Page from The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing
by Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī
(c. AD 820)
The area of study known as the history of mathematics is primarily an investigation into the origin of discoveries in mathematics and, to a lesser extent, an investigation into the mathematical methods and notation of the past.
Before the modern age and the worldwide spread of knowledge, written examples of new mathematical developments have come to light only in a few locales. The most ancient mathematical texts available are Plimpton 322 (Babylonian mathematics c. 1900 BC), the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus (Egyptian mathematics c. 2000-1800 BC) and the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus (Egyptian mathematics c. 1890 BC). All of these texts concern the so-called Pythagorean theorem, which seems to be the most ancient and widespread mathematical development after basic arithmetic and geometry.
The Greek and Hellenistic contribution greatly refined the methods (especially through the introduction of deductive reasoning and mathematical rigor in proofs) and expanded the subject matter of mathematics. The study of mathematics as a subject in its own right begins in the 6th century BCE with the Pythagoreans, who coined the term "mathematics" from the ancient Greek μάθημα (mathema), meaning "subject of instruction". Chinese mathematics made early contributions, including a place value system. The Hindu-Arabic numeral system and the rules for the use of its operations, in use throughout the world today, likely evolved over the course of the first millennium AD in India and was transmitted to the west via Islamic mathematics. Islamic mathematics, in turn, developed and expanded the mathematics known to these civilizations.Many Greek and Arabic texts on mathematics were then translated into Latin, which led to further development of mathematics in medieval Europe.
From ancient times through the Middle Ages, bursts of mathematical creativity were often followed by centuries of stagnation. Beginning in Renaissance Italy in the 16th century, new mathematical developments, interacting with new scientific discoveries, were made at an increasing pace that continues through the present day.
The origins of mathematical thought lie in the concepts of number, magnitude, and form. Modern studies of animal cognition have shown that these concepts are not unique to humans. Such concepts would have been part of everyday life in hunter-gatherer societies. That the concept of number evolved gradually over time is evident in that some languages today preserve the distinction between "one", "two", and "many", but not of numbers larger than two.
The Ishango bone
, dating to perhaps 18000 to 20000 B.C.
The oldest known mathematical object is the Lebombo bone, discovered in the Lebombo mountains of Swaziland and dated to approximately 35,000 BC. It consists of 29 distinct notches deliberately cut into a baboon's fibula. There is evidence that women used counting to keep track of their menstrual cycles; 28 to 30 scratches on bone or stone, followed by a distinctive marker. Also prehistoric artifacts discovered in Africa and France, dated between 35,000 and 20,000 years old, suggest early attempts to quantify time.
The Ishango bone, found near the headwaters of the Nile river (northeastern Congo), may be as much as 20,000 years old and consists of a series of tally marks carved in three columns running the length of the bone. Common interpretations are that the Ishango bone shows either the earliest known demonstration of sequences of prime numbers or a six month lunar calendar. Predynastic Egyptians of the 5th millennium BC pictorially represented geometric designs. It has been claimed that megalithic monuments in England and Scotland, dating from the 3rd millennium BC, incorporate geometric ideas such as circles, ellipses, and Pythagorean triples in their design.
Ancient Near East
Babylonian mathematics refers to any mathematics of the people of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) from the days of the early Sumerians until the beginning of the Hellenistic period. It is named Babylonian mathematics due to the central role of Babylon as a place of study. During the Hellenistic period Babylonian mathematics merged with Greek and Egyptian mathematics to give rise to Hellenistic mathematics. Later under the Arab Empire, Mesopotamia, especially Baghdad, once again became an important center of study for Islamic mathematics.
In contrast to the sparsity of sources in Egyptian mathematics, our knowledge of Babylonian mathematics is derived from more than 400 clay tablets unearthed since the 1850s. Written in Cuneiform script, tablets were inscribed whilst the clay was moist, and baked hard in an oven or by the heat of the sun. Some of these appear to be graded homework.
The earliest evidence of written mathematics dates back to the ancient Sumerians, who built the earliest civilization in Mesopotamia. They developed a complex system of metrology from 3000 BC. From around 2500 BC onwards, the Sumerians wrote multiplication tables on clay tablets and dealt with geometrical exercises and division problems. The earliest traces of the Babylonian numerals also date back to this period.
