Old Babylonian MathematicsBabylon, Iraq
Babylonian mathematics were written using a sexagesimal (base-60) numeral system. From this derives the modern-day usage of 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and 360 (60 × 6) degrees in a circle, as well as the use of seconds and minutes of arc to denote fractions of a degree. It is likely the sexagesimal system was chosen because 60 can be evenly divided by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20 and 30. Also, unlike the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, the Babylonians had a place-value system, where digits written in the left column represented larger values, much as in the decimal system. The power of the Babylonian notational system lay in that it could be used to represent fractions as easily as whole numbers; thus multiplying two numbers that contained fractions was no different from multiplying integers, similar to modern notation. The notational system of the Babylonians was the best of any civilization until the Renaissance, and its power allowed it to achieve remarkable computational accuracy; for example, the Babylonian tablet YBC 7289 gives an approximation of √2 accurate to five decimal places. The Babylonians lacked, however, an equivalent of the decimal point, and so the place value of a symbol often had to be inferred from the context. By the Seleucid period, the Babylonians had developed a zero symbol as a placeholder for empty positions; however it was only used for intermediate positions. This zero sign does not appear in terminal positions, thus the Babylonians came close but did not develop a true place value system.
Other topics covered by Babylonian mathematics include fractions, algebra, quadratic and cubic equations, and the calculation of regular numbers, and their reciprocal pairs. The tablets also include multiplication tables and methods for solving linear, quadratic equations and cubic equations, a remarkable achievement for the time. Tablets from the Old Babylonian period also contain the earliest known statement of the Pythagorean theorem. However, as with Egyptian mathematics, Babylonian mathematics shows no awareness of the difference between exact and approximate solutions, or the solvability of a problem, and most importantly, no explicit statement of the need for proofs or logical principles.
They also used a form of Fourier analysis to compute an ephemeris (table of astronomical positions), which was discovered in the 1950s by Otto Neugebauer. To make calculations of the movements of celestial bodies, the Babylonians used basic arithmetic and a coordinate system based on the ecliptic, the part of the heavens that the sun and planets travel through.