Long hundred

The long hundred, also known as the great hundred or twelfty,[1] is the number that was referred to as "hundred" in Germanic languages prior to the 15th century, which is now known as 120, one hundred and twenty, or six score. The number was simply described as hundred and translated into Latin in Germanic-speaking countries as centum (Roman numeral C), but the qualifier "long" is now added because present English uses the word "hundred" exclusively to refer to the number of five score (100) instead.

The long hundred was 120 but the long thousand was reckoned decimally as 10 long hundreds (1200).


The word is cognate with hunderd in Old Frisian, hundrað in Old Norse, and hundert in Old German.[2]

English unitEdit

The hundred (Latin: centena) was an English unit of measurement used in the production, sale, and taxation of various items in the medieval kingdom of England. The value was often not equal to 100 units, mostly owing to the continued medieval use of the Germanic long hundred of 120. The unit's use as a measure of weight is now described as a hundredweight.

The Latin edition of the Assize of Weights and Measures, one of the statutes of uncertain date from around the year 1300, describes hundreds of (red) herring (a long hundred of 120 fish), beeswax, sugar, pepper, cumin, and alum ("13+1/2 stone, each stone containing 8 pounds" or 108 Tower lbs.), coarse and woven linen, hemp canvas (a long hundred of 120 ells), and iron or horseshoes and shillings (a short hundred of 100 pieces).[3] Later versions used the Troy or avoirdupois pounds in their reckonings instead and included hundreds of fresh herrings (a short hundred of 100 fish), cinnamon, nutmegs (13+1/2 stone of 8 lb), and garlic ("15 ropes of 15 heads" or 225 heads).[4]


The existence of a non-decimal base in the earliest traces of the Germanic languages is attested by the presence of glosses such as "tenty-wise" or "ten-count" denoting that certain numbers are to be understood as decimal. Such glosses would not be expected where decimal counting was usual. In the Gothic Bible,[5] some marginalia glosses a five hundred (fimf hundram) in the text as being understood taihuntewjam ("tenty-wise"). Similar words are known in most other Germanic languages. Old Norse clearly used such a system, with its words for "one hundred and eighty" meaning 200 and "two hundred" meaning 240.[6] Its use in medieval England and Scotland is documented by Stevenson[7] and Goodare, although Goodare notes that it was sometimes avoided by using numbers such as "seven score".[8] The Assize of Weights and Measures, one of England's statutes of uncertain date from c. 1300, shows both the short and long hundred in competing use: the hundred of kippers is formed by six score fish and the hundred of hemp canvas and linen cloth is formed by six score ells but the hundred of pounds to be used in measuring bulk goods is five times twenty and the hundred of fresh herring is five score fish.[9] Within the original Latin text, the numeral c. is used for a value of 120: Et quodlibet c. continet vi. xx. ("And each such 'hundred' contains six twenties.")[3]

The reckoning by long hundreds waned as Arabic numerals (which require strict base 10) spread throughout Europe during and after the 14th century.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Zupko, Ronald Edward (1985). A dictionary of Weights and Measures of the British Isles. Philadelphia: American Philosophy Society. pp. 109. ISBN 978-0-87169-168-2.
  2. ^ "hundred". American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Fifth ed.). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 2016. Retrieved 8 November 2018 – via The Free Dictionary.
  3. ^ a b Ruffhead, Owen, ed. (1763a), The Statutes at Large, Vol. I: From Magna Charta to the End of the Reign of King Henry the Sixth. To which is prefixed, A Table of the Titles of all the Publick and Private Statutes during that Time, London: Mark Basket for the Crown, pp. 148–149. (in English) & (in Latin) & (in Norman)
  4. ^ Statutes of the Realm, Vol. I, London: G. Eyre & A. Strahan, 1810, p. 204
  5. ^ I Cor. 15:6
  6. ^ Gordon, E V (1957). Introduction to Old Norse. Oxford: Claredon Press. pp. 292–293.
  7. ^ Stevenson, W. H. (December 1889). "The long hundred and its use in England". The Archaeological Review. 4 (5): 313–327. doi:10.2307/44243858.
  8. ^ Goodare, Julian (1993). "The Long Hundred in medieval and early modern Scotland" (PDF). Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. 123: 395–418.
  9. ^ Statutes of the Realm, Vol. I, London: G. Eyre & A. Strahan, 1810, p. 204

External linksEdit