What did the Romans contribute to math?
Date: 10/18/96 at 9:40:2 From: Howard and Lynnann Lovejoy Subject: Roman Contribution to Math Dear Dr. Math, I am the Head Librarian at Bahrain Bayan International School in the Persian Gulf. This past week, the seventh grade students have been in the library searching for information on the history of number systems -- a cross-curricular project assigned by their English/Math teachers. The classes are divided up into groups, each locating information on a different ancient civilization. We have found lots of information for the Maya, Chinese, and Babylonian/Egyptian groups -- but, little to nothing for the Greek or Roman groups. The students have decided that the Romans contributed very little to the history of math other than the numbers look pretty on clocks and outlines. Would you agree with that statement? We know that the Romans built elaborate roads and buildings -- they had to have mathematical engineers -- but did they really use the Roman Numerals to do their calculations? The Golden Mean supposedly is heavily used in Greek and Roman architecture ... was that by their design or discovered after-the- fact? We have searched encyclopedias and the internet to try and find information on these ancient number systems. Next week the students finish their research and start writing their papers. Any information or tips you can send us via the e-mail will be put to good use. Thanks! Lynnann Lovejoy, Bayan School Librarian
Date: 10/19/96 at 22:11:51 From: Doctor Mason Subject: Re: Roman Contribution to Math The Romans were indeed very good mathematicians. However, they tended to study only what is now called "applied math." They wanted to be able to use their knowledge to build the wonderful roads and bridges you mentioned. The Roman calculations were done on a board with grooves and holes. I've tried to draw the board below, and indicate the place values each groove and hole had. -- -- -- -- | | | | | | | | | | -- | | -- | | -- | | | || | | || | | || || | | | -- | | -- | | -- | | | | | | | | | | -- -- -- -- M D C L X V I On this board, they would place pebbles, "calculi" in Latin. This brings us to one of the Roman contributions to math: the words "calculate", and "calculus" both come from this origin. They would place one pebble in the appropriate place for each letter in their numeral. Other pebbles could be added to them representing another addend. The pebbles would have to be rearranged so no more than 4 were in a groove, or no more than 1 in a hole. They manipulated the pebbles to do all their calculations. Maybe this isn't what you were looking for, but the vocabulary of mathematics is often something we take for granted, and it DOES come from someplace. I think these things are interesting. -Doctor Mason, The Math Forum Check out our web site! http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
Date: 10/23/96 at 0:52:15 From: Howard and Lynnann Lovejoy Subject: Re: Roman Contribution to Math Dear Dr. Mason, The students got your response in time to include it in their notes and are now busily searching further information on applied maths. They were thrilled to get your response and requested that I thank you for helping them with their math research project. Special thanks from the Roman group: Fatima, Mariam, Maya, Yousif, and Talal.
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