Does anybody know how the following numerals had been used and provide some examples?

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(source of images is Unicode characters maps)

  • 4
    You can find answers in the book I've already recommended, Chrisomalis, Stephen. 2010. Numerical notation: A comparative history. Cambridge: CUP. If you can't get it from your library, you can at least preview it on Amazon.
    – Alex B.
    Nov 29 '12 at 0:44
  • 3
    On the other hand, Chrisomalis's doctoral dissertation is available online digitool.Library.McGill.CA:80/R/…
    – Alex B.
    Nov 29 '12 at 0:55
  • 1
    @AlexB. He himself commented below. :)
    – Alenanno
    Dec 9 '12 at 17:52

They are related scripts historically used for related languages, which also used other writing systems.

Both used the levantine number system, described in detail in the fantastic book/thesis by Chrisomalis Alex B. recommends in the comments above. To say it (very) crudely, it looks like a mixture of Roman numbers with some base 20 under 100, and “number as spoken” above 100.

Since your source is Unicode codecharts, you can check what the Unicode standard says about them. The relevant section of chapter 10 (pdf) sends back to table 10-3, which contains lots of examples in the related imperial Aramaic script system. A more detailed source of information is, as usual the proposal to encode the the script in Unicode (pdf): it contains lot's of examples of numbers explaining the details of encoding, as well as some actual historical documents using them (figures 7 and 12.)

Let us see ho it works encoding the number 2905 (this question number) in an ASCIIfied, left-to-right version of this number system, where

1 to 4 encoded as repetition of I

10 as X

20 as T

100 as C

1000 as M

Since 2905 = 2×1000+(3+3+3)×100+4+1, it would be II M III III III C IIII I. For an example usig the “digit” 20 (T), one can take 6798, which is attested in Inscriptional Pahlavi. We have then III III M IIII III CTTTTX IIII IIII.

Note that, according to the proposal, several decomposition are attested for 5 (IIII I or III II), 6 (III III or I II III) and 7 (I III III or III IIII).

  • How are they called outside of the context of Iran, that is when referring to the system used in the Levant? Aug 29 '18 at 17:01
  • @A.M.Bittlingmayer : The Levantine system is not specifically Iranian. It gets its name from its oldest attestation in the Levant, in Aramaic, in the 8th century BCE and its use in Phoenitian, Palmyrene and Nabatean. It was used in a wide area, with variants also used in Kharoshthi in Hindu Kush. The «Levantine» denomination is not limited to an actual use in the Levant, in the same way that we speak of Arabic numbers when discussing 1234567890 as used in modern USA! Another description of the system (from Chrisomalis) is : it’s Cumulative-additive below 100 and multiplicative additive above Aug 29 '18 at 21:18
  • I forgot in the above comment the use of the Levantine system in Hatran and Syriac (Estrangelo), the latter being used until around 500 CE Aug 29 '18 at 21:22
  • I know that the writing system was more or less an international system at the time. But my question is just what was this numeral system called? levantine numerals does not give any relevant hits on my favourite search engine. Aug 29 '18 at 21:44
  • 1
    @A.M.Bittingmayer : "Levantine" describes a family of several related numeral systems, and Chrisomalis says this family is usually overlooked in books on numeral systems. This may explain the scarcity of information about it on internet. The only information I have about it either comes from Chrisomalis' book/thesis (I strongly recommend it) or informations about the associated scripts Aug 29 '18 at 22:19

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