Portuguese customary units

Portuguese customary units were used in Portugal, Brazil and other parts of the Portuguese Empire until the adoption of the metric system in the 19th century.

The official system of units in use in Portugal from the 16th to the 19th century was the system introduced by king Manuel I around 1499-1504. The most salient aspect of this reform was the distribution of bronze weight standards (nesting weight piles) to the towns of the kingdom. The reform of weights is unparalled in Europe until this time, due to the number of distributed standards (hundreds), the size (64 to 256 marcs) and the elaborate decoration.

In 1575, king Sebastian distributed bronze standards of capacity measures to the main towns. The number of distributed standards was smaller and uniformity of capacity measures was never achieved.

The first proposal for the adoption of the metric decimal system in Portugal appears in Chichorro's report on weights and measures. In 1814, Portugal was the second country in the world – after France – to officially adopt the metric system. The system then adopted used the names of the Portuguese traditional units instead of the original French names (e.g.: vara for metre; canada for litre; and libra for kilogram). However, several difficulties prevented the implementation of the new system and the old Portuguese customary units continued to be used, both in Portugal and in Brazil (which became an independent country in 1822).

The metric system was finally adopted by Portugal and its colonies in 1852, this time using the original names of the units. Brazil continued to use the Portuguese customary units until 1862, only then adopting the metric system.

Route units

Portuguese name English name Subdivides in Equivalence in
Léguas de 20 ao grau
Metric equivalence
Légua de 18 ao grauLeague of 18 to the degree6173 m
Légua de 20 ao grauLeague of 20 to the degree3 milhas geográficas15555 m
Milha geográficaGeographical mile1/31851 m

Length units

Portuguese name English name Subdivides in Equivalence in Varas Metric equivalence
BraçaFathom2 varas22.2 m
ToesaToise6 pés1451.98 m
Passo geométricoGeometrical pace5 pés1121.65 m
VaraYard5 palmos11.1 m
CôvadoCubit3 palmos3/50.66 m
Foot12 polegadas3/100.33 m
Palmo de craveiraSpan8 polegadas1/50.22 m
PolegadaInch12 linhas1/4027.5 mm
LinhaLine12 pontos1/4802.29 mm
PontoPoint1/57600.19 mm

Weight units

Portuguese name English name Subdivides in Equivalence in Arráteis Metric equivalence
ToneladaTonne13.5 quintais1728793.152 kg
QuintalHundredweight4 arrobas12858.752 kg
ArrobaArroba32 arráteis3214.688 kg
ArrátelPound4 quartas10.459 kg
MarcoMark8 onças1/20.22950 kg
QuartaFourth4 onças1/40.11475 kg
OnçaOunce8 oitavas1/1628.6875 g
OitavaDram3 escrópulos1/1283.5859 g
EscrópuloScruple24 grãos1/3841.1953 g
GrãoGrain1/92160.0498 g

Liquid volume units (for Lisbon)

Portuguese name English name Subdivides in Equivalence in canadas Metric equivalence
TonelCask2 pipas600840 l
PipaBarrel25 almudes300420 l
Almude2 potes1216.8 l
PotePot6 canadas68.4 l
Canada4 quartilhos11.4 l
QuartilhoPint2 meios quartilhos1/40.35 l
Meio quartilho1/80.175 l

See also

References

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