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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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Silk and Royal Roads

Silk and Royal Roads

(p.26) Chapter 3 Silk and Royal Roads
Enlightening Symbols

Joseph Mazur

Princeton University Press

This chapter discusses the important role played by the Silk and Royal roads in the spread of teaching and knowledge of philosophy, science, and mathematics during ancient times. The Silk Road was a series of land and sea routes criss-crossing Eurasia and connecting to other routes traveled mostly by Indian merchants, agents, and explorers. Formed sometime around the second century BC, it connected to the Royal Road in the Zagros Mountains of Persia. Commercial trade was done mostly through bartering, but fair bartering required at least a rough estimate of value, an understanding of conversions of weights and measures: square areas of silk, or weights of gold, or value of coin. The chapter describes the number system that allowed the Chinese to “name” large numbers, as well as the system of counting rods to do practical arithmetic.

Keywords:   mathematics, Silk Road, Eurasia, Royal Road, trade, number system, Chinese, numbers, counting rods, arithmetic

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