Babylonian numerals facts for kids
AssyroChaldean Babylonian cuneiform numerals were written in cuneiform, using a wedgetipped reed stylus to make a mark on a soft clay tablet which would be exposed in the sun to harden to create a permanent record.
The Babylonians, who were famous for their astronomical observations, as well as their calculations (aided by their invention of the abacus), used a sexagesimal (base60) positional numeral system inherited from either the Sumerian or the Akkadian civilizations. Neither of the predecessors was a positional system (having a convention for which 'end' of the numeral represented the units).
Contents
Origin
This system first appeared around 2000 BC; its structure reflects the decimal lexical numerals of Semitic languages rather than Sumerian lexical numbers. However, the use of a special Sumerian sign for 60 (beside two Semitic signs for the same number) attests to a relation with the Sumerian system.
Quick facts for kids Numeral systems by culture 


Hindu–Arabic numerals  
Western Arabic Eastern Arabic Khmer 
Indian family Brahmi Thai 
East Asian numerals  
Chinese Suzhou Counting rods 
Japanese Korean 
Alphabetic numerals  
Abjad Armenian Cyrillic Ge'ez 
Hebrew Greek (Ionian) Āryabhaṭa 
Other systems  
Attic Babylonian Egyptian Etruscan 
Mayan Roman Urnfield 
List of numeral system topics  
Positional systems by base  
Decimal (10)  
2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64  
1, 3, 9, 12, 20, 24, 30, 36, 60, more…  
Characters
The Babylonian system is credited as being the first known positional numeral system, in which the value of a particular digit depends both on the digit itself and its position within the number. This was an extremely important development because nonplacevalue systems require unique symbols to represent each power of a base (ten, one hundred, one thousand, and so forth), which can make calculations more difficult.
Only two symbols ( to count units and to count tens) were used to notate the 59 nonzero digits. These symbols and their values were combined to form a digit in a signvalue notation quite similar to that of Roman numerals; for example, the combination represented the digit for 23 (see table of digits above). A space was left to indicate a place without value, similar to the modernday zero. Babylonians later devised a sign to represent this empty place. They lacked a symbol to serve the function of radix point, so the place of the units had to be inferred from context : could have represented 23 or 23×60 or 23×60×60 or 23/60, etc.
Their system clearly used internal decimal to represent digits, but it was not really a mixedradix system of bases 10 and 6, since the ten subbase was used merely to facilitate the representation of the large set of digits needed, while the placevalues in a digit string were consistently 60based and the arithmetic needed to work with these digit strings was correspondingly sexagesimal.
The legacy of sexagesimal still survives to this day, in the form of degrees (360° in a circle or 60° in an angle of an equilateral triangle), arcminutes, and arcseconds in trigonometry and the measurement of time, although both of these systems are actually mixed radix.
A common theory is that 60, a superior highly composite number (the previous and next in the series being 12 and 120), was chosen due to its prime factorization: 2×2×3×5, which makes it divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, and 60. Integers and fractions were represented identically—a radix point was not written but rather made clear by context.
Zero
The Babylonians did not technically have a digit for, nor a concept of, the number zero. Although they understood the idea of nothingness, it was not seen as a number—merely the lack of a number. Later Babylonian texts used a placeholder () to represent zero, but only in the medial positions, and not on the righthand side of the number, as we do in numbers like 100.
See also
In Spanish: Numeración babilónica para niños