The Number System

Today, our number system is known as the Hindu-Arabic Numeral System consisting of 10 digits: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. This number system is a place-value system developed by Indian Mathematicians and is designed for positional notation in a decimal system. It is known that Indian Mathematicians founded the number system but down the road, Al-Khwarizmi and others accepted it and adopted this numeral system as their own, contributing to the spread and acceptance of the system. The spread of the numeral system was not fully in effect until these numbers reached Europe and became integrated into the normal practice of mathematics. The nine digits that we use today originally evolved from the Brahmi numerals, a Indian numeral system from the third century B.C. Buddhist inscriptions.

Before this numeral system was the most accepted, there were many others that had been developed. It all started after language was developed, at which point in time we started to produce counting methods through creating marks. The next known system was created by Egyptians, known as the Egyptian numbers created around 3000-1600 B.C.. Through surviving records, it has been discovered that 1 is a vertical line ‘|’ and ten is ‘^’ and they write their numbers from left to right. Babylonian mathematicians developed a numeral system with 60 as its base towards the middle of the second century B.C..But this system proved to be difficult to use since 60 was the systems base where numbers below 60 were represented through clusters of ten. As of today, this system is still surviving through 60 seconds, 60 minutes, 180 degrees of a triangle, and 360 degrees of a circle. Through the development of this system, we were introduced to the place-value concept which is very important for our number system today. Around 300 B.C., the breakthrough for the numbers came with the creation of zero, decimal system, and the Arabic numerals. The introduction of this system came with the new idea that every number in the system has their own symbol, making it different from all the rest created before. Another system of counting that was created was the abacus, created in the first millennium B.C. and is sometimes still used today. This creation had the idea of zero and it was in it’s place before it was put into written systems. Being able to use this form through counting and drawing in the dirt, it was used as early as 1,000 B.C.. All of these different forms of counting contributed to the development of the Hindu-Arabic Numeral System over the years.

The introduction of the Hindu-Arabic Numeral System took time to become integrated into the world of mathematics. The idea of this system was created in India and traveled to the Arabic/Islamic peoples and from there traveled on to Europe where it became the accepted form of representing numbers and counting. It is known that Persian and Arab mathematicians in India commonly used the numbers but the spread of this system into further western regions occurred before this system was taken to Europe. Before the adoption of these numbers in Europe, it first was used by the Arabic peoples. Although the book is lost, between 825 and 830 B.C., Al-Khwarizmi and Al-Kindi each wrote books on the principles of using these Arabic numbers which eventually lead to the adoption of these numbers into the middle east and parts of the west. In the tenth century, middle Eastern scholars used the numbers for the development and creation of fractions and percentages. Within that same century, Sind ibn Ali introduced the decimal point which introduced a new way of writing numbers called “sand-table”. This new way of writing encompassed the numbers of the written form that we still use today.


2 thoughts on “The Number System

  1. Good historical context setting.

    Not sure why you have the date 300 BC… Brahmagupta made zero a number, and the Arabic mathematicians were post Mohamed. The other content note would be to dilineate a bit more between place value (Hindu-Arabic and Babylonian) and the modified tally systems (Egyptian, Roman).

    Other Cs:+

    Does knowing this make any difference for you?


    1. So I actually posted this blog before I finished it, I still have like 3 pages of notes to include haha but I realized that all I’ve been doing is the history of math instead of the other 3 areas so this one might not be included in my blogs!


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