Looking at the pefsu problems of ancient Egyptian mathematical papyri, I am wondering what does the word des mean? It is usually used together with the word jug to form des-jug, but sometimes the translations mention only the word des without the jug. Does anyone know?

  • Link.
    – Lucian
    Commented Sep 8, 2021 at 12:23
  • This is a good question. While Egyptology is not really my area of expertise, I do wonder if "pes" might designate a specific size of jug (e.g. the equivalent to a "gallon can" or a "two-liter bottle") or if it refers to its shape (e.g. round vs. rectangular), type of cap, presence of graduations, or construction materials.
    – Robert Columbia
    Commented Sep 8, 2021 at 17:05
  • 1
    Great question, and good you got a good answer. We don't always do so well with this kind of question, so you might want to consider Linguistics.SE if you have more similar questions but we're not able to answer them.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Sep 9, 2021 at 11:51

2 Answers 2


Eric Peet, on page 117 of The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus offers what may be your explanation:

"It is important to notice that the vertical stroke which follows the determinative of dś both in line 1 and in line 2 is the numeral 1 and not merely a stroke accompanying the determinative [hieroglyph], which would be an improbable writing for this period. We must therefore translate not “A des-jug but "One des-measure." In other words, though dś may originally have been the name of a jug of a certain shape used principally or wholly for beer, it had by this time become quite definitely a measure of liquid capacity. It has not been sufficiently recognized that the Egyptians had a series of measures of liquid as well as of solid capacity, each measure being used for some particular liquid or liquids and for those alone."

So it would appear that des should describe the unit of liquid volume which would fill a des-jug, and that unit is unique (or at least originally referred to) to an item of the particular design of the des-jug.


A des-jug is indeed a unit of measurement. A des jug of beer is roughly 7/8 pint (or 414ml).

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Information is from https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mathematics-ancient-egypt

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