Ancient Numbering Systems

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  • Topic: Numeral system, Number, Greek numerals
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  • Published : September 10, 2007
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Ancient Number Systems
College Mathematics

Ancient Number Systems
This paper will provide a brief overview of selected ancient numbering systems, including Egyptian, Greek, Babylonian, Indian, and Mayan. In particular, key areas of both differences and commonality will be explored, such as base system, concept of zero, and effects of medium and economy. Base Systems

Our present-day numbering system is known as a base 10 system (need name?). The Romans and Hindu used a base 10 system as well, although it was very different from our system in that it was not positional. The Mayans used a system based on 20. This is referred to as a vigesimal system. One might assume that this arose from the practice of counting on both fingers and toes, whereas a base 10 system presumes that fingers only were used for counting. The Babylonian system was hexasegimal, meaning that it was based on 60. This concept carries forward today in the way we think of time (60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hours, etc.) Concept of Zero

Most early numbering systems did not incorporate a concept of zero, which means that these were not "positional" systems. Only two cultures, the Mayan and the Hindu, developed these two concepts and used zero as a place holder. The Babylonians

The Greeks
Ancient Greeks first used an acrophonic number system for purposes of counting and transacting business. Within this system, written symbols for the numbers came from the first letter of the number name. This alphabetical system was based on the position of the letters in the alphabet. At the time, the Greek alphabet consisted of 24 letters. Three older letters that were obsolete were used to round out the numbering system. The Ancient Greek number system used a base of 10 as a decimal system. The reason for this was quite simple—we have ten fingers to count off of. Accent marks were used to denote that a number should be multiplied by 1000. A...
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