In 1796 Napoleon’s army began its acquisition of part of the Italian territory. While Piedmont was annexed to France at the end of 1798, the territory of Cisalpine Republic absorbed a large part of northern Italy to include Milan, Valtellina, Mantua and Verona, the former dutchy of Modena and Reggio, the former principalities of Massa and Carrara, the former Papal legations of Ferrara, Bologna and Ravenna. The capital was established in Milan. Within the Cisalpine Republic there was a great lack of homogeneity regarding the system used for weights, measures and currency. Between the end of 1797 and the beginning of 1798 six commissions were set up to deal with the specific aspects of state administration: the Third Commission was responsible for everything connected with the currency, the mint, weights and measures, commerce, arts and crafts. On the 21st Ventôse Year VI of the French Republic (11th March 1798) the Great Council deliberated the application of the metric system for the currency, weights and measures for the Cisalpine Republic. The choice was supported through a report by the Commission for Commerce on the new sample of linear measure, drawn up in collaboration with the physicist Giambattista Venturi (1746-1822). The decision to adopt a metric system was based on the experience of France and extended by Napoleon to all areas under French rule. In the meantime the International Conference on the metric system was being held in Paris. In Piedmont, the collaboration with the international Commission for weights and measures had begun in the July of 1798: on the request of the French ambassador in Turin, the Science Academy had entrusted a group of academics with the study of the conversion of measurements used in Piedmont to those of the metric system. The work group was formed by Teresio and Ignazio Michelotti, Roffredi di Saorgio, Antonio Eandi, Anton-Maria Vassalli Eandi and Tommaso Valperga di Caluso. The work was to be finished by early September. Valperga di Caluso edited a memoir, and all the academics presented reports which were then delivered to Prospero Balbo, the Ambassador for Turin in Paris. The Cisalpine Republic was involved, along with other states originating from the French Revolution, in the International Conference on the metric system held in Paris during those crucial years 1798 and 1799. The aim of the conference was to involve scientific representatives from other countries in the conclusive phase of the definition of the new measure system by ratifying the choice of the metre. The Italian representatives were Lorenzo Mascheroni (1750-1800) for the Cisalpine Republic, Pietro Franchini (1768-1837) for the Roman Republic, Ambrogio Multedo (1755-1840) for the Ligurian Republic, Prospero Balbo (1762-1837) for the Kingdom of Sardinia, who was later substituted by Anton Maria Vassalli-Eandi (1761-1825) for the Piedmont government, Giovanni Fabbroni (1752-1822) for Tuscany. Other foreign delegates included: Van Swiden and Aeneae for the Batavian Republic (Holland), Trallès for the Helvetic Republic, and Ciscar and Pédrayès from the Kingdom of Spain. The French representatives were Borda, Brisson, Coulomb, Darcet, Haüy, Lagrange, Laplace, Lefèvre-Gineau, Méchain and Prony. While France abolished not only the old measures but also their old nomenclature, the Cisalpine Republic decided to keep the old names, although with new meaning, in order to favour the conversion to the new system: thus the so-called 'braccio cisalpino' was introduced to indicate half a metre, since it was very similar to the 'braccio' already in use in various parts of the Republic, and the terms used for parts of the 'braccio' were assigned to its decimal fractions. The defeat of the French Army by the Austrians in August 1799 interrupted the process of the reform of weights and measures until the 14th June 1800 when Napoleon won the battle of Marengo. On the 15th Pluviôse Year IX (3rd February 1801) the results of the Commerce Commission were sanctioned by a law, which not only established all the measures of length, surface, volume, capacity and weight, but also set fines for anyone who continued to use the old measures, and, moreover, established the role of inspectors. The 'braccio' (double the 'braccio cisalpino' and, therefore, equal to the metre) became the basic unit of measure for length, its square the unit of measure for surface and its cube the unit of capacity. Further simplifications and variants in the names are to be found in the new law on weights and measures (n. 83) issued during the Italian Republic (27th October 1803), following the rearrangement of the territory that Napoleon’s Army had conquered: the 'braccio' became the 'metro', whose divisions into tens, hundreds and thousands were now named, 'palmi', 'diti', 'atomi', respectively. Successive multiplication by one hundred transformed the 'metro quadrato' into the 'tavola' and then into the 'tornatura'; the analogous measures of volume were obtained by adding the term 'cubo' to the corresponding linear measure; the same measures of capacity were used for dry substances and liquids: the 'soma', a tenth part of the 'metro cubo', divided successively into ten 'mine', one hundred 'pinte', one thousand 'coppi'; the unit of weight remained the 'libbra', successively subdivided into 'once', 'grossi', 'denari', 'grani', whose multiples of ten became 'rubbi', and 'centinaj'.

