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Talent (measurement)

The talent (Ancient Greek: τάλαντον, talanton, Latin talentum) was a unit of weight used in the ancient world, often used for weighing gold and silver, but also mentioned in connection with other metals, ivory,[1] and frankincense. In Homer's poems, it is always used of gold and is thought to have been quite a small weight of about 8.5 grams (0.30 oz), approximately the same as the later gold stater coin or Persian daric.

In later times in Greece, it represented a much larger weight, approximately 3000 times as much: an Attic talent was approximately 26.0 kilograms (57 lb 5 oz).[2] The word also came to be used as the equivalent of the middle eastern kakkaru or kikkar. A Babylonian talent was 30.2 kg (66 lb 9 oz).[3] Ancient Israel adopted the Babylonian weight talent, but later revised it.[4] The heavy common talent, used in New Testament times, was 58.9 kg (129 lb 14 oz).[4] A Roman talent (divided into 100 librae or pounds) was 1+13 Attic talents, approximately 32.3 kg (71 lb 3 oz). An Egyptian talent was 80 librae,[2] approximately 27 kg (60 lb).[2]

Akkadian talent

The Akkadian talent was called kakkaru[5][6] in the Akkadian language,[7] corresponding to Biblical Hebrew kikkar כִּכָּר (translated as Greek τάλαντον 'talanton' in the Septuagint,[8] English 'talent'), Ugaritic kkr (𐎋𐎋𐎗),[9] Phoenician kkr (𐤒𐤒𐤓),[10] Syriac kakra (ܟܲܟܪܵܐ),[11] and apparently to gaggaru in the Amarna Tablets.[12] The name comes from the Semitic root KKR meaning 'to be circular',[13] referring to round masses of gold or silver.[14] The kakkaru or talent weight was introduced in Mesopotamia at the end of the 4th millennium BC, and was normalized at the end of the 3rd millennium during the Akkadian-Sumer phase. The talent was divided into 60 minas, each of which was subdivided into 60 shekels (following the common Mesopotamian sexagesimal number system). These weights were used subsequently by the Babylonians, Sumerians and Phoenicians, and later by the Hebrews. The Babylonian weights are approximately: shekel (8.4 g, 0.30 oz), mina (504 g, 1 lb 1.8 oz) and talent (30.2 kg, 66 lb 9 oz).

The Greeks adopted these weights through their trade with the Phoenicians along with the ratio of 60 minas to one talent. A Greek mina in Euboea around 800 BC weighed 504 g;[15] other minas in the Mediterranean basin, and even other Greek minas, varied in some small measure from the Babylonian values, and from one to another. The Bible mentions the unit in various contexts, like Hiram king of Tyre sending 120 talents of gold to King Solomon as part of an alliance,[16] or the building of the candelabrum necessitating a talent of pure gold.[17]


William Ridgeway speculates that the kakkaru/kikkar was originally the weight of a load which could be carried by a man. Thus in the Book of Kings we read that Naaman “bound two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of garments, and laid them upon two of his servants; and they bare them before him”.[18] He notes that in Assyrian cuneiform, the same ideogram or sign was used for both "tribute" and "talent", which might be explained if a load of corn was the regular unit of tribute.[19]

Homeric talent

In Homer, the word τάλαντα in the plural is sometimes used of a pair of scales or a balance;[20] it is used especially of the scales in which Zeus weighed the fortunes of men (Iliad 8.69, 19.223, 22.209). The word is also used as a measurement, always of gold. "From the order of the prizes in Il. 23.262 sq. and other passages its weight was probably not great".[21]

According to Seltman, the original Homeric talent was probably the gold equivalent of the value of an ox or a cow.[22] Homer describes how Achilles set an ox as 2nd prize in a foot race, and a half-talent of gold as the third prize, suggesting that the ox was worth a talent.[23] 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.[22] 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.[22]

Attic talent

An Attic talent was the equivalent of 60 minae or 6,000 drachmae.[24]

An Attic weight talent was about 25.8 kilograms (57 lb). Friedrich Hultsch estimated a weight of 26.2 kg,[25] and Dewald (1998) offers an estimate of 26.0 kg.[26] An Attic talent of silver was the value of nine man-years of skilled work, according to known wage rates from 377 BC.[27] In 415 BC, an Attic talent was a month's pay for a trireme crew.[28] Hellenistic mercenaries were commonly paid one drachma per day of military service.[citation needed]

Aeginetan talent

The Aeginetan talent weighed about 37 kg. The German historian Friedrich Hultsch calculated a range of 36.15 to 37.2 kg 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).[29] Percy Gardner estimated a weight of 37.32 kg, based on extant weights and coins.[30]

