innovating the decimal system

Dominik Wujastyk wujastyk at GMAIL.COM
Mon Dec 5 03:22:31 UTC 2011

In 1998, I wrote, about zero:

Three key elements -- a decimal base, place-value, and zero (I abbreviate
> this to "DPZ") -- occurred separately at earlier times both in India
> and in other parts of the ancient world. In particular, the Babylonians
> were using a place-value system, with a space for the null value, in the
> second millennium BC, but their base for counting was sixty, not ten. By
> the time of Alexander the Great, they were even using a special symbol for
> this null value. From perhaps as early as the third century AD the Mayans
> also used place-value and zero, but with the base twenty. But it does
> indeed seem to have been the Indians who first combined these key elements
> together to form the basis of the arithmetic system that has come down to
> the modern world.

The full text is here:

Dr Dominik Wujastyk
Department of South Asia, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies,
University of Vienna,
Spitalgasse 2-4, Courtyard 2, Entrance 2.1
1090 Vienna
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On 4 December 2011 20:19, Jean-Michel Delire <jmdelire at> wrote:

> Dear member(s),
> I certainly agree that India was the first place where the decimal
> enunciation of numbers went so far as to give names to long series of
> powers of ten But, I would add the following remarks : 1° enunciation does
> not necessarily mean notation, so that one is still far away from a
> positional decimal system when one says "sahasrani sata dasha" instead of
> writing 1110; actually, in this example, the 1's are not enunciated and it
> is the names of the powers of ten that specify the value, not the position,
> and 2° it is only when the "1's" are enunciated, the "0" added and the
> names of the powers of ten dropped that we have a real positional decimal
> enunciation like 'one one one zero'. This happened in India in the first
> centuries AD, especially in the astronomical works named siddhantas, which
> enunciated 304, by instance, as tri sunya catur or as loka kha veda. By so
> doing, they replaced the numerals by number-words, so useful for metric
> (and thus verbal) facility, reminiscent of the numerals. And, even so, one
> cannot really ensure that the system was purely decimal for danta is
> sometimes used for 32 (and other single words for other two figures
> numbers).
> Hoping this helps,
> J.M.Delire,
> Lecturer on 'Science and Civilization in India - Sanskrit texts' at the
> IHEB (University of Brussels)
> >To all listed Members and scholars in Indology,
> >
> >
> > In course of my earnest study of Indology, ,I learnt that India of the
> Rig Vedic age was the first to innovate  decimal system or place-value
> principle in Mathematics. Taitteriya Upanishads(one of the eleven
> Upanishads)have references of decimal system.In the "Shukla" version of
> Yajurveda , we find Medhatithi's verse in the Vajrasaneyi Samhita which
> speaks of the various powers of ten.Rigveda has evidences of writing 720 as
> "sapta satati vimsatih" or 1110 as "sahasrani sata dasha"  Thus concepts
> like place -value , powers of ten dawned upon the Indians of the Rig Vedic
> age. while the romans could use upto 10 to the power 3 , and the greeks 10
> to the power 4, it was quiet natural for the Rig vedic India to imagine 10
> to the power 14.
> >                                                Rig vedic age existed
> between 1500 B.C.and 500 B.C.
> >                          Can anyone enlighten me whether any other
> civilisation or age pre-dated  the Rig Vedic India in innovating the
> Decimal system ?
> >
> >  Thanking You
> > mailmealakendudas at
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >

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