An inscription on the inner courtyard of the Sponza Palace (ca. 1516–21) in Dubrovnik promises that all merchants who pass through the city will be treated fairly: “Our weights do not permit cheating or being cheated. When I measure goods the Lord measures with me.” The city claimed it was an honest broker and verified its measures—according to the declaration—by divine presence. Asserting its independence in the Adriatic, Dubrovnik offered a promise of fair trading practices that lifted it above other settlements along the Dalmatian coast.

Measuring was a way for travelers to understand places they did not know. When they knew a building or a town square,...

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