Arabic numerals, also called Hindu-Arabic numerals or Hindu numerals, are the ten digits: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, based on the Hindu–Arabic numeral system, the most common system for the symbolic representation of numbers in the world today. In this system, a sequence of digits such as "975" is read as a single number, using the position of the digit in the sequence to interpret its value. The symbol for zero is the key to the effectiveness of the system, which was developed by ancient mathematicians in the Indian subcontinent around AD 500.
- Popular myths
- Adoption in Europe
- Adoption in Russia
- Adoption in China
- Evolution of symbols
The system was adopted by Arab mathematicians in Baghdad and passed on to the Arabs farther west. There is some evidence to suggest that the numerals in their current form developed from Arabic letters in the Maghreb, the western region of the Arab world. The current form of the numerals developed in North Africa, distinct in form from the Indian and eastern Arabic numerals. It was in the North African city of Bejaia that the Italian scholar Fibonacci first encountered the numerals; his work was crucial in making them known throughout Europe and then further to the Europeans who spread it worldwide. The use of Arabic numerals spread around the world through European trade, books and colonialism.
The term Arabic numerals is ambiguous. It most commonly refers to the numerals widely used in Europe and the Americas; to avoid confusion, Unicode calls these European digits. Arabic numerals is also the conventional name for the entire family of related numerals of Arabic and Indian numerals. It may also be intended to mean the numerals used by Arabs, in which case it generally refers to the Eastern Arabic numerals. It would be more appropriate to refer to the Arabic numeral system, where the value of a digit in a number depends on its position.
Although the phrase "Arabic numeral" is frequently capitalized, it is sometimes written in lower case: for instance, in its entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, which helps to distinguish it from "Arabic numerals" as the East Arabic numerals specific to the Arabs.
The decimal Hindu-Arabic numeral system was developed in India by AD 700. The development was gradual, spanning several centuries, but the decisive step was probably provided by Brahmagupta's formulation of zero as a number in AD 628. The system was revolutionary by including zero in positional notation, thereby limiting the number of individual digits to ten. It is considered an important milestone in the development of mathematics. One may distinguish between this positional system, which is identical throughout the family, and the precise glyphs used to write the numerals, which varied regionally. The glyphs most commonly used in conjunction with the Latin script since early modern times are 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9. The first universally accepted inscription containing the use of the 0 glyph in India is first recorded in the 9th century, in an inscription at Gwalior in Central India dated to 870. Numerous Indian documents on copper plates exist, with the same symbol for zero in them, dated back as far as the 6th century AD, but their dates are uncertain. Inscriptions in Indonesia and Cambodia dating to AD 683 have also been found.
The numeral system came to be known to both the Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, whose book On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals written about 825 in Arabic, and the Arab mathematician Al-Kindi, who wrote four volumes, On the Use of the Indian Numerals (Ketab fi Isti'mal al-'Adad al-Hindi) about 830. Their work was principally responsible for the diffusion of the Indian system of numeration in the Middle East and the West. In the 10th century, Middle-Eastern mathematicians extended the decimal numeral system to include fractions, as recorded in a treatise by Syrian mathematician Abu'l-Hasan al-Uqlidisi in 952–953. The decimal point notation was introduced by Sind ibn Ali, who also wrote the earliest treatise on Arabic numerals.
A distinctive West Arabic variant of the symbols begins to emerge around the 10th century in the Maghreb and Al-Andalus, called ghubar ("sand-table" or "dust-table") numerals, which are the direct ancestor of the modern Western Arabic numerals used throughout the world. Ghubar numerals themselves are probably of Roman origin.
Some popular myths have argued that the original forms of these symbols indicated their numeric value through the number of angles they contained, but no evidence exists of any such origin.
Adoption in Europe
In 825 Al-Khwārizmī wrote a treatise in Arabic, On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals, which survives only as the 12th-century Latin translation, Algoritmi de numero Indorum. Algoritmi, the translator's rendition of the author's name, gave rise to the word algorithm (Latin algorithmus, "calculation method").
The first mentions of the numerals in the West are found in the Codex Vigilanus of 976.
