# Popular Science Monthly/Volume 10/April 1877/The Origin and Curiosities of the Arabic Numerals

By D. V. T. QUA.
IN an article on the "Origin of the Numerals," published in The Popular Science Monthly for January, 1876, the writer remarks: "Having never met with any explanation of the origin of the numerals, or rather of the figures symbolizing them, perhaps I am right in supposing that nothing satisfactory is known of it." The history of the Arabic or decimal notation is somewhat as follows: The characters of this notation were introduced into Europe, during the tenth century, by the Crusades. From the Arabic, these characters have been traced to the sacred books of the Brahmans of India. It was long supposed that for our modern arithmetic we were indebted to the Arabians. But this, as we have seen, is not the case. The Hindoos communicated a knowledge of it to the Arabians, and we have been unable to trace it beyond the Hindoos: hence we must concede the honor to them of its invention. To the Arabians, however, belongs the honor of introducing arithmetic into Europe. It was the Arabians who took the torch from the Orient and passed it along toward the Occident, when "westward the star of empire took its way." The origin of the characters came, undoubtedly, from the fact that the Orientals first learned to count on their fingers and thumbs, and from this originated the The French mathematicians found out another queer thing about this number, namely: if we take any row of figures, and, reversing their order, make a subtraction, and add the digits, the final sum is sure to be 9. For example, 5,071-1,705=3,366; add these digits 3+3+6+6=18, and 1+8=9. The same result is obtained if we raise the numbers so changed to their squares or cubes. Starting with 62, and reversing the digits, we have 26, then 62-26=36, and 3+6=9. The squares of 26 and 62 are respectively 676 and 3,844, and 3,844-676=3,168; add 3+1+6+8=18, and 1+8=9. This may be exemplified in another way. Write down any number, as, for example, 7,549,132, subtract the sum of its digits 7+5+4+9+1+3+2=31, and 7,549,132-31= 7,549,101. Add these digits, 7+5+4+9+1+0+1=27, and 2+7=9. But we have extended already this article to a greater length than we intended, simply wishing to give the origin and history of the decimal notation as far as it can be traced, and will close by stating that this notation is every way adapted to the practical operations of business, as well as the most abstruse mathematical investigations. In whatever light it is viewed, the decimal notation must be regarded as one of the most striking monuments of human ingenuity, and its beneficial influence on the progress of science and the arts, on commerce and civilization, must win for its unknown author the everlasting admiration and gratitude of mankind. |