Zero Number

ZERO - The last digit to be created

in my article 'Numerous Numbers' I promised that I would come to talk about the number zero, I will comply.

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Zero Number

But why talk about zero in particular? Well, I hope the answer will become clear at the end of this article. So let's go!

I am sure that if someone asks you what facts you consider most relevant to the evolution of Humanity, the answers, after some reflection, will surely point to the domain of fire and the invention of the wheel, however I will dare to add more one: the creation of the zero digit!

Discovery of Fire
The new zero digit
The new zero digit

Until the creation of zero, Humanity was conditioned in the way of representing and counting quantities. Just think, for example, of Roman numerals where zero is not present.

The creation of zero can be attributed to several civilizations because, although at different times in history, the contributions of all of them were diverse in order to achieve the concept that we have today about zero.


The Babylonians, who lived in Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq, used a base 60 positional number system, sexagesimal, however, although they might have been the first to arrive at a notion of zero around 2500 BC, they had no symbol for the represent, simply left a blank space in its place.

PS: A number system is called 'positional' when the value of each digit depends on the position it occupies, for example, in the number 777 the 7 on the left is worth 700, the 7 in the middle is worth 70 and the 7 on the right is worth 7.

Mayans (Central and South America)

Around the 20th and XNUMXrd centuries BC, the Maya developed a representation for nothing. Its numbering system was vigesimal (base XNUMX) and consisted of a composition of dashes and dots, presenting two representations for zero (one to compose the numbers and the other to be used in the construction of its famous calendars). The concept of nothing was so relevant to the Maya who dedicated a specific deity to him, the god Zero, the god of Death.

Spelling of the Mayan Numbers and the zero digit
Spelling of the Mayan Numbers


Despite advances in geometry and logic, the Greeks simply thought nothing about zero, it was inconceivable for them to consider a representation for the void. Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC) considered that Nature had a horror of the vacuum. The Greeks chose to follow the Babylonian sexagesimal system without any symbol for the representation of zero. Only later, around the year 500, did Greek texts appear that use the letter omicron (the first letter of the word 'oudem' which means 'nothing') to represent zero.


The Romans (like the Greeks, Egyptians and Hebrews) did not know zero. Roman numerals were created to perform counts, so there is no need to enter zero (if there is nothing to count, it is not counted). Furthermore, Roman numerals are not positional numbers (as, for example, the Hindu-Arabic decimal numbering that we normally use). With Roman numerals it is possible to represent numbers that include the digit zero without having to have zero, for example, 100 is represented by C.


The Chinese also had no symbol for zero, when they wanted to show that there was no value, they left a blank space, an option similar to that of the Babylonians.


It was the Hindus who created the base 10 positional numbering system (with 10 different digits) as we use today, however, when they needed to represent, for example, the number 205, the middle position was empty, adopting the same option as Babylonians. It was in view of this fact that they decided to create a symbol that represented that void which they called 'sunya' which in Sanskrit means, precisely, 'gap', 'void', 'desert', 'barren'.

The adoption of zero as the tenth positional digit has been documented since the XNUMXth century by Brahmagupta (Indian mathematician and astronomer), although an older document, the Bakhshali Manuscript, written around the XNUMXth century, already included this figure in the form of a small point. There are numerous Indian documents, from the XNUMXth century, on copper plates, which contain the same symbol for the zero.

Bakhshali manuscript
Bakhshali manuscript


Most historians agree that the Arabic or Hindu-Arabic numerals originated in India, in fact, in Arabic, this numbering system, which is called “Indian numbers”, expanded throughout the Islamic world, having arrived to the Middle East around 670. There is some evidence to suggest that the numbers in their current form were developed from Arabic letters in the western regions of the Arab world, taking different forms from the Indians and the Orientals.


In the West, the first mentions of the current figures are found in the Codex VirgilianusOf 976.

From 980 Gerberto de Aurillac (who would become Pope Silvestre II), used his papal power to spread knowledge of the Hindu-Arab system in Europe. Silvestre II, who in his youth had studied in Barcelona, ​​had access, in the 780th century, to Latin translations of the work of the Persian mathematician al-Khwãrizmi (850 - XNUMX), on Indian numerals (Kitab al-Jabr wa-l -Muqabala), which presented the decimal positional notation for the Western World.

In Europe, the symbol was set to zero during the Middle Ages following the acceptance of the Arabic numerals disclosed by Leonardo Fibonacci (Pisa, c. 1170 - Pisa, c. 1250). The incorporation of the graphical representation of zero in the Hindu-Arabic decimal system took 400 years.
The figure evolved from a vacuum to a blank space, to a specific character and, finally, it became a numerical symbol used by Hindus and ancient Arabs.

Contrary to what one might think, our current numbers have evolved from the symbols used by Indians, although the current system is often referred to as 'Arabic numerals'.

Zero number. Form and sequence of the medieval spelling of Arabic numerals that appear on the title page of Libro Titled Arithmetica Practica, by Juan de Yciar
Form and sequence of the medieval spelling of Arabic numerals that appear on the title page of Libro Titled Arithmetica Practica, by Juan de Yciar

At the beginning of the 1600s, there was another important change in the graphic representation of zero, initially it was small and circular 'o', having evolved to the current oval shape '0' allowing it to be distinguished either from the lower case letter 'o' or from the letter capital 'O'.

Nowadays zero has a relevant importance when it is widely used in computer programming and in many other scientific activities.

Although the zero digit continues to mean nothing, the reality is that without it, very little in society would work properly

Undoubtedly the invention of zero was one of the greatest intellectual odysseyes of Humanity!

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2 thoughts on “ZERO - The last digit to be created”

  1. I loved it! Very interesting and educational. As I love History and Mathematics, these articles are my favorites.
    Once again Congratulations!
    A kiss,

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