Old Babylonian “Algebra”: a Global Characterization

  • Jens Høyrup
Part of the Sources and Studies in the History of Mathematics and Physical Sciences book series (SHMP)


Neugebauer, Thureau-Dangin, Gandz, and others spoke without doubt about a Babylonian “algebra”, and the existence of such a thing was accepted without objections from the 1930s through the late 1960s. It was also accepted that this algebra was numerically based — in [1933] Vogel had proposed a geometric interpretation of AO 8862 #1 (the same as described in Figure 29), but in the end even he accepted the numerical interpretation. In [1936], Neugebauer had set forth the further thesis that the “geometric algebra” of Elements II and the “application of an area with deficiency or excess” had been created as a translation into geometry of the findings of Babylonian algebra — a translation that had become necessary if the general validity of the Babylonian results should remain secure after the discovery of incommensurability.[316] Even important among which are the “striped figures”,[314] that is, triangles and trapezia partitioned by parallel transversals, and the special case of the bisected trapezium and its generalization to trapezoids exemplified by YBC 4675.[315]


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jens Høyrup
    • 1
  1. 1.Section for Philosophy and Science StudiesUniversity of RoskildeRoskildeDenmark

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