Hindu-Arabic Numerals

Which numeral system do the symbols 0, 1, 2, and 3 come from?

And the answer: Hindu-Arabic.    

The Hindu-Arabic numeral system is what we use today. Consisting of 10 digits between 0 and 9, the system originated in India in the 6th or 7th century, and was introduced to Europe by Middle Eastern mathematicians.

Photo: Canva.com

In what is now Uzbekistan, a man named al-Khwarizimi was born in the year 780 – a fact which would lead to the mathematical systems as we know them today. First referred to as an instructor at one of the great, ancient Islamic learning institutions, the Baghdad House of Wisdom, Khwarizimi studied the great predecessors of the emergent discipline of mathematics. During his studies, Khwarizimi quickly realized that many of the preexisting calculations done by the Egyptian astronomer, mathematician, and geographer Ptolemy and other mathematicians were wrong, and set to correct them himself. With new coordinates and the help of geographers, Khwarizimi compiled a book called The Face of the Earth, a complete explanation of the geography and cartography of the known world, which was thought to be the first of its kind.

A page from The Compendious Book On Calculation by Completion and Balancing. Public domain. 

Yet Khwarizimi's first love lay not in astronomy but in mathematics. Upon accepting a commission from Muslim leaders to create a text for the general public to learn basic calculations, Khwarizimi created a book titled The Compendious Book On Calculation by Completion and Balancing. In it, Khwarizimi explained equations and fractions by use of a system he called Al-Jabr, or Completion. Sound familiar? This phrase was later Anglicized to "Algebra."

Though Khwarizimi did not invent algebra, he codified the public understanding of it while synthesizing mathematic traditions from various cultures into one. Most notably, Khwarizimi drew from Hindu mathematical texts to establish the number system we know and use today.

Learn more about the history of math here.

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