, Plin. Nat. 7.28
), properly the width of the open hand, or, more
exactly, of the four fingers, was used by the Romans for two different
measures of length; namely, as the translation of the Greek παλαστή,
in old Greek, and σπιθαμὴ
respectively. In the former sense it is equal to 4 digits, or 3 inches, or
1-4th of a foot, or 1-6th of the cubit, (Varro, R. R.
cf. Col. 5.1
; Frontin. Aq.
This was the only sense in Latin of the best age, but a later sense appears
(first in ecclesiastical writers, Jerome, Ezech.
&c.), in which palmus=σπιθαμή,
span of 9 inches. It is a mistake to suppose that this measure existed
earlier in Latin as “palmus major.” The Romans had no special
word in earlier times for σπιθαμή,
expressed it as dodrans
( 3/4 of a foot):
“ternas spithamas, hoc est ternos dodrantes” (Plin. Nat. 7.26
). In the passage sometimes
quoted from Varro, R. R
3.7, the ordinary palmus of 3 inches
is meant. (Hultsch, Metrologie,