Does anyone know of a source regarding which finger 'daktylos' refers to (in regards to greek measurments) - the thumb / middle finger / etc.

  • We try to avoid asking for sources(see help center), but I think the [answer to your question](units.wikia.com/wiki/Daktylos_(Attic_Greek) is that nobody knows. The reference says we don't have enough information, so we infer a length from another unit.
    – MCW
    Mar 23, 2014 at 21:32

3 Answers 3


From the "New Pauly", Brill 2015:

Daktylos (162 words) Article Table of Contents

[1] Measure of length
[2] see Metrics

(δάκτυλος; dáktylos).

[1] Measure of length

The daktylos, Latin digitus, as a measure, is the term for the fingers' width, with four dáktyloi constituting a palm (παλαιστή; palaistḗ, Latin palmus), 16 daktyloi a foot (πούς; poús, Latin pes) and only in Greece 12 daktyloi making a span (σπιθαμή; spithamḗ). In Rome however the daktylos can also, according to the duodecimal system, be equated with the uncia and be counted up to the as (= pes). The guide for the daktylos is the foot that measures between 29.4 and 35.4 cm. It therefore fluctuates between 1.84 and 2.21 cm. Smaller distances are measured in fractions of the daktylos. Square and cubic daktylos were not in use.

Measures; Palaiste; Palmus; Pes; Pous; Spithame

Mlasowsky, Alexander (Hannover)


F. Hultsch, Griech. und röm. Metrologie, 21882, 28f., 74f.

O. A. W. Dilke, Digit measures on a slab in the British Museum, in: The Antiquaries Journal 68, 1988, 290-294.

  • Hultsch, whom this encyclopedia cites as the authority, nowhere in his book, says that a daxtulos is the "breadth" of finger. He says only that four fingers make a palm. Hultsch's main reference is to Heron, who also says exactly the same thing: four fingers make a palm. Neither Heron nor Hultsch ever say anything about it being a finger's breadth, which is something Mlasowsky apparently just made up. Jul 7, 2015 at 0:09
  • Look at Dilke's article. journals.cambridge.org/action/…
    – fdb
    Jul 7, 2015 at 8:05
  • It costs $30 to view that article. This is a very simple problem that does not require abstruse scholarship. A finger breadth is way too short. The width of a finger is about 3/4" which means there are 5.33 breadths in a palm. There are FOUR fingers in a palm, not 5.33. It's just simple physics. What don't you understand about this? Try using a little logic instead of slavishly thinking everything you read on the Wikipedia is correct. It's not the bible. Jul 7, 2015 at 12:23
  • I do not think anything on Wikipedia is correct.
    – fdb
    Jul 7, 2015 at 12:48

The daxtylos is based, like much of early Greek science, on Egyptian standards. A finger is the distance between the tip of index finger and the crease of the first joint. In most people, this distance is close to one inch.

one finger

A palm is 4 fingers. A hand is 5 fingers.

So, to answer your exact question: it is the index finger's first joint. You can find a discussion of this topic in "Ancient Egyptian Construction and Architecture" by Clarke and Engelbach.

(Note that many reference books and sources incorrectly refer to a dactylos as being a "finger's breadth". In fact, it is absolutely clear that in both Greece and Egypt 4 fingers make one palm, and this would be impossible if a finger's breadth were meant, because a finger's breadth is less than a 1/4th of a palm. It is, in fact, the length of the first phalange of the index finger, which is exactly 1/4 of a palm.)

  • 2
    This might be true in Egypt, but is not true in Greece. The Greek daktylos is the BREADTH of one finger (see the link in my answer).
    – fdb
    Jul 6, 2015 at 22:01
  • 1
    @fdb Completely incorrect. Your source is simply wrong. As you can read in any number of Greek encyclopedias, a palm is 4 fingers, just as in Egypt and if you do the measurements you will see that this is only possible if it is measured in the Egyptian way. A palm is 4 inches across, but a finger breadth is only 3/4". The mistaken statement that a finger was a finger's breadth is simply Victorian classicists making an unwarranted assumption. If you read Clarke and Engelbach, it makes clear the truth of the matter since they discuss Greek measurements as well. Jul 6, 2015 at 22:35
  • I have pasted the entry in the "New Pauly" (standard reference work)
    – fdb
    Jul 6, 2015 at 23:13

Daktylos is the Greek word for “finger”. As a unit of measurement it designated the breadth of one finger. I think all fingers (apart from the thumb) are about the same breadth.


  • There are three breadths - thumb, pinkie, and the others. The ancient Hebrew system of measurements differentiated between them - a handbreadth wad defined as 4 thumbs or 5+1/2 'fingers' or 6 pinkies. Mar 24, 2014 at 5:50

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