The majority of recovered clay tablets date from 1800 to 1600 BC, and cover topics which include fractions, algebra, quadratic and cubic equations, and the calculation of regular reciprocal pairs. The tablets also include multiplication tables and methods for solving linear and quadratic equations. The Babylonian tablet YBC 7289 gives an approximation to √2 accurate to five decimal places.
Babylonian mathematics were written using a sexagesimal (base-60) numeral system. From this derives the modern day usage of 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and 360 (60 x 6) degrees in a circle, as well as the use of seconds and minutes of arc to denote fractions of a degree. Babylonian advances in mathematics were facilitated by the fact that 60 has many divisors. Also, unlike the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, the Babylonians had a true place-value system, where digits written in the left column represented larger values, much as in the decimal system. They lacked, however, an equivalent of the decimal point, and so the place value of a symbol often had to be inferred from the context.
Egyptian mathematics refers to mathematics written in the Egyptian language. From the Hellenistic period, Greek replaced Egyptian as the written language of Egyptian scholars, and from this point Egyptian mathematics merged with Greek and Babylonian mathematics to give rise to Hellenistic mathematics. Mathematical study in Egypt later continued under the Arab Empire as part of Islamic mathematics, when Arabic became the written language of Egyptian scholars.
The most extensive Egyptian mathematical text is the Rhind papyrus (sometimes also called the Ahmes Papyrus after its author), dated to c. 1650 BC but likely a copy of an older document from the Middle Kingdom of about 2000-1800 BC. It is an instruction manual for students in arithmetic and geometry. In addition to giving area formulas and methods for multiplication, division and working with unit fractions, it also contains evidence of other mathematical knowledge, including composite and prime numbers; arithmetic, geometric and harmonic means; and simplistic understandings of both the Sieve of Eratosthenes and perfect number theory (namely, that of the number 6). It also shows how to solve first order linear equations as well as arithmetic and geometric series.
Another significant Egyptian mathematical text is the Moscow papyrus, also from the Middle Kingdom period, dated to c. 1890 BC. It consists of what are today called word problems or story problems, which were apparently intended as entertainment. One problem is considered to be of particular importance because it gives a method for finding the volume of a frustum: "If you are told: A truncated pyramid of 6 for the vertical height by 4 on the base by 2 on the top. You are to square this 4, result 16. You are to double 4, result 8. You are to square 2, result 4. You are to add the 16, the 8, and the 4, result 28. You are to take one third of 6, result 2. You are to take 28 twice, result 56. See, it is 56. You will find it right."
Finally, the Berlin papyrus (c. 1300 BC ) shows that ancient Egyptians could solve a second-order algebraic equation.
Greek and Hellenistic mathematics
Greek mathematics refers to mathematics written in the Greek language between about 600 BC and AD 300. Greek mathematicians lived in cities spread over the entire Eastern Mediterranean, from Italy to North Africa, but were united by culture and language. Greek mathematics of the period following Alexander the Great is sometimes called Hellenistic mathematics.
Greek mathematics was much more sophisticated than the mathematics that had been developed by earlier cultures. All surviving records of pre-Greek mathematics show the use of inductive reasoning, that is, repeated observations used to establish rules of thumb. Greek mathematicians, by contrast, used deductive reasoning. The Greeks used logic to derive conclusions from definitions and axioms, and used mathematical rigor to prove them.
Greek mathematics is thought to have begun with Thales of Miletus (c. 624–c.546 BC) and Pythagoras of Samos (c. 582–c. 507 BC). Although the extent of the influence is disputed, they were probably inspired by Egyptian and Babylonian mathematics. According to legend, Pythagoras traveled to Egypt to learn mathematics, geometry, and astronomy from Egyptian priests.
Pythagoras of Samos
Thales used geometry to solve problems such as calculating the height of pyramids and the distance of ships from the shore. He is credited with the first use of deductive reasoning applied to geometry, by deriving four corollaries to Thales' Theorem. As a result, he has been hailed as the first true mathematician and the first known individual to whom a mathematical discovery has been attributed. Pythagoras established the Pythagorean School, whose doctrine it was that mathematics ruled the universe and whose motto was "All is number". It was the Pythagoreans who coined the term "mathematics", and with whom the study of mathematics for its own sake begins. The Pythagoreans are credited with the first proof of the Pythagorean theorem, though the statement of the theorem has a long history, and with the proof of the existence of irrational numbers.
Eudoxus (408–c.355 BC) developed the method of exhaustion, a precursor of modern integration. Aristotle (384—c.322 BC) first wrote down the laws of logic. Euclid (c. 300 BC) is the earliest example of the format still used in mathematics today, definition, axiom, theorem, and proof. He also studied conics. His book, Elements, was known to all educated people in the West until the middle of the 20th century. In addition to the familiar theorems of geometry, such as the Pythagorean theorem, Elements includes a proof that the square root of two is irrational and that there are infinitely many prime numbers. The Sieve of Eratosthenes (c. 230 BC) was used to discover prime numbers.
(c.287–212 BC), widely considered the greatest mathematician of
Archimedes (c.287–212 BC) of Syracuse used the method of exhaustion to calculate the area under the arc of a parabola with the summation of an infinite series, and gave remarkably accurate approximations of Pi. He also studied the spiral bearing his name, formulas for the volumes of surfaces of revolution, and an ingenious system for expressing very large numbers.
Early Chinese mathematics is so different from that of other parts of the world that it is reasonable to assume independent development. The oldest extant mathematical text from China is the Chou Pei Suan Ching, variously dated to between 1200 BC and 100 BC, though a date of about 300 BC appears reasonable.
Of particular note is the use in Chinese mathematics of a decimal positional notation system, the so-called "rod numerals" in which distinct ciphers were used for numbers between 1 and 10, and additional ciphers for powers of ten. Thus, the number 123 would be written using the symbol for "1", followed by the symbol for "100", then the symbol for "2" followed by the symbol for "10", followed by the symbol for "3". This was the most advanced number system in the world at the time, apparently in use several centuries before the common era and well before the development of the Indian numeral system. Rod numerals allowed the representation of numbers as large as desired and allowed calculations to be carried out on the suan pan, or (Chinese abacus). The date of the invention of the suan pan is not certain, but the earliest written mention dates from AD 190, in Xu Yue's Supplementary Notes on the Art of Figures.
The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art.
The oldest existent work on geometry in China comes from the philosophical Mohist canon c. 330 BC, compiled by the followers of Mozi (470–390 BC). The Mo Jing described various aspects of many fields associated with physical science, and provided a small number of geometrical theorems as well.
In 212 BC, the Emperor Qin Shi Huang (Shi Huang-ti) commanded all books in the Qin Empire other than officially sanctioned ones be burned. This decree was not universally obeyed, but as a consequence of this order little is known about ancient Chinese mathematics before this date. After the book burning of 212 BC, the Han dynasty (202 BC–220 AD) produced works of mathematics which presumably expanded on works that are now lost. The most important of these is The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art, the full title of which appeared by AD 179, but existed in part under other titles beforehand. It consists of 246 word problems involving agriculture, business, employment of geometry to figure height spans and dimension ratios for Chinese pagoda towers, engineering, surveying, and includes material on right triangles and values of π. It also made use of Cavalieri's principle on volume more than a thousand years before Cavalieri would propose it in the West. It created mathematical proof for the Pythagorean theorem, and a mathematical formula for Gaussian elimination. Liu Hui commented on the work by the 3rd century AD, and gave a value of π accurate to 5 decimal places. Though more of a matter of computational stamina than theoretical insight, in the 5th century AD Zu Chongzhi computed the value of π to seven decimal places, which remained the most accurate value of π for almost the next 1000 years.
The high water mark of Chinese mathematics occurs in the 13th century, with the development of Chinese algebra. The most important text form that period is the Precious Mirror of the Four Elements by Chu Shih-chieh (fl. 1280-1303), dealing with the solution of simultaneous higher order algebraic equations using a method similar to Horner's method. The Precious Mirror also contains a diagram of Pascal's triangle with coefficients of binomial expansions through the eighth power, though both appear in Chinese works as early as 1100.
The Chinese also made use of the complex combinatorial diagram known as the magic square and magic circles, described in ancient times and perfected by Yang Hui (AD 1238–1298).
Even after European mathematics began to flourish during the Renaissance, European and Chinese mathematics were separate traditions, with significant Chinese mathematical output in decline from the 13th century onwards. Jesuit missionaries such as Matteo Ricci carried mathematical ideas back and forth between the two cultures from the 16th to 18th centuries, though at this point far more mathematical ideas were entering China than leaving.
The earliest civilization on the Indian subcontinent is the Indus Valley Civilization that flourished between 2600 and 1900 BC in the Indus river basin. Their cities were laid out with geometric regularity, but no known mathematical documents survive from this civilization.
The oldest extant mathematical records from India are the Shatapatha Brahmana (c. 9th century BC), which approximates the value of π, and the Sulba Sutras (c. 800–500 BC), geometry texts that used irrational numbers, prime numbers, the rule of three and cube roots; computed the square root of 2 to one part in one hundred thousand; gave the method for constructing a circle with approximately the same area as a given square, solved linear and quadratic equations; developed Pythagorean triples algebraically, and gave a statement and numerical proof of the Pythagorean theorem.
Pāṇini (c. 5th century BC) formulated the rules for Sanskrit grammar. His notation was similar to modern mathematical notation, and used metarules, transformations, and recursion. Pingala (roughly 3rd-1st centuries BC) in his treatise of prosody uses a device corresponding to a binary numeral system. His discussion of the combinatorics of meters corresponds to an elementary version of the binomial theorem. Pingala's work also contains the basic ideas of Fibonacci numbers (called mātrāmeru).
The Surya Siddhanta (c. 400) introduced the trigonometric functions of sine, cosine, and inverse sine, and laid down rules to determine the true motions of the luminaries, which conforms to their actual positions in the sky. The cosmological time cycles explained in the text, which was copied from an earlier work, correspond to an average sidereal year of 365.2563627 days, which is only 1.4 seconds longer than the modern value of 365.25636305 days. This work was translated into to Arabic and Latin during the Middle Ages.
In the 5th century AD, Aryabhata wrote the Aryabhatiya, a slim volume, written in verse, intended to supplement the rules of calculation used in astronomy and mathematical mensuration, though with no feeling for logic or deductive methodology. Though about half of the entries are wrong, it is in the Aryabhatiya that the decimal place-value system first appears. Several centuries later, the Muslim mathematician Abu Rayhan Biruni described the Aryabhatiya as a "mix of common pebbles and costly crystals".
In the 7th century, Brahmagupta identified the Brahmagupta theorem, Brahmagupta's identity and Brahmagupta's formula, and for the first time, in Brahma-sphuta-siddhanta, he lucidly explained the use of zero as both a placeholder and decimal digit, and explained the Hindu-Arabic numeral system. It was from a translation of this Indian text on mathematics (c. 770) that Islamic mathematicians were introduced to this numeral system, which they adapted as Arabic numerals. Islamic scholars carried knowledge of this number system to Europe by the 12th century, and it has now displaced all older number systems throughout the world. In the 10th century, Halayudha's commentary on Pingala's work contains a study of the Fibonacci sequence and Pascal's triangle, and describes the formation of a matrix.
In the 12th century, Bhāskara II first conceived differential calculus, along with the concepts of the derivative, differential coefficient, and differentiation. He also stated Rolle's theorem (a special case of the mean value theorem), studied Pell's equation, and investigated the derivative of the sine function. In the 14th century, Madhava of Sangamagrama found the Madhava–Leibniz series, and, using 21 terms, computed the value of π as 3.14159265359. Madhava and other Kerala School mathematicians developed the concepts of mathematical analysis and floating point numbers, and concepts fundamental to the overall development of calculus, including the mean value theorem, term by term integration, the relationship of an area under a curve and its antiderivative or integral, the integral test for convergence, iterative methods for solutions to non-linear equations, and a number of infinite series, power series, Taylor series, and trigonometric series. In the 16th century, Jyesthadeva consolidated many of the Kerala School's developments and theorems in the Yuktibhasa, the world's first differential calculus text, which also introduced concepts of integral calculus. Mathematical progress in India stagnated from the late 16th century to the 20th century, due to political turmoil.