Few persons ever sit down and think about numbers and where they come from; it is just one of those things that we take for granted. Even if a person does wonder where numbers come from, the typical answer is that numbers originated with Roman numerals, but there are records of numbers being used as far back as 6000 BCE; however this only refers to numbers starting from 1, what about the number zero, where did it come from? The history of the zero is different from that of other numbers as ancient numerical systems did not have a zero, and a space was used where a zero should be. So let’s talk a little about the number zero and how it got into the numerical system.
Where Zero Came From
There are a lot of different stories about where the number zero comes from; one story says that the zero was first used as a number in India in the 9th century AD by Indian mathematician Aryabhata. It is also said that Indian scholar Pingala along with his fellow scholars used the Sanskrit word ??nya to refer to the number zero. Another story says that the number zero was invented by the Mayan civilization for use on their calendars, while yet another story claims that the zero dates back to 300 B.C. and was invented in Babylon. In the European society there is no evidence of the number zero being used until after 800 AD by the Arabs who were coming to trade with the Europeans; the name zero was also derived from the Arabic language.
By 130 AD Ptolemy was using a small circle with a long over-bar to represent a zero; this symbol was used by itself in some cases and not just as a placeholder and is perhaps the first documented instance of the number zero being used in the Old World; however zero was used only as a fractional part of a number and not as an integral part of the number until later years when it was added into the letter that meant 70. By 525 the zero was being used in Roman numerals, with the first recorded user being Dionysius Exiguus; at the time there was no symbol to represent the number however, just the word ‘nulla’ which means nothing.
First Written Use of Zero
The oldest known text to include a zero is the Jain text of India from 458 AD; the first known use of a symbol representing zero was a stone inscription from India, dated 876 AD. In 825 AD the zero was used in an arithmetic book by Persian scientist Khwarizmi; this book contained a combination of Greek and Hindu knowledge as well as an explanation on using the zero.
In 628 AD Brahmasputha Siddhanta wrote the first set of rules for using the number zero, for example that the sum of zero and zero is zero, the sum of zero and a positive is positive, and several others; now many years later, the same rules are applied and the zero is an irreplaceable number in the numerical system.