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Cultures of Computation and Quantification in the Ancient World

Numbers, Measurements, and Operations in Documents from Mesopotamia, China and South Asia

  • Offers an approach to the diversity of scientific cultures based on case studies dealing with mathematical sources

  • Links the history of mathematics to the history of ancient worlds

  • Sheds a new light on the history of place-value systems

Part of the book series: Why the Sciences of the Ancient World Matter (WSAWM, volume 6)

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Hardcover Book USD 179.99
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About this book

This book sheds light on the variety of mathematical cultures in general. To do so, it concentrates on cultures of computation and quantification in the ancient world, mainly in ancient China, South Asia, and the Ancient Near East and offers case studies focused on numbers, quantities, and operations, in particular in relation to mathematics as well as administrative and economic activities. 

The various chapters focus on the different ways and contexts of shaping numbers and quantities, and on the procedures applied to them. The book places special emphasis on the processes of emergence of place-value number systems, evidenced in the three geographical areas under study All these features yield essential elements that will enable historians of mathematics to further capture the diversity of computation practices in their contexts, whereas previous historical approaches have tended to emphasize elements that displayed uniformity within “civilizational” blocks. The book includes editions and translations of texts, some of them published here for the first time, maps, and conventions for editions of ancient texts. It thereby offers primary sources and methodological tools for teaching and learning. 

The volume is aimed at historians and philosophers of science and mathematics, historians of the ancient worlds, historians of economics, sinologists, indologists, assyriologists, as well as undergraduate, graduate students and teachers in mathematics, the history and philosophy of science and mathematics, and in the history of ancient worlds.


  • History of Mathematical Cultures
  • History of Administrative and Economic Practices
  • History and Philosophy of Number
  • Cultures of Computation
  • Operations and Algorithms
  • Diyala

Editors and Affiliations

  • SPHERE, UMR 7219, CNRS, University of Paris, Paris, France

    Karine Chemla, Agathe Keller, Christine Proust

About the editors

Karine Chemla studied mathematics at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Jeunes Filles (1976-1982) and the history of mathematics at the Institute for the History of Natural Sciences (Beijing, China, 1981). She is a Senior Researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), in the laboratory SPHERE (CNRS & Université de Paris), and from 2011 to 2016, Chemla was Principal Investigator of the ERC Advanced Research Grant “Mathematical Sciences in the Ancient Worlds,” with co-directors A. Keller and C. Proust (SAW).

Agathe Keller is Senior Researcher with the CNRS and Member of the SPHERE lab in Paris. She works on medieval Sanskrit mathematical commentaries (5th-12th centuries) and on the historiography of mathematics in and on India from the 19th century until today. She has published Expounding the mathematical Seed, Bhāskara’s commentary on the mathematical chapter of the Āryabhaṭīya (Birkhaüser, 2006).
Christine Proust is Senior Researcher Emerita at the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (Paris). She works on the history of mathematics in the Ancient Near East, more specifically on mathematical cuneiform texts from different periods, including the end of the third millennium BCE, the Old Babylonian period (early second millennium), and Late Babylonian periods (last centuries of the first millennium BCE).

Bibliographic Information

Buying options

Hardcover Book USD 179.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
This title has not yet been released. You will be able to pre-order it soon.