Numerals and Their Alternatives in the Middle East and Europe: A Reckoning

4 February '21 at 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

There is a common but mistaken belief that the history of numerical notations is a unilinear progression from simple to advanced and cumbersome to efficient. In the Western scholarly tradition, the Roman numerals are denigrated as a clumsy notation, abandoned because of their inefficiency in favour of the Indo-Arabic (Western) numerals. In the Middle East and South Asia, there is a similar consensus that the invention of decimal, place-value notation in India, then spread through the Middle East and from there into Europe, was an inevitable improvement over the Arabic abjad numerals or the Indian alphasyllabic numerals. Dr Stephen Chrisomalis ( Wayne State University, USA) shows in his book Reckonings: Numerals, Cognition, and History that these older notations were retained for centuries or even millennia after the introduction of decimal place-value numerals, not only for archaic or prestige functions, but for core functions like arithmetic and writing on scientific instruments.




Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

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