View Full Version : Dispel the myths : Arabic numbers

Westerners all know that the Romans used different numbers from the ones we use now. For example, V was 5, X was 10 and L was 50. But what few people know is where the numbers we use now (0, 1, 2, 3...) come from.

Most people believe that these numbers were invented by the Arabs, hence the common misnomer "Arabic numerals" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabic_numbers). However, they were not invented by the Arabs, but but the Indians, 1100 years before the rise of Islam and 400 years before the Roman Empire, around 400 BC.

What made them revolutionary was the discovery of the number "0". This shorten complex numbers (e.g. 78 in Roman numerals is LXXVIII) and accelerated calculation. Ultimately, it made possible invention of the computer.

Yep - credit where it's due! India has continued to be important in the field of Mathematics into modern times too - a notable example being Ramanujan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srinivasa_Ramanujan).

The Arabs use different numerals (http://www.omniglot.com/images/writing/arabic_num.gif) to the numbers that we call "Arabic numerals". I guess it's because the symbols changed over time from their original Hindu forms?

What made them revolutionary was the discovery of the number "0". This shorten complex numbers (e.g. 78 in Roman numerals is LXXVIII) and accelerated calculation. Ultimately, it made possible invention of the computer.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "discovery of the number '0,'" but the Babylonians had a zero digit of sorts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_numerals) long before the Indians did. The Indians were the first to equate it with the other digits and use it at the end of numbers, though.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "discovery of the number '0,'" but the Babylonians had a zero digit of sorts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_numerals) long before the Indians did. The Indians were the first to equate it with the other digits and use it at the end of numbers, though.

Everybody knows instinctively of the "concept" of zero (i.e. 'the void' or 'nothing'). What the Indians did is to create a digit to represent it (and as you say to be used for decimals), while the Babylonians only left an empty space to represent it. That is not the same. For example, the Babylonians could not write 3-3=0 as leaving an empty space would be confusing. They also couldn't do 3x0=0 or 3/0=~ So the Indians really revolutionised mathematics.

Anyhow, the same Wikipedia you linked agrees in its history of 'zero' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/0_%28number%29) that the Indians were the first to come up with the number.

I remember reading somewhere that the original indian digits represented each number by acute/right angles. So "1" was an upside down "V", two was a "Z", three was a reversed capital sigma, etc It got rather silly round 5, 6 and 9, so I'm not sure whether this was true or wishful thinking by the author...

Today's numbers, also called Hindu-Arabic numbers, are a combination of just 10 symbols or digits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 0. These digits were introduced in Europe within the XII century by Leonardo Pisano (aka Fibonacci (http://www.archimedes-lab.org/nombredormachine.html)), an Italian mathematician. L. Pisano was educated in North Africa, where he learned and later carried to Italy the now popular Hindu-Arabic numerals.

Hindu numeral system is a pure place-value system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Place-value_system), that is why you need a zero. Only the Hindus, within the context of Indo-European civilisations, have consistently used a zero. The Arabs, however, played an essential part in the dissemination of this numeral system.

Didn't know about this. Thanks.

Hello,

As a child I studied in an Arab school, we studied in Arabic, I remember the first math lesson we had, the teacher told us that the "1,2,3" were originally invented by Arabs, while the Indians invented these, which we call Indian numbers:

since this is my first post I can't post images still, but consider the ones posted

by Takakoo in a post above.

The thing that was surprising to me as a 6 years old kid was that in Arabic we use Indian numbers, the numbers that were posted in the above image, while 'Indians' actually use Arabic numbers.

She also said that Arabs and Indians "traded" numbers, which is probably just an easier way to explain why it is this way for little children.

So dear OP, can you please verify your sources ? Because right now I feel like I've been lied to.

The modern system of numeration is based on place value, with the same symbol, such as 4, taking on different meaning (4, 40, 400, etc.) depending on its location within the representation of the number. Place value notation was used long ago in Babylonian cuneiform numerals, but our modern decimal place value system was invented by Hindu mathematicians in India, probably by the sixth century and perhaps even earlier. The modern numerals 1, 2, 3, ..., are sometimes called Arabic numerals in the West because they were introduced to Europeans (they were simply introduced to Spain by the Muslim communities of North Africa - the Moors) by Arab scholars. The key figure was the great Arab mathematician Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khowarizmi, who taught at Baghdad sometime between 800 and 850. He wrote a book on the Hindu number system known today only in a later Latin translation as De numero indorum;On the Hindu numbers. Subsequently he wrote a longer and very influential work, Al-jabr w'al muqabalah, known in Europe as Algebra, which included all the techniques of arithmetic still taught in schools today. The author's name, Latinized as Algorismus, is the root of the English word algorithm.

Today's numbers, also called Hindu-Arabic numbers, are a combination of just 10 symbols or digits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 0. These digits were introduced in Europe within the XII century by Leonardo Pisano (aka Fibonacci (http://www.archimedes-lab.org/nombredormachine.html)), an Italian mathematician. L. Pisano was educated in North Africa, where he learned and later carried to Italy the now popular Hindu-Arabic numerals.

Hindu numeral system is a pure place-value system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Place-value_system), that is why you need a zero. Only the Hindus, within the context of Indo-European civilisations, have consistently used a zero. The Arabs, however, played an essential part in the dissemination of this numeral system.

Leonardo Pisano published his Liber Abaci (Book of Abacus) in 1202.

What is a little surprising is the time it took before Hindu-Arabic numbers were largely used. In fact, few people were able to write, and kept on using tokens to calculate.

For instance, in France, the use of calculation tokens was only forbidden during the French revolution.

hahahah have anyone of you seen the ancient Greek numeral, and calculation like adding and multiply?

just consider that the max was 10 000 and 10^4 * 10^4 = απειρο chaos, ultimate

Arabs were good in fracture search f(x) and the beginners of Sumit S theory,

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