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

Talent in late Hebrew antiquity

The talent (Hebrew: ככר, kikkar; Aramaic: קינטרא‎, qintara) in late Hebrew antiquity (c. 500 CE) was the greatest unit of weight in use at the time, and which weight varied depending on the era. According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 9a, Pnei Moshe Commentary, s.v. דכתיב בקע לגלגלת‎), the weight of the talent at the time of Moses was double that of the Roman era talent, which latter had the weight of either 100 maneh (Roman librae), or 60 maneh (Roman librae),[31] each maneh (libra) having the weight of 25 selas[32] (sela being a term used for the biblical Shekel of Tyrian coinage, or 'shekel of the Sanctuary', and where there were 4 provincial denarii or zuz to each sela;[33] 25 selas being equivalent to 100 denaria).[32][34][35]

The standard talent during the late Second Temple period was the talent consisting of 60 maneh.[36][32] According to Talmudic scholars, the talent (kikkar) of 60 maneh (and which sum total of 60 maneh equals 1,500 selas, or 6,000 denarii (the denarius also being known in Hebrew as zuz),[33] had a weight of 150 dirham for every 25 selas.[32] The anatomic weight of each dirham at that time was put at 3.20 grammes,[37] with every sela or 'shekel of the sanctuary' weighing-in at 20.16 grammes. The sum aggregate of the 60 maneh talent (or 1,500 selas) came to c. 28.800 kilograms (63.49 lb). According to Adani, in the silver coinage known as the Mughal India rupaiya, minted during British colonial rule (each with a weight of 11.6638038 grammes (1 tola), of which weight only 91.7% was of fine silver), one talent (Heb. kikkar) would have amounted to 2,343 of these silver coins in specie (27.328 kilograms (60.25 lb)), in addition to the minuscule weight of 12 ma’in (10.08 grammes).[32]

Other talents

The talent as a unit of value is mentioned in the New Testament in Jesus' Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–30).[38] The use of the word "talent" to mean "gift or skill" in English and other languages originated from an interpretation of this parable sometime late in the 13th century.[39][40] Luke includes a different parable involving the mina.[41] According to Epiphanius, the talent is called mina (maneh) among the Hebrews, and was the equivalent in weight to one-hundred denarii.[42] The talent is found in another parable of Jesus[43] 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.[44] Solomon received 666 gold talents a year.[45]

In Revelation 16:21, the talent is used as a weight for hail being poured forth from heaven and dropping on mankind as punishment in the end times: "And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great." (KJV) Various definitions are provided in different translations:

  • NIV: a footnote says "Talent: 75 or 100 pounds."
  • NLT: text reads "weighing as much as seventy-five pounds".
  • ESV: text reads "about one hundred pounds each".