The First Applications of the Metric System in Napoleonic Italy

BORGATO, Maria Teresa
2012

Abstract

In 1796 Napoleon’s army began its acquisition of part of the Italian territory. While Piedmont was annexed to France at the end of 1798, the territory of Cisalpine Republic absorbed a large part of northern Italy to include Milan, Valtellina, Mantua and Verona, the former dutchy of Modena and Reggio, the former principalities of Massa and Carrara, the former Papal legations of Ferrara, Bologna and Ravenna. The capital was established in Milan. Within the Cisalpine Republic there was a great lack of homogeneity regarding the system used for weights, measures and currency. Between the end of 1797 and the beginning of 1798 six commissions were set up to deal with the specific aspects of state administration: the Third Commission was responsible for everything connected with the currency, the mint, weights and measures, commerce, arts and crafts. On the 21st Ventôse Year VI of the French Republic (11th March 1798) the Great Council deliberated the application of the metric system for the currency, weights and measures for the Cisalpine Republic. The choice was supported through a report by the Commission for Commerce on the new sample of linear measure, drawn up in collaboration with the physicist Giambattista Venturi (1746-1822). The decision to adopt a metric system was based on the experience of France and extended by Napoleon to all areas under French rule. In the meantime the International Conference on the metric system was being held in Paris. In Piedmont, the collaboration with the international Commission for weights and measures had begun in the July of 1798: on the request of the French ambassador in Turin, the Science Academy had entrusted a group of academics with the study of the conversion of measurements used in Piedmont to those of the metric system. The work group was formed by Teresio and Ignazio Michelotti, Roffredi di Saorgio, Antonio Eandi, Anton-Maria Vassalli Eandi and Tommaso Valperga di Caluso. The work was to be finished by early September. Valperga di Caluso edited a memoir, and all the academics presented reports which were then delivered to Prospero Balbo, the Ambassador for Turin in Paris. The Cisalpine Republic was involved, along with other states originating from the French Revolution, in the International Conference on the metric system held in Paris during those crucial years 1798 and 1799. The aim of the conference was to involve scientific representatives from other countries in the conclusive phase of the definition of the new measure system by ratifying the choice of the metre. The Italian representatives were Lorenzo Mascheroni (1750-1800) for the Cisalpine Republic, Pietro Franchini (1768-1837) for the Roman Republic, Ambrogio Multedo (1755-1840) for the Ligurian Republic, Prospero Balbo (1762-1837) for the Kingdom of Sardinia, who was later substituted by Anton Maria Vassalli-Eandi (1761-1825) for the Piedmont government, Giovanni Fabbroni (1752-1822) for Tuscany. Other foreign delegates included: Van Swiden and Aeneae for the Batavian Republic (Holland), Trallès for the Helvetic Republic, and Ciscar and Pédrayès from the Kingdom of Spain. The French representatives were Borda, Brisson, Coulomb, Darcet, Haüy, Lagrange, Laplace, Lefèvre-Gineau, Méchain and Prony. While France abolished not only the old measures but also their old nomenclature, the Cisalpine Republic decided to keep the old names, although with new meaning, in order to favour the conversion to the new system: thus the so-called 'braccio cisalpino' was introduced to indicate half a metre, since it was very similar to the 'braccio' already in use in various parts of the Republic, and the terms used for parts of the 'braccio' were assigned to its decimal fractions. The defeat of the French Army by the Austrians in August 1799 interrupted the process of the reform of weights and measures until the 14th June 1800 when Napoleon won the battle of Marengo. On the 15th Pluviôse Year IX (3rd February 1801) the results of the Commerce Commission were sanctioned by a law, which not only established all the measures of length, surface, volume, capacity and weight, but also set fines for anyone who continued to use the old measures, and, moreover, established the role of inspectors. The 'braccio' (double the 'braccio cisalpino' and, therefore, equal to the metre) became the basic unit of measure for length, its square the unit of measure for surface and its cube the unit of capacity. Further simplifications and variants in the names are to be found in the new law on weights and measures (n. 83) issued during the Italian Republic (27th October 1803), following the rearrangement of the territory that Napoleon’s Army had conquered: the 'braccio' became the 'metro', whose divisions into tens, hundreds and thousands were now named, 'palmi', 'diti', 'atomi', respectively. Successive multiplication by one hundred transformed the 'metro quadrato' into the 'tavola' and then into the 'tornatura'; the analogous measures of volume were obtained by adding the term 'cubo' to the corresponding linear measure; the same measures of capacity were used for dry substances and liquids: the 'soma', a tenth part of the 'metro cubo', divided successively into ten 'mine', one hundred 'pinte', one thousand 'coppi'; the unit of weight remained the 'libbra', successively subdivided into 'once', 'grossi', 'denari', 'grani', whose multiples of ten became 'rubbi', and 'centinaj'.
9789898196200
Metric system; Napoleonic Italy
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