The History of Mathematics

Mesopotamian Numbers and Mathematics

Who were the Mesopotamians?

The definition of who the Mesopotamians were is not easy because there are many historians who disagree on how to distinguish Mesopotamians from other cultures and ethnic groups. In most texts, the label “Mesopotamians” refers to most of the unrelated peoples who used cuneiform (a way of writing numbers; see below), including the Sumerians, Persians, and so on. They are also often referred to as Babylonians, after Babylon, which was the center of many surrounding empires that occupied the fertile plain between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. But this area was also called Mesopotamia. Therefore, the more correct label for these people is probably “Mesopotamians.”

In this text, Mesopotamians will be referred to by their various subdivisions because each brought new ideas to the numbering systems and, eventually, mathematics. This includes the Sumerians, Akkadians, and Babylonians.


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