  • 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. ^ auri eborisque talenta "talents of gold and ivory", Vergil, Aeneid 11.333.
  2. ^ a b c John William Humphrey, John Peter Oleson, Andrew Neil Sherwood, Greek and Roman technology, p. 487.
  3. ^ Dewald 1998, p. 593.
  4. ^ a b "III. Measures of Weight:", Jewish Encyclopedia.
  5. ^ Black, Jeremy; George, Andrew; Postgat, Nicholas (2000). A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian. Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden. p. 141.
  6. ^ "Search Entry".
  7. ^ or less specifically biltu 'tribute, load', corresponding to Biblical Aramaic בְּלוֹ (belu) 'tribute, tax' (Akkadian Lexicon Companion for Biblical Hebrew Etymological, Semantic and Idiomatic Equivalence, Hayim Tawil, 2009. Also Jastrow Dictionary.)
  8. ^ "Melachim1 (1 Kings) 9 :: Septuagint (LXX)". Blue Letter Bible. Retrieved 2020-07-28.
  9. ^ Stieglitz, Robert R. (1979). "Commodity Prices at Ugarit". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 99 (1): 15–23. doi:10.2307/598945. ISSN 0003-0279. JSTOR 598945.
  10. ^ Krahmalkov, Charles R. Phoenician-Punic Dictionary. p. 225.
  11. ^ "Search Entry ܟܲܟܪܵܐ". Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  12. ^ Brown, Francis; Driver, Samuel Rolles; Briggs, Charles Augustus, eds. (1906). A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. England. ISBN 1-56563-206-0.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  13. ^ Koehler, Ludwig; Baumgartner, Walter; Richardson, M.E.J.; Stamm, J.J. The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT). pp. Entry כִּכָּר.
  14. ^ Lete, Gregorio del Olmo; Sanmartín, Joaquín. Watson, W.G.E. (ed.). A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition. p. 430.
  15. ^ See J.H. Kroll, "Early Iron Age balance weights at Lefkandi, Euboea". Oxford Journal of Archaeology 27, pp. 37–48 (2008)
  16. ^ "1 Kings 9:14 Interlinear: And Hiram sendeth to the king a hundred and twenty talents of gold". Retrieved 2020-07-28.
  17. ^ "Exodus 25:39 Interlinear: of a talent of pure gold he doth make it, with all these vessels". Retrieved 2020-07-28.
  18. ^ 2 Kings 5.23.
  19. ^ Ridgeway, William (1892). The Origin of Metallic Currency and Weight Standards, Cambridge, p. 264.
  20. ^ The Latin word libra also has a dual meaning of "balance" and "pound weight".
  21. ^ Liddell, Scott, Jones, Greek Lexicon, s.v. τάλαντον.
  22. ^ a b c Charles Theodore Seltman (1924) Athens, Its History and Coinage Before the Persian Invasion, pp. 112–114.
  23. ^ Homer, The Iliad, Hom. Il. 23.750–1.
  24. ^ Renfrew, Colin; Wagstaff, Malcolm, eds. (1982). An Island Polity, the Archaeology of Exploitation in Melos. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 49. One Attic talent was the equivalent of 60 minae or 6,000 drachmae...
  25. ^ Hultsch (1882) p 135
  26. ^ Dewald (1998), in Appendix II
  27. ^ Engen, Darel. "The Economy of Ancient Greece", EH.Net Encyclopedia, 2004.
  28. ^ 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."
  29. ^ Hultsch (1882), p 502
  30. ^ Gardner, Percy (1918). A History of Ancient Coinage 700–300 B.C. Oxford University.
  31. ^ Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin end of chapter 1 [9a]), where litra is used, being the Greek form of the Latin libra.
  32. ^ a b c d e Adani, Samuel ben Joseph (1997). Sefer Naḥalat Yosef (in Hebrew). Ramat-Gan: Makhon Nir David. p. 17b (chapter 4). OCLC 31818927. (reprinted from Jerusalem editions, 1907, 1917 and 1988)
  33. ^ a b Danby, H., ed. (1933), The Mishnah, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 798 (Appendix II – B: Weights), ISBN 0-19-815402-X
  34. ^ cf. Babylonian Talmud (Kiddushin 11b), Rashi s.v. בשקל הקודש במנה צורי
  35. ^ Maimonides (1974). Sefer Mishneh Torah - HaYad Ha-Chazakah (Maimonides' Code of Jewish Law) (in Hebrew). Vol. 4 (Seder Avodah). Jerusalem: Pe'er HaTorah., s.v. Hil. Kelei HaMikdash 2:3
  36. ^ Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 9a), Pnei Moshe Commentary, s.v. דכתיב בקע לגלגלת
  37. ^ Shelomo Qorah, ʿArikhat Shūlḥan - Yilqūṭ Ḥayyīm, vol. 13 (Principles of Instruction and Tradition), Benei Barak 2012, p. 206 (Hebrew title: עריכת שולחן - ילקוט חיים) OCLC 762505465
  38. ^ Matthew 25:14–30
  39. ^ Skeat, Walter W. A concise etymological dictionary of the English language. p. 489. "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. Τάλαντον, a balance, weight, sum of money, talent. Named from being lifted and weighed; cf. Skt. tul, L. tollere, to lift, Gk. τάλ-ας, sustaining. (TAL.) Allied to Tolerate. Der. talent-ed, in use before A. D. 1700."
  40. ^ "talent (n)". Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved 7 June 2022. "late 13c., 'inclination, disposition, will, desire', from Old French talent (12c.), from Medieval Latin talenta, plural of talentum 'inclination, leaning, will, desire' (11c.), in classical Latin 'balance, weight; sum of money', from Greek talanton 'a balance, pair of scales', hence "weight, definite weight, anything weighed', and in later times 'sum of money', from PIE *tele- 'to lift, support, weigh', 'with derivatives referring to measured weights and thence money and payment' [Watkins]; see extol."
  41. ^ Luke 19:12–27
  42. ^ Epiphanius. Treatise on Weights and Measures (Syriac Version). James Elmer Dean, ed. (1935). Chicago University Press. §45
  43. ^ Matthew 18:23–35
  44. ^ Exodus 38
  45. ^ 2 Chronicles 9:13
    1 Kings 10:14
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Talent (measurement)
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