New research suggests the Greeks borrowed their system known as alphabetic numerals from the Egyptians, and did not develop it themselves as was long believed, the BBC reports.
Greek alphabetic numerals were favored by the mathematician and physicist Archimedes, the scientific philosopher Aristotle and the mathematician Euclid, among others.
A 2003 analysis by Stephen Chrisomalis, Ph.D., a linguistic anthropologist at McGill University in Montreal, showed striking similarities between Greek alphabetic numerals and the Egyptian demotic numerals, used in Egypt from the late eighth century B.C. until around A.D. 450.
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Both systems use nine signs in each “base” so that individual units are counted 1-9, tens are counted 10-90 and so on. Both systems also lack a symbol for zero.
Chrisomalis proposes that an explosion in trade between Greece and Egypt after 600 B.C. led to the system being adopted by the Greeks.
Greek merchants may have seen the demotic system in use in Egypt and adapted it for their own purposes.