Talent (measurement)

The talent (Latin: talentum, from Ancient Greek: τάλαντον, talanton 'scale, balance, sum') was one of several ancient units of mass, a commercial weight, as well as corresponding units of value equivalent to these masses of a precious metal. The talent of gold was known to Homer, who described how Achilles gave a half-talent of gold to Antilochus as a prize.[1] It was approximately the mass of water required to fill an amphora.[2] A Greek, or Attic talent, was 26 kilograms (57 lb),[3] a Roman talent was 32.3 kilograms (71 lb), an Egyptian talent was 27 kilograms (60 lb),[3] and a Babylonian talent was 30.3 kilograms (67 lb).[4] Ancient Israel, and other Levantine countries, adopted the Babylonian talent, but later revised the mass.[5] The heavy common talent, used in New Testament times, was 58.9 kilograms (130 lb).[5]

An Attic talent of silver was the value of nine man-years of skilled work.[6] During the Peloponnesian War, an Attic talent was the amount of silver that would pay a month's wages of a trireme crew of 200 men.[7] Hellenistic mercenaries were commonly paid one drachma per day of military service. There were 6,000 drachmae in an Attic talent.

The Babylonians, Sumerians, and Hebrews divided a talent into 60 minas, each of which was subdivided into 60 shekels. The Greek also used the ratio of 60 minas to one talent. A Greek mina was approximately 434 ± 3 grams. A Roman talent was 100 libra. A libra is exactly three quarters of a Greek mina, so a Roman talent is 1.25 Greek talents. An Egyptian talent was 80 librae.[3]

The talent as a unit of value is mentioned in the New Testament in Jesus' parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).[8] This parable is the origin of the use of the word "talent" to mean "gift or skill" in English and other languages.[9][10] Luke includes a different parable involving the mina.[11] According to Epiphanius, the talent is called mina (maneh) among the Hebrews, and was the equivalent in weight to one-hundred denarii.[12] The talent is found in another parable of Jesus [13] where a servant who is forgiven a debt of ten thousand talents refuses to forgive another servant who owes him only one hundred silver denarii. The talent is also used elsewhere in the Bible, as when describing the material invested in the Ark of the Covenant.[14] Solomon received 666 gold talents a year.[15]


  1. Homer, Iliad, Hom. Il. 23.784.
  2. Talent (Biblical Hebrew), unit of measure, unitconversion.org.
  3. 1 2 3 John William Humphrey, John Peter Oleson, Andrew Neil Sherwood, Greek and Roman technology, p.487.
  4. Herodotus, Robin Waterfield and Carolyn Dewald, The Histories (1998), p. 593.
  5. 1 2 "III. Measures of Weight:", JewishEncyclopedia.com
  6. Engen, Darel. "The Economy of Ancient Greece", EH.Net Encyclopedia, 2004.
  7. Torr, Cecil, "Triremes", The Classical Review, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Mar., 1906), p. 137
  8. Matthew 25:14-30
  9. Talent. (F.-L-Gk.) The sense of 'ability' is from the parable; Matt. xxv. F. talent, 'a talent in money; also will, desire;' Cot. —L. talentum. — Gk. тоЛа»Tov, a balance, weight, sum of money, talent. Named from being lifted and weighed; cf. Skt. tul, I.. tollere, to lift, Gk. Tcsa-m, sustaining. (TAL.) Allied to Tolerate. Der. talent-ed, in use before A. D. 1700. p 489 A concise etymological dictionary of the English language, Rev. Walter W. Skeat
  10. talent late 13c., "inclination, disposition, will, desire," from O.Fr. talent, from M.L. talenta, pl. of talentum "inclination, leaning, will, desire" (1098), in classical L. "balance, weight, sum of money," from Gk. talanton "balance, weight, sum," from PIE *tel-, *tol- "to bear, carry" (see extol). Originally an ancient unit of weight or money (varying greatly and attested in O.E. as talente), the M.L. and common Romanic sense developed from figurative use of the word in the sense of "money." Meaning "special natural ability, aptitude," developed mid-14c., from the parable of the talents in Matt. xxv:14-30. Related: Talented. Online Etymological Dictionary
  11. Luke 19:12-27
  12. Epiphanius, Treatise on Weights and Measures (Syriac Version) James Elmer Dean (ed.), Chicago University Press: 1935, §45
  13. Matthew 18:23-35
  14. Exodus 38
  15. 2 Chronicles 9:13
    1 Kings 10:14

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