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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/615

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609
THE HINDU-ARABIC NUMERALS

tion at Gwalior, 876 A.D. Fifty and two hundred and seventy are written respectively

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So at last the decimal system was complete, and it had been worked cut in the Hindu numerals. It remained now to carry them from India into the countries nearby.

The introduction of the Hindu numerals into Europe is one of the obscurest matters in history. Most probably the truth can never be completely discovered. This is as it should be, since the adoption of these numerals was natural and slow, and not premeditated or artificial. After a while they were in use among the merchants of the east, who carried them along the highways of the world's commerce It may be that they entered into countries upon bales of goods or in the accounts of traders, and so would be unnoticed by the scholars. Perhaps for a long time the local mathematicians would know nothing of them, and would continue to use the symbols and the systems of their forefathers. It may be said, however, that the fame of the Hindu characters was spreading into the countries near by even before the addition of the zero. In 662 Sebocht, a Syrian ecclesiastic, writing in a monastery on the Euphrates, refers to the "science of the Hindus . . . and of the easy method of their calculations, and of their computation, which surpasses words. I mean that made with nine symbols." No doubt there were others in the neighboring lands who came to know of this wondrous art.

Of one thing there is no doubt: the Arabs soon adopted the Hindu numerals, and when they spread their conquest across the world they carried these numerals with them. In the ninth century a group of brilliant mathematicians were employing them at Bagdad, while a long line of scholars used them in a slightly different form, the Gobar numerals, in Spain. From the Arabs these numbers were taken by Christian Europe, and for this reason came to be known for a long time as Arabic numbers.

There will always be the question whether in some form these numerals were known and used in southern Europe before the coming of the Arabs. It is not likely that this matter can ever be entirely determined. In an eleventh century manuscript of the "Geometry" of Boethius there is a passage where certain numerals are introduced, curiously like the Hindu symbols:

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As Boethius wrote at the beginning of the sixth century this was at one time thought to indicate an early introduction of the symbols, or