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The Arabic numerals (0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9) are used worldwide. They were popularized by the arabs, but were originally used by the early phonecian traders.

The phonecian numerals represented the count of angles in each of their symbols. For example, 0 has no angle; 1 has one angle, 2 has two angles, 3 has three angles etc.

Go to [Phonecian numerals] to see how these symbols look like.

See also: Babylonian numerals, Mayan numerals, Roman numerals, Hebrew numerals, Chinese numerals


I don't know if this is real or not, but I've read the same in other sources. --Pinkunicorn


The "number of angles" theory is old, and proven wrong. For one thing, the modern numerals are derived from a set of symbols that look quite different in places -- and they don't follow the angle rule. So much for that.

The Phoenician comment is completely out to lunch. There's no doubt these days that they were invented in India, brought into Arabic society, and that then the variety of them used in North Africa were picked up by Italians, from where they spread into the rest of Europe.

If no-one else fixes this one up I'll have a crack at it myself when I get a chance. I've a couple of scholarly works on the history of Arabic numerals in the bookshelves somewhere. -- PaulDrye


Truth is simple and consistent. It is my belief in life. Just like E=mc2. When I found the angle counts theory on the web, it was so simple and consistent that I didn't doubt its validity. I was really interested to know how to disprove it. I know there were many scholarly papers on the topic, but who can tell if those scholars even tried to fit this theory into the other findings.


You prove it wrong by showing that the original numbers from which the modern numerals evolved don't follow the angle rule. The original Brahmi numbers don't look a heck of a lot like the modern ones, and only started looking like they do now after many, many regional variations as they migrated west.

People make the mistake of thinking that the modern numerals were imported wholesale from India, which isn't correct. The concept of zero and the positional system were, but the symbols themselves changed over time. The last number to start looking like itself ("5") started looking like that only after it reached Europe! If you're reading a medieval or early renaissance document and you see what looks like an upside-down lower-case letter "h" -- like an open-topped "4" with a round cross-stroke instead of a straight one -- you've got yourself a "5". The Eastern Arabic symbol for "8" looks just like the symbol Western Europeans use for "7".

Another proof is that at least one symbol ("2") has a simpler explanation. In the Brahmi symbol set it looked like "=". Two cross-bars, unattached, which has an obvious origin for meaning "2" --hint: "1" was written as "-". There are then examples of other scripts derived from the Brahmi one, Marathi for example, where all that has happened is that the writer didn't lift his pen between writing the first crossbar and the second one. "=" turns into "z" and from there it's a short jump to "2".

There are many, many numbering systems -- dozens -- that evolved from the Brahmi system, and there are enough remaining documents that you can trace most of the systems through time and space as the characters change shape. The angle theory implies that they sprang from the forehead of some mathematician like Athena out of Zeus, and have never changed since. That's clearly not the case.

(Can you tell that I found my references?) --PaulDrye


The illustrations at http://www.orthohelp.com/number.htm were quite convincing. All the counts do match the respective symbols. But those symbols may be just made up to fit the theory. Was phonecian real? How do their numerals look like?


The Phoenicians were the people who invented the alphabet, in Lebanon around 17-1500 BC. They didn't use anything resembling Hindu-Arabic numerals, though.


The Phoenecians actually started using numerals quite late. In all their early inscriptions (i.e., everything before about 800 BC) they were in the habit of writing the numbers out in words: "Fifty six", not "56".

When they did start using numerals, they borrowed the system used by a number of other peoples in the area. The units are very basic: just vertical hash marks. Three lines for "3": |||. Seven lines for "7", like |||||||. Ten was represented by a horizontal line: "-". "=" for 20, and so on. Interestingly, when the "don't bother picking up the pen" thing kicked in here, the symbol for "20" started to look like a "2" and "30" started to look like a "3", but that's just because similar basic symbols were being used for 2 and 3 in Brahmi. Once you get past "4" and "40", there's no similarity between the signs.

It's important to note that the Phoenicians had symbols for 10, 20, 30.... It was not a positional system. It was basically just Roman numerals with different squiggles. You had a special symbol for twenty instead of writing 2-tens 0-ones like we do. This is just like hundreds of other number systems, and not at all like the one the Indians invented. --PaulDrye


One of the Chinese numerals system is positional. Yet, the Hangzhou numerals contain three special symbols for 10, 20, 30 only for shorthand. No shorthand beyond 30 though. So the use of symbols for 10, 20 etc. can coexist with a positional system. I love wiki wiki, I am learning alot through this type of exchange. Thanks guys!