Metrology and Sexagesimal Place Value Notation in Economic Texts

  • Robert Middeke-ConlinEmail author
Part of the Why the Sciences of the Ancient World Matter book series (WSAWM, volume 4)


This chapter explores the numerical basis of calculation in the economic texts. Discussion is divided into three parts. First, the transparency of economic texts is explored, looking at whether the economic texts present all data used to produce a quantity or whether tacit knowledge went into a text’s production. Next, measurement values within the texts are examined to see whether these values were transformed into sexagesimal place value notation (SPVN) or not. Did SPVN need to be specifically stated to demonstrate its use in a text? Finally, explicit examples of place value notations in the economic texts are examined to explore whether these are SPVN or something different. It is shown that as a rule scribes only stated information they deemed important in texts so that calculation and the basis for this calculation were not always necessary to a text’s construction. While SPVN was probably not used to produce every economic text, there does seem to be a general tendency toward multiplication using SPVN. The metrological lists and tables, as well as the numerical tables, produced building blocks to calculate with sexagesimal place value notation. These building blocks served as a basis for standardization when estimating value. This chapter is supplemented by Appendix 4 where equivalency and labor rates are examined.

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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Berlin Center for the History of KnowledgeMax Planck Institute for the History of ScienceBerlinGermany

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