We count from one to ten and beyond without a second thought. Zero seems like such a basic element of mathematics. Yet, the concept of zero as both a numerical symbol and a placeholder in calculations was a surprisingly late arrival in Western Europe.

Zero’s Ancient Origins

While the philosophical idea of “nothingness” existed, civilizations like the Babylonians and Mayans used placeholder symbols within their number systems. However, the true power of zero as a mathematical force emerged in India around the 7th century. The Indian mathematician and astronomer Brahmagupta provided the first rules on how to compute with zero, solidifying it as a number in its own right.

The Journey of Zero

This groundbreaking concept traveled west with the expansion of Arab mathematics. Muslim scholars embraced and built upon the Indian concept of zero, spreading its use throughout the Middle East.

Zero Arrives in Europe

It wasn’t until the 12th century that the Italian mathematician Fibonacci, famous for his Fibonacci sequence, played a pivotal role in introducing zero to the Western world. His work advocating the Hindu-Arabic numeral system brought zero, along with other decimal concepts, into European mathematics.

The Impact of Zero

This ‘revolutionary nothing’ transformed mathematics. Imagine trying to do complex calculations or represent concepts like negative numbers without a zero! The incorporation of zero paved the way for modern mathematics and scientific advancements.

A Symbol with a Long Journey

The story of zero is a reminder that even the most fundamental mathematical concepts we take for granted have rich and complex histories. From ancient India to the halls of European academia, zero’s journey highlights the interconnectedness of knowledge and the profound impact seemingly simple ideas can have on how we understand the world.


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<a href="" target="_self">Danny Ballan</a>

Danny Ballan


Danny is a podcaster, teacher, and writer. He worked in educational technology for over a decade. He creates daily podcasts, online courses, educational videos, educational games, and he also writes poetry, novels and music.

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