The History of Mathematics

Egyptian Numbers and Mathematics

What were the problems with the Egyptian number system?

The Egyptian number system had several problems, the most obvious that it was not written with certain arithmetic calculations in mind. Similar to Roman numerals, Egyptian numbers could be used for addition and subtraction, but not for simple multiplication and division.

All was not lost, however, as the Egyptians devised a way to do multiplication and division that involved addition. Multiplying and dividing by 10 was easy with hieroglyphics— just replace each symbol in the given number by the sign for the next higher order. To multiply and divide by any other factor, Egyptians devised the tabulations based on the two times tables, or a sequence of duplications.


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