Children's question - where do our numbers come from

Everyone has worked with them at least in school and most of them will be with them for the rest of their lives - our numbers. But hardly anyone asks himself: Where do these numbers come from? Who were they developed by and why? The answers are older than you think.

The origin of our numbers - the source of all knowledge

The basic origin of the general numbers goes back several thousand years.

Where do our numbers come from?
Why Arabic Numbers? Where do our numbers come from? - © meen_na / Adobe Stock

However, not only “the one” numbers have developed over the millennia. As with languages, there are different strands of numbers. So one differentiates mainly between the Roman and ours, the Arabic numbers.

Arabic or Indian numbers?

“We don't use Arabic numbers!” At first glance, this thesis does indeed seem a bit far-fetched. But if you take a closer look at history, you can see that our numbers are actually the Arabic numbers. And if you take a closer look, you can even see that this Arabic numbers are actually Indian numbers. This “mix-up” is due to the Arabs. They brought the Indian numbers to Europe, which is why we call our numbers that today. Both variants are correct, the Indian one is just not very well known.

Our numbers vs. Roman numerals

Just as everyone has worked with numbers at least in school, some of them have been linked to Roman numerals. Therefore, the question hardly arises, why the Roman numbers did not prevail against the Arabs. Ours is simple easier, While we can work with only 10 numbers, 0-9, and get all sorts of combinations of numbers, the Romans need a new character for each number.

An example for illustration

The 1, The Roman numerals describe them with one I. 2 with II, Und die 3 with III, So far, so easy. But now comes the trick: The 4 is not represented as IIII, but as IV. Translated this would be something like “before five”, since 5 is represented with a V in the Roman number system. The 6 comes as VI, the 7 as VII, the 8 as VIII and the 9 again as IX X = 10 .

Simplicity prevails

As you can see, the Roman numerals are much more complicated than the Arabic ones. This is the simple reason why the Arabs have prevailed over the Romans. It is not that easy to calculate with letters, because the alphabet is limited and there are a lot of things to keep in mind with this method so as not to get confused.


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