and the ephah were units of volume).[11] Percy Gardner estimated a weight of 37.32 kg, based on extant weights and coins.[12]

An Aeginetan talent was worth 60 Aeginetan minae, or 6,000 Aeginetan drachmae[dubious ].[citation needed]

Other talents[edit]

The Babylonians, Sumerians, and Hebrews divided a talent into 60 minas, each of which was subdivided into 60 shekels. The Greek also used the ratio of 60 minas to one talent. A Greek mina was approximately 434 ± 3 grams. A Roman talent was 100 libra. A libra is exactly three quarters of a Greek mina, so a Roman talent is 1.33 Greek talents. An Egyptian talent was 80 librae.[2]

The talent as a unit of value is mentioned in the New Testament in Jesus' parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).[13] This parable is the origin of the use of the word "talent" to mean "gift or skill" in English and other languages.[14][15] Luke includes a different parable involving the mina.[16] According to Epiphanius, the talent is called mina (maneh) among the Hebrews, and was the equivalent in weight to one-hundred denarii.[17] The talent is found in another parable of Jesus [18] where a servant who is forgiven a debt of ten thousand talents refuses to forgive another servant who owes him only one hundred silver denarii. The talent is also used elsewhere in the Bible, as when describing the material invested in the Ark of the Covenant.[19] Solomon received 666 gold talents a year.[20]


  • Herodotus (1998) [440 BC]. Dewald, Carolyn, ed. The Histories. Translated by Waterfield, Robin. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192126092.
  • Hultsch, Friedrich (1882). Griechische und Römische Metrologie [Greek and Roman Metrology] (in German) (2nd ed.). Weidmannsche Buchhandlung.


  1. ^ Homer, Iliad, Hom. Il. 23.784.
  2. ^ a b c John William Humphrey, John Peter Oleson, Andrew Neil Sherwood, Greek and Roman technology, p.487.
  3. ^ Herodotus, Robin Waterfield and Carolyn Dewald, The Histories (1998), p. 593.
  4. ^ a b "III. Measures of Weight:", JewishEncyclopedia.com
  5. ^ a b c Charles Theodore Seltman (1924) Athens, Its History and Coinage Before the Persian Invasion, pp. 112–114.
  6. ^ Renfrew & Wagstaff (1982): "One Attic talent was the equivalent of 60 minae or 6,000 drachmae..."
  7. ^ Hultsch (1882), p 135
  8. ^ Dewald (1998), in Appendix II
  9. ^ Engen, Darel. "The Economy of Ancient Greece", EH.Net Encyclopedia, 2004.
  10. ^ Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Book 6, verse 8: "Early in the spring of the following summer the Athenian envoys arrived from Sicily, and the Egestaeans with them, bringing sixty talents of uncoined silver, as a month's pay for sixty ships, which they were to ask to have sent them."
  11. ^ Hultsch (1882), p 502
  12. ^ Gardner (1918)
  13. ^ Matthew 25:14-30
  14. ^ Talent. (F.-L-Gk.) The sense of 'ability' is from the parable; Matt. xxv. F. talent, 'a talent in money; also will, desire;' Cot. —L. talentum. — Gk. тоЛа»Tov, a balance, weight, sum of money, talent. Named from being lifted and weighed; cf. Skt. tul, I.. tollere, to lift, Gk. Tcsa-m, sustaining. (TAL.) Allied to Tolerate. Der. talent-ed, in use before A. D. 1700. p 489 A concise etymological dictionary of the English language, Rev. Walter W. Skeat
  15. ^ talent late 13c., "inclination, disposition, will, desire," from O.Fr. talent, from M.L. talenta, pl. of talentum "inclination, leaning, will, desire" (1098), in classical L. "balance, weight, sum of money," from Gk. talanton "balance, weight, sum," from PIE *tel-, *tol- "to bear, carry" (see extol). Originally an ancient unit of weight or money (varying greatly and attested in O.E. as talente), the M.L. and common Romanic sense developed from figurative use of the word in the sense of "money." Meaning "special natural ability, aptitude," developed mid-14c., from the parable of the talents in Matt. xxv:14-30. Related: Talented. Online Etymological Dictionary
  16. ^ Luke 19:12-27
  17. ^ Epiphanius, Treatise on Weights and Measures (Syriac Version) James Elmer Dean (ed.), Chicago University Press: 1935, §45
  18. ^ Matthew 18:23-35
  19. ^ Exodus 38
  20. ^ 2 Chronicles 9:13
    1 Kings 10:14

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