Arabic numerals, also called Hindu–
Arabic numerals, are the
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
numeral 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. They are descended from the Hindu-
Arabic numeral system
developed by Indian mathematicians around AD 500.
The system was adopted by
Arabic 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
Bejaia that the Italian scholar
Fibonacci first encountered the
numerals; his work was crucial in making them known throughout Europe.
The use of
Arabic numerals spread around the world through European
trade, books and colonialism.
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
European name for the entire family of related numerals of
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
system, where the value of a digit in a number depends on its
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.
1.1.1 Popular myths
1.2 Adoption in Europe
1.3 Adoption in Russia
1.4 Adoption in China
2 Evolution of symbols
3 See also
6 Further reading
7 External links
Main article: History of the Hindu–
Arabic numeral system
Hindu–Arabic numeral system
Hindu–Arabic numeral system was developed in India by
around 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
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.
Cambodia dating to AD 683 have also been
Brahmi numerals (lower row) in India in the 1st century AD
The numerals used in the Bakhshali manuscript, dated to sometime
between the 3rd and 7th century AD.
Arab telephone keypad with two forms of
Western Arabic/European numerals on the left and Eastern Arabic
numerals on the right
The numeral system came to be known to the court of Baghdad, where
mathematicians such as the Persian Al-Khwarizmi, whose book On the
Hindu Numerals was written about 825 in Arabic, and
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,
propagated it in the
Arab world. 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
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
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. Some
scholars have proposed that the ghubar numerals themselves are
possibly 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
Adoption of the
Hindu numerals through the Arabs by Europe
Woodcut showing the 16th century astronomical clock of Uppsala
Cathedral, with two clockfaces, one with
Arabic and one with Roman
A German manuscript page teaching use of
Arabic numerals (Talhoffer
Thott, 1459). At this time, knowledge of the numerals was still widely
seen as esoteric, and Talhoffer presents them with the Hebrew alphabet
Late 18th-century French revolutionary "decimal" clockface.
In 825 Al-Khwārizmī wrote a treatise in Arabic, On the Calculation
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
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
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.
Fibonacci (Leonardo of Pisa), a mathematician born in the
Republic of Pisa
Republic of Pisa who had studied in
Béjaïa (Bougie), Algeria,
promoted the Indian numeral system in Europe with his 1202 book Liber
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
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
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;
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
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.
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
Adoption in China
Iron plate with an order 6 magic square in Persian/
from China, dating to the
Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368).
Arabic numerals were introduced to China during the Yuan Dynasty
(1271–1368) by the Muslim Hui people. In the early 17th century,
Arabic numerals were introduced by Spanish and
Evolution of symbols
Main article: Algorism
The numeral system employed, known as algorism, is positional decimal
notation. Various symbol sets are used to represent numbers in the
Arabic numeral system, potentially including both symbols that
evolved from the Brahmi numerals, and symbols that developed
independently. The symbols used to represent the system have split
into various typographical variants since the Middle Ages:
The widespread Western
Arabic numerals used with the Latin script, in
the table below labelled European, descended from the West Arabic
numerals developed in al-Andalus (Andalucía, Spain) and the Maghreb.
Spanish scholars, because of the geographic proximity, trade, and
constant warfare with the Muslim kingdoms of Southern Spain, saw a
potential in the simplicity of
Arabic numbers, and decided to adopt
those symbols, and later other Europeans followed suit. There are two
typographic styles for rendering European numerals, known as lining
figures and text figures.
The Arabic–Indic or Eastern
Arabic numerals, used with the Arabic
script, developed primarily in what is now Iraq. A variant of the
Eastern Arabic numerals
Eastern Arabic numerals used in the Persian and Urdu languages is
shown below as East Arabic-Indic.
Devanagari numerals used with
Devanagari and related variants are
grouped as Indian numerals.
The evolution of the numerals in early Europe is shown here in a table
created by the French scholar
Jean-Étienne Montucla in his Histoire
de la Mathematique, which was published in 1757:
Arabic numeral glyphs 0–9 are encoded in
positions 0x30 to 0x39, matching up with the second hexadecimal digit
Counting rods – decimal positional numeral system with zero
Regional variations in modern handwritten
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History of Counting Systems and Numerals. Retrieved 11 December 2005.
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History of the numerals
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