Talk:Babylonian numerals

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Is there any reference that proves when the the representation of "zero" (a blank) was replaced by two diagonal nails? Plus real examples from that period of time (e.g. possibly from their ruins?) -- Abu Hanthala Al Zero. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:55, 15 May 2015 (UTC)

Shouldn't there be a 0? One needs a 0 to write 60 (or 3600, 3601, ..) in Babylonian numerals, or..? Guaka 13:39, 6 Mar 2004 (UTC)

There were a zero but after; in the beginning the babylonians begun with no zero, 101 was written as 11. See the french page. Ellisllk 11:47, 1 Jul 2004 (UTC)

In the absense of Unicode support, the French version has some nifty images (such as [1]) for the numbers. Perhaps we should copy them. The French versions also mentions a decimal and a mixed decimal/sexagesimal system. -- ALoan (Talk) 19:31, 9 Nov 2004 (UTC)

What the Babylonians had instead was a space (and later a disambiguating placeholder symbol) to mark the nonexistence of a digit in a certain place value. What is the difference between a "disambiguating placeholder symbol" and a character for zero? Nik42 07:49, 26 August 2006 (UTC)

By Neugebauer "The exact sciences in antiquity" Dover, there was a zero, used for medial and leading, but not final positions. So they could write 1 second as 0.0.1 hours, and 3608 seconds as 1.0.8 hours, but there was no real way of writing numbers larger than sixty (outside of writing eg 82.5 as 1 22 30 Sixties. This is because the number system is used for fractions, not as a routine base. The symbol was the same as a sentence-end. Wendy.krieger (talk) 09:41, 2 January 2013 (UTC)

Why base-60[edit]

Really, why base-60? cause it is like that That should be covered in this article. -- AllyUnion (talk) 19:28, 8 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Erm, second paragraph:
A common theory is that sixty was chosen due to its prime factorization 2*2*3*5 which makes it divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, and 30.
HTH. -- ALoan (Talk) 20:22, 8 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I thought it was at least based on the fact that the Babylonians realized there are 360 days in a year (plus the five that commemorate how Innana/Astarte/Ishtar descended into the underworld -- but they don't count!). That's where we get 360 degrees in a circle, isn't it? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 13:01, 8 December 2005

Otto Neugebauer notes (The exact sciences in antiquity, 1952, p.19) that the ratio of the units of silver was 60 shekels per mana from the earliest of times, thousands of years before the length of a year was specified. Familiarity with this use in economic transactions led to its use as a number system—it had nothing to do with either the prime factors of 60 or the number of days in a year. — Joe Kress (talk) 22:55, 30 October 2010 (UTC)
O Neugebauer also notes that it was three score (ie 3 men), and also that there is a precursor of symbols for sixths. This is quite significant, since the sixtywise was used as a division system, rather than as a multiple system. Wendy.krieger (talk) 09:22, 21 January 2013 (UTC)

Merge with Babylonian mathematics[edit]

This article is better merged with the main article Babylonian mathematics. --JFK 11:41, 10 April 2006 (UTC)


The parenthetical statement at the end of the second paragraph of this article does not make sense to me, and, though I very well may just not know what I'm talking about, I think that the statement, in essence, is confusing and ambiguous. Thus, I propose that the statement be deleted, and, to fulfill the statement's original purpose, the phrase, "positional system" be linked. --Amanaplanacanalpanama 03:19, 2 January 2007 (UTC)

Spoken names of numbers 1-60[edit]

Were there 60 unique spoken names for the numbers 1 to 60? Or was it really more mixed radix in practice than the article is letting on? --Damian Yerrick (talk | stalk) 22:58, 29 October 2010 (UTC)

Akkadian language#Numerals implies that when spoken, a base 10 system was used having separate words for 1–10, 100, and 1000. A decimal number system (each unit named, not positional) was always used side-by-side with the sexagesimal number system. Otto Neugebauer mentions (The exact sciences in antiquity, 1952, p.17) that the colophon of a tablet containing hundreds of sexagesimal numbers was dated in the year "2 me 25" or "2 hundred 25". I suspect that each sexagesimal position was verbalized in base 10, and that no attempt made to name each position separately, the same way we often verbalize a long string of digits without using hundreds or thousands. "Minutes", "seconds", "thirds", etc. were only used for sexagesimal fractions, not whole numbers, and then only since the Middle Ages in Arabic and Latin. The Babylonians did not use a "sexagesimal point", so context must be used to distinguish a whole number from a fraction. — Joe Kress (talk) 22:55, 30 October 2010 (UTC)

Problem with this.[edit]

Are any of the editors experts (or have expert knowledge) of this? The reason I ask is I've seen what appear to be valid articles claiming that the number system wasn't a simple 60 base system, but where the base depended on the type of thing being counted. (Or perhaps better stated as there was no single number system). Some things were base 60, others used different bases (but may or may not have used the same or different symbols). So, while I know the popular STORY is the Babylonians used a base 60 system, there is some doubt in my mind that the story is as simple as this. One (non-authoritive, but seemingly well researched) site states:
"In the basic sexagesimal system used for counting most discrete objects, a single object, a sheep or cow or fish, is denoted by a small cone. ... Yet another system was used for measuring grain capacity. Here the conversion factors were 5, 10, 3, and 10, so that the largest unit, a large cone containing a small circle, was worth 10x3x10x5=1500 of the small units. Adding to the confusion for modern scholars attempting to unravel these complex metrological systems was the fact that a single sign might be used in several systems, where it could mean different multiples of the base unit. In particular, the small circle could mean 6, 10 or 18 small cones, depending on context (as well as other multiples of base units denoted by other symbols)." → In their example of counting grain, a small circle would be 30, not 60, bushels(?) of grain.(although the author is speaking about the Sumerians, it seems to place into question the implication of this Wikipedia article that the Babylonian system was a simple sexagesimal one. (talk) 17:11, 15 May 2015 (UTC)

Assessment comment[edit]

The comment(s) below were originally left at Talk:Babylonian numerals/Comments, and are posted here for posterity. Following several discussions in past years, these subpages are now deprecated. The comments may be irrelevant or outdated; if so, please feel free to remove this section.

In excavations in Ur tombs sets of dice were recovered with several boards-the British Museum has an online version of the game with photos of the actual pieces recovered-the dice found have hash marks indicating quantity; 1, 2, 3 and a blank side. Isn't this an indicator of a "zero" concept? This game dates to 2600 BC.

Last edited at 20:43, 21 November 2007 (UTC). Substituted at 19:47, 1 May 2016 (UTC)