Babylonian mathematics. Eleanor Robson University of Cambridge. Outline. Introducing ourselves Going to school in ancient Babylonia Learning about Babylonian numbers Learning about Babylonian measurement and fairness Question time. Who were the Babylonians?. Where did they live?
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University of Cambridge
The Babylonians lived here, 5000-2000 years ago
Courts of law
In order to write:
Receipts and lists
Monthly and annual accounts
Loans, rentals, and sales
Marriage contracts, dowries, and wills
Records of legal disputes
Looking at things in context tells us far more than studying single objects
What sort of people wrote those tablets and why?
Tablets don’t rot like paper or papyrus do
They got lost, thrown away, or re-used
Archaeologists dig them up just like pots, bones or buildingsThe archaeology of Babylonian maths
The ancient city of Nippur single objects
The way it looks: single objects
Clay, paper, screen
The way they thought about it:
MeasurementsWas Babylonian maths so different from ours?Isn’t maths just maths?
• The Babylonians didn’t use symbols like + or = single objects
• What do you think they wrote instead?
"Triangle" is actually santakkum "cuneiform wedge" — and doesn't have to have straight edges
King Zimri-Lim (c.1780 BC) receiving measuring measurement to the kingequipment from the great goddess Inana
Inana’s Descent to the Underworld, ETCSL 1.7.1
Mathematical measurement to the kingjustice in action
If a merchant gives grain or silver as an interest-bearing loan, he shall take 100 sila per gur (= 33%) as interest; if he gives silver as an interest-bearing loan, he shall take 36 grains of silver per shekel (= 20%) as interest.
King Hammurabi and the sun-god Shamash, c.1760 BC(on Hammurabi’s law code)
If a (female) innkeeper refuses to accept grain for the price of beer but accepts only silver measured by the large weight, thus reducing the value of beer in relation to the value of grain, they shall establish the guilt of that (female) innkeeper and they shall throw her into the river.