Overview:
What we know as Arabic numerals were neither invented nor widely used
by the Arabs. Instead, they were developed in India by the Hindus
around 600 AD. However, because it was the Arabs who transmitted
this system to the West, the numerals became known as "Arabic".

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Modern Arabic (western)

Early Arabic (western)

Arabic Letters (used as numerals)

Modern Arabic (eastern)

Early Arabic (eastern)

Early Devanagari (Indian)

Later Devanagari

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Significant Traits:
Arabic numerals greatly eased arithmetic computations because of the
following significant traits:
Positional:
The Arabic numeral system is positional in that the actual value of
a numeral is determined by its placement within the written number. Thus,
2 in 323 stands for twenty, while 2 in 233 stands for two hundred.
Single Symbol System:
In the Roman, Egyptian, and Greek numeral systems the number 323 was
expressed like this:
Egyptian: 999 nn III
Greek: HHH ÆÆ III
Roman: CCC XX III
The Indian contribution was to substitute a single symbol (in this case
meaning "3" and meaning "2") indicating the number of signs in each cluster
of similar signs. Using this system the Indians would express Roman CCC
XX 111 as: 3 2 3.
Zero:
This new way of writing numbers was efficient and space saving, but
not without flaws. The Roman numeral CCC II, for instance, presented a
dilemma. If a 3 and a 2 are substituted for the Roman clusters CCC and
II, the written result was 32. Although one can see that the number intended
was not thirtytwo but three hundred and two. The Arab scholars perceived
that a sign representing "nothing" was required, because the place of a
sign gave as much information as its unitary value did. The place had to
be shown even if the sign which showed it indicated a unitary value of
"nothing." It is uncertain whether the Arabs or the Indians filled this
need by inventing the zero, but in any case the problem was solved: now
the new system could show neatly the difference between XXX II (32) and
CCC II (302).
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Introduction to Europe:
It is not known exactly when the new number system first came to Europe,
although there is evidence is that it came many times between 976 and 1275.
The oldest dated European manuscript containing Arabic numbers is the Codex
Vigilanus written in Spain in 976. And even though the French monk and
mathematician Gerbert (9401003) who became Pope Sylvester II in 999, also
used them in several of his writings, they did not yet come into common
use.
In 1202 Leonardo of Pisa (also known as Fibonacci) published his Liber
Abaci, a book of arithmetic and algebraic information. AlKhwârizmî's
book was a major influence on Fibonacci. In spite of the popularity of
Fibonacci's book among scholars, the earliest French manuscript to use
the new number system was written in 1275. In western Europe merchants
continued to use Roman numerals in keeping their books. The Greek
system of numerals remained popularin regions around the Adriatic for many
years more.
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Resources:
*The Medieval Technology Pages
Arabic Numerals
http://scholar.chem.nyu.edu/~tekpages/arabnums.html
*http://islam.org/Mosque/IHAME/Ref6.htm
Arabic Numerals
http://math.truman.edu/~thammond/history/NumberSystems.html
Number Systems  Mathematics and the Liberal Arts
http://www.gosai.com/chaitanya/saranagati/html/vishnu_mjs/math/math_4.html
Evolution of Arabic (Roman) Numerals from India
http://www.islamicpaths.org/Home/English/History/Literature/Arabic_Numerals.htm
Arabic Numerals
An Historical Perspective
HinduArabic Numerals
http://www.scit.wlv.ac.uk/~cm1993/maths/mm2217/han.htm
*http://wwwgroups.dcs.stand.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Fibonacci.html
Fibonacci
University of St. Andrews
* = primary sources
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