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Enlightening SymbolsA Short History of Mathematical Notation and Its Hidden Powers$
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Joseph Mazur

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780691173375

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691173375.001.0001

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Certain Ancient Number Systems

Certain Ancient Number Systems

(p.10) Chapter 2 Certain Ancient Number Systems
Enlightening Symbols

Joseph Mazur

Princeton University Press

This chapter discusses ancient number systems, beginning with the Babylonian system. Almost every history of early Western mathematics begins with the Babylonian conception of number, a so-called sexagesimal (base 60) system for writing large numbers, formulations of multiplication tables, and ideas for astronomy. The current number system needs symbols for just ten numbers in order to represent any number we wish, compared to that of the Babylonians which needed just two symbols. The chapter also considers the early Egyptian number writing, which was an additive system, as well as the Greek alphabet and sequential number system, Roman numerals, Aztec numerals, and the Mayan system.

Keywords:   ancient number system, Babylonians, mathematics, sexagesimal system, numbers, symbols, Greek alphabet, Roman numerals, Aztec numerals, Mayan system

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