All measures in this book are given in the Anglo-American units, unless otherwise specified. I provide below some rough equivalents in Ancien Régime units. Needless to say, they should not be construed as exact equalities since Ancien Régime measures with the same name varied by as much as 50 percent within France. The best modern table of correspondences is Ronald Zupko, French Weights and Measures Before the Revolution: A Dictionary of Provincial and Local Units (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978). Zupko’s 224-page dictionary is necessarily incomplete and should be supplemented by the hundred or so tables of correspondences drawn up by the various French départements between 1793 and 1812. These tables are likewise incomplete. An entire subfield of history—historical metrology—is devoted to extracting old measures from archeological and documentary evidence. At times, this evidence about the measures of the past is then mined to reconstruct the daily lives of the people of the past.

Linear measures:

toise ≈ fathom ≈ 6 feet

aune ≈ ell ≈ 3 feet

pied ≈ foot

pouce ≈ inch

ligne ≈ 1/12 of an inch

Other measures:

livre ≈ pound

boisseau ≈ bushel

pinte ≈ quart


During the years 1793–98 a circle of 360 degrees was occasionally defined as having 400 degrees. All angle measurements in the text, as well as all latitudes and longitudes, are given in the 360-degree system. Note that in this standard system each degree (symbol: °) is divided into 60 minutes (symbol: ') and each minute is divided into 60 seconds (symbol: "). Thus a latitude of 36°44'61.26'’ should be read as lying 36 degrees, 44 minutes, and 61.26 seconds north of the equator. (All latitudes in this book are north of the equator.)


The text gives the Gregorian calendar date for events rather than the Revolutionary calendar date, although both are given in the endnotes where appropriate. Years in the Revolutionary calendar are given in Roman numerals.


The Ancien Régime unit of currency was the livre (pound), divided into 12 sous (shillings) each worth 20 deniers (pence). The Republican government resurrected the old name franc (to be divided decimally into 100 centimes), and after some discussion settled on a valuation making onefranc nearly equal to one livre. In fact, the decimal franc was initially worth one-eightieth more than the old livre, so that it would come out to a round weight of 4.5 grams of silver instead of the old lower tolerance of 4.419 grams of silver. In the Revolutionary period, however, the namesfranc and livre were used with some degree of interchangeability as the legislation evolved. With the Napoleonic banking reform of 1803 the franc became the fixed currency and its silver content was raised to 5 grams. Assignats were a paper money created early in the Revolution with a face value of 1 franc; however, they soon lost value and the government began to publish tables of discounted values for an inflation rate which totaled 20,000 percent over the course of four years. The mandat was another paper currency temporarily introduced to replace the assignat. The best discussion of finance and the economy during the Revolution is François Crouzet, La grande inflation: La monnaie en France de Louis XVI à Napoléon (Paris: Fayard, 1993).

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