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PARASANGA

PARASANGA (παρασάγγης). According to Herodotus, the parasang was the name given by the Persians to a distance of 30 stades (παρασάγγας, τοῦς καλέουσι οἱ Πέρσαι τὰ τριήκοντα στάδια, 6.42). It was never, properly speaking, a Greek measure, but was simply employed by Greek writers such as Herodotus and Xenophon, who wrote about distances from one place to another in Asia, just as Strabo employed the word μίλιον when describing distances in Italy, and as the Romans, on the other hand, at times employed the term στάδιον to describe distances in Greece. The origin of the measure is not very clear: some have sought to explain it as the distance traversed by an active walker in an hour of equinoctial time, during which the sun traverses a distance in the heavens equal to thirty times his own diameter. According to those metrologists therefore, the Persians simply borrowed the parasang from the Babylonians. But it is probable that it had a much more simple and rude origin, and is rather to be compared with the Gallic leuga (league)=1 1/2 Roman miles, and the German Rasta=2 Roman miles. It will hardly be maintained that the latter were based on astronomical observations. It is more reasonable to suppose that the parasang as well as the leuga and Rasta were multiples of some native unit of land measure, such as the length of the furrow [MENSURA]. This view is supported by the fact that the Persians used the parasang as their unit of measurement when dealing with large tracts of country. (Hdt. 6.42,. καὶ τὰς χώρας σφέων μετρήσας κατὰ παρασάγγας, κ. τ. λ.) The scientific theory of its origin is also rendered doubtful by the fact that the parasang varied considerably in extent in different times and places. For instance, Agathias (2.21), who quotes the testimony of Herodotus and Xenophon to the parasang being 30 stades, says that the Iberi and Persians in his own time (A.D. 570) made it only 21 stades. Strabo also states (xi. p. 518) that some writers reckoned it at 60 stades, others at 40, and others at 30. The evidence of Pliny is to the same effect, as he complains of the difficulty of giving accurate statements of distances (H. N. 6.30). Distances in Asia are still reckoned in parasangs (Persian farsang). Modern travellers variously estimate it at from 3 1/2 to 4 English miles, which agrees closely with the calculations of Herodotus.

[W.RI]

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