What is the source of the historical error that the zero was from the Middle East and not where it is really from, namely India?


2 Answers 2


It was quite likely due to European scholars referring Arabic texts. These texts often drew inspiration from Eastern (esp. Indian and Chinese) works. However, the Arabic authors (for some reasons I am not aware of) did not properly attribute the works and therefore, European mathematicians may have thought of zero's origins as being Arabic.

But, of course, that is not to say that zero had 'Indian' origin. What is currently known is that, oldest text to explicitly refer to zero was Indian. But, its use may well be dated before that in ancient Greece, China and other civilizations.

  • 10
    All "Arabic" numerals were in fact Hindu/Indian in origin. They were introduced to the Europeans (Byzantines originally) via the Arabs though, who themselves got the digits from the Indians and modified their forms just slightly...
    – Noldorin
    Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 20:59
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    @check123 : On what basis are you saying "But, its use may well be dated before that in ancient Greece,..." Any references ?
    – vivek
    Commented Jan 7, 2012 at 22:24

The Liber Abaci written by Fibonacci was extremely influential in the devlopment of arithmetic and was the main source of the reference to "Arabic" numerals.

Zero is not from India. Zero is from ancient Babylonia. The Indians copied the Babylonian system, as did the Greeks. Zero is widely found in ancient Greek manuscripts written as an omicron with an overstroke. The Arabic symbol for zero, a dot, is completely different.

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    Not quite. The Babylonian "zero" was a placeholder for "no digits in this position". Like instead of writing "1034" they would write "1 34" (but in base 60 and with tick marks). Later they introduced a symbol. They didn't have the actual number "zero". It wasn't used alone, and they did not have the concept of doing math on "nothing". The Greeks copied the idea of a symbol as a placeholder from the Babylonians. The Indians included zero in math in the Brāhmasphuṭasiddhānta.
    – Schwern
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 22:20

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