What Is the Number System Used in Ancient Times?

In this article, we will delve into the number system used in ancient times. The numerals we use today are known as Arabic numerals and were developed in India during the Gupta period (4th to 6th centuries). However, before the development of modern numerals, various civilizations used their own number systems.

Egyptian Number System

The ancient Egyptians used a decimal system that was based on hieroglyphics. They used symbols for one to nine, but when counting ten, they repeated the symbol for one.

For example, the number eleven was represented by two vertical lines instead of one. The Egyptians had different symbols for powers of ten up to a million.

Roman Number System

The Roman numeral system was widely used in ancient Rome and Europe until the 14th century. It is still used today on clocks and watches, as well as in book chapters and page numbers.

The Roman numeral system uses letters to represent numbers. I represents 1, V represents 5, X represents 10, L represents 50, C represents 100, D represents 500 and M represents 1,000.

Babylonian Number System

The Babylonians used a sexagesimal system (base-60) that was much more complex than other systems at that time. This number system is still used today for measuring time (60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour). Their number system also included a symbol for zero.

Mayan Number System

The Mayans developed a vigesimal (base-20) number system that included three symbols: dots, bars and shells. A dot represented one unit; a bar represented five units; and a shell represented zero or twenty units. The Mayans also had symbols for powers of twenty up to several million.


In conclusion, the number systems used in ancient times were vastly different from the Arabic numerals we use today. Each civilization had its own unique system and symbols to represent numbers.

Although these systems may seem archaic compared to modern-day numerals, they were essential for trade, commerce and scientific calculations. It is fascinating to see how the evolution of numbers has played an important role in shaping our world today.