"Anatolian Weights and Measures" by Garo Kürkman
A Book Review by Norman Cima
Long before the Romans founded Londinium on the North Shore of a large
river flowing to the sea in one of their cold and foggy
offshore islands, accurate scales were being used all around Anatolia
for trading between ancient societies. Leviticus 19:35-37
states "You shall not pervert justice in measurement of length,weight
or quantity. You shall have true scales, true weights, true
measures, dry and liquid. You shall observe all my rules and laws and
carry them out. I am the Lord.” The Koran XI:84-85
instructs “Oh my people, give measure and full weight in justice, and
wrong not people in respect to their goods.”
The Suna and Inan Kirac Research Institute on Mediterranean Civilizations
has assembled a museum full of scales and weights
used from prehistory to the present around Anatolia, that broad plateau
between the Black and the Mediterranean seas that we
call modern Turkey. Having successfully published on their ceramics collection
they induced Garo Kürkman to create a book
on their scales and weights. His six pound, coffee table sized tome shows
all 513 items of the collection in magnificent color.
Further he shows many detail photos illustrating specific subjects. Moslems
obey God's command to create no graven images,
but the sweeping script "Turgas of the Sultans, Municipal Assay Stamps
and Marks provide visual evidence of a vibrant past
and also great identification for your possible finds. He has included
many conversions tables collected from such standard
references as Kisch updating and correcting them citing data from the
The book starts with weights from the first quarter of the second millennium
BC. It continues with Bronze weights used in
Mesopotamia in the third century BC. There is extensive coverage of the
Greek and Roman periods. The Byzantine period
from the 5th - 13th century AD is covered with a number of scales from
that period' as well as weight conversion tables.
The book's major strength is in its coverage of Dirhem weights.
This weight system was derived from the Greek Drachma
and this book covers its introduction and efforts toward standardization
in Islamic societies. Weights from the reign of
Mehmed II, 1464 AD through Mehmed V. 1909 AD are measured, explored, illustrated,
correlated and tabled in the book.
In order to prevent fraud the Ottoman government made it compulsory that
weights be inspected and stamped with sweeping
stroked, assay marks that they call "Turgras." Shown
in the book are the Turgras of 40 Sultans, 30 towns and 20 Makers,
which is a tremendous tool to provide provenance for your random weight.
And then the Metric System came to Anatolia. The book has a copy and
translation of the first law promulgating the metric
system in Ottoman lands. It has a poster showing the size and construction
of all the metric weights and measures. Tables are
provided to state and convert old measurements to this new system. It
gives some comparative satisfaction that their world had
all the problems of the West.
The book concludes with a photographic "Catalogue" of each
of the items in the KMA (Mediterranean Civilisations Research
Institute) collections and a glossary of the local and foreign terms used
in the Ottoman Empire.
This is a magnificent book for both your library and your coffee table.
1000 pictures and tables make this a reference book on
a world of scales that we in the West hardly know. The book’s purpose
was to enlighten us, and it has certainly done that. It
even identified my set of Anatolian weights that stumped everyone at the
2003 ISASC Convention. At $250.00 delivered from
Istanbul, it is a bit pricey. At 25¢ a picture it is a bargain. On the
used market Kürkman's, "Ottoman Silver Marks" has
appreciated 7% a year since issue.