From the 980s, Gerbert of Aurillac (later, Pope Sylvester II) used his position to spread knowledge of the numerals in Europe. Gerbert studied in Barcelona in his youth. He was known to have requested mathematical treatises concerning the astrolabe from Lupitus of Barcelona after he had returned to France.
Leonardo Fibonacci (Leonardo of Pisa), a mathematician born in the Republic of Pisa who had studied in Béjaïa (Bougie), Algeria, promoted the Indian numeral system in Europe with his 1202 book Liber Abaci:
When my father, who had been appointed by his country as public notary in the customs at Bugia acting for the Pisan merchants going there, was in charge, he summoned me to him while I was still a child, and having an eye to usefulness and future convenience, desired me to stay there and receive instruction in the school of accounting. There, when I had been introduced to the art of the Indians' nine symbols through remarkable teaching, knowledge of the art very soon pleased me above all else and I came to understand it.
The numerals are arranged with their lowest value digit to the right, with higher value positions added to the left. This arrangement was adopted identically into the numerals as used in Europe. Languages written in the Latin alphabet run from left-to-right, unlike languages written in the Arabic alphabet. Hence, from the point of view of the reader, numerals in Western texts are written with the highest power of the base first whereas numerals in Arabic texts are written with the lowest power of the base first.
The reason the digits are more commonly known as "Arabic numerals" in Europe and the Americas is that they were introduced to Europe in the 10th century by Arabic-speakers of North Africa, who were then using the digits from Libya to Morocco. Arabs, on the other hand, call the system "Hindu numerals", referring to their origin in India. This is not to be confused with what the Arabs call the "Hindi numerals", namely the Eastern Arabic numerals (٠ - ١ - ٢ - ٣ -٤ - ٥ - ٦ - ٧ - ٨ - ٩) used in the Middle East, or any of the numerals currently used in Indian languages (e.g. Devanagari: ०.१.२.३.४.५.६.७.८.९).
The European acceptance of the numerals was accelerated by the invention of the printing press, and they became widely known during the 15th century. Early evidence of their use in Britain includes: an equal hour horary quadrant from 1396, in England, a 1445 inscription on the tower of Heathfield Church, Sussex; a 1448 inscription on a wooden lych-gate of Bray Church, Berkshire; and a 1487 inscription on the belfry door at Piddletrenthide church, Dorset; and in Scotland a 1470 inscription on the tomb of the first Earl of Huntly in Elgin Cathedral. (See G.F. Hill, The Development of Arabic Numerals in Europe for more examples.) In central Europe, the King of Hungary Ladislaus the Posthumous, started the use of Arabic numerals, which appear for the first time in a royal document of 1456. By the mid-16th century, they were in common use in most of Europe. Roman numerals remained in use mostly for the notation of Anno Domini years, and for numbers on clockfaces.
Today, Roman numerals are still used for enumeration of lists (as an alternative to alphabetical enumeration), for sequential volumes, to differentiate monarchs or family members with the same first names, and (in lower case) to number pages in prefatory material in books.
Adoption in Russia
Cyrillic numerals were a numbering system derived from the Cyrillic alphabet, used by South and East Slavic peoples. The system was used in Russia as late as the early 18th century when Peter the Great replaced it with Arabic numerals.
Adoption in China
Arabic numerals were introduced to China during the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) by the Muslim Hui people. In the early 17th century, European-style Arabic numerals were introduced by Spanish and Portuguese Jesuits.
Evolution of symbols
The numeral system employed, known as algorism, is positional decimal notation. Various symbol sets are used to represent numbers in the Hindu-Arabic numeral system, which may have evolved from the Brahmi numerals, or developed independently from it. The symbols used to represent the system have split into various typographical variants since the Middle Ages:
The evolution of the numerals in early Europe is shown on a table created by the French scholar Jean-Étienne Montucla in his Histoire de la Mathematique, which was published in 1757:
The Arabic numeral glyphs 0–9 are encoded in ASCII and Unicode at positions 0x30 to 0x39, matching up with the second hexadecimal digit for convenience: