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The History Of The Number Zero

1241 words - 5 pages

Zero is where it all begins. The use of zero is well known today. But where did it come from? Everything is created, it does not just show up. The use of zero predates the twenty-first century. It is one of the largest controversies of all time. Present day math and even ancient math would not have been the same without it. Zero was conspicuously absent from most early number systems and all earlier civilizations. So where did it come from? No one knows exactly where and when it was invented, nor who invented it. The origin of zero is controversial. Many believe it was invented around 500 B.C., but each civilization/culture has their own theory.
Present day zero is quite different from its previous forms. Many concepts have been passed down, and many have been forgotten. Zero is the only number that is neither positive of negative. It has no effect on any quantity. Zero is a number lower than one. It is considered an item that is empty. There are two common uses of zero: 1. an empty place indicator in a number system, 2. the number itself, zero. Zero exist everywhere; although it took many civilizations to establish it.
In the Roman civilization there was no symbol for zero. Romans used the word “nulla” for an empty space. The word nulla meant “nothing”; what our common day zero means. Romans had a very unorganized number system. It was full of flaws. With no use of zero, there was absolutely no way for counting above several thousand units. When the Roman Empire fell in 300 A.D., the introduction and adaptation of Arabic numerals, today's decimal numbers, took place. Thus, the invention of zero, nothing, was a huge leap forward in Roman history.
The Greek civilization, on the other hand, believed the use of zero and irrational numbers was impossible. Many questioned, “How can nothing be something?” (O'Connor, 3). So they were one of many groups where zero did not exist in their number system. This led to many problems later on, and no one knew why they banned it. This was until A.D. 150, when a Greek astronomer, Ptolemy, discovered the first way to write a “zero” at the end of a number. He thought of this symbol (a circular shape with a line) more as a punctuation mark than a place holder. Based on his findings and previous research from the Babylonians, zero was introduced to the Greeks.
The use of zero even predates the Mayans. They were just considered the first to have a symbol for it. The Mayans had a very complex calendar system and were in desperate need of a place holder in their elaborate date system. This lead to their own personal invention of zero. It was the formal Long Count calendar that needed zero. It was an oval shaped symbol with small line at the top, somewhat resembling a loaf of bread. Their use of zero was never used for calculations, just for place value. This was considered their greatest achievement. Six hundred years, and twelve thousand miles, later than the Babylonians.

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