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Because of the great antiquity of Babylonian mathematics, scholars have often conjectured about its influence on the development of mathematics in other ancient cultures. Although the paucity of cuneiform texts from the 3rd millennium makes conclusions about Mesopotamia’s mathematical influence highly speculative, in the 2nd and 1st millennia there is strong evidence for cross-cultural mathematical exchange. During the Old Babylonian period it is evident that Babylonian mathematical techniques were known in Susa, Mari, and Egypt. Later, in the great cultural movements of the 1st millennium the influence of Babylonian mathematics can be seen in numerous mathematical texts and numerical tables from Assyria, Ugarit, and Palestine.

Babylon’s mathematical influence beyond the Ancient Near East is harder to identify, although conjectures have been made about its relation to Greek, Indian, and Chinese mathematics. In the case of the Greeks arguments for a relation are slightly more cogent, as ancient Greek commentators unanimously claimed that their geometrical and astronomical sciences came from Egypt and Babylon. Indeed, the famous ‘Pythagorean theorem’ was known in Babylonia well over a thousand years before Pythagoras. Thus while the Greeks radically reformulated mathematics along the lines of abstract geometry, many of the concepts and theorems they used certainly were known to the Babylonians long before.

Bibliography

  • Friberg, Jöran. 2005. Unexpected Links Between Egyptian and Babylonian Mathematics. Singapour: World Scientific.
  • Friberg, Jöran. 2007. Amazing Traces of Babylonian Origin in Greek Mathematics. Singapour: World Scientific.
  • Høyrup, Jens. 1993. "Algèbre d'al-gabr" et "algèbre d'arpentage" au neuvième siècle islamique et la question de l'influence babylonienne. Filosofi og videnskabsteori pa Roskilde Universitets center 2.
  • Høyrup, Jens (1998) "Pythagorean 'rule' and 'theorem'- mirror of the relation between Babylonian and Greek mathematics" RUCPS 1998(3): 1-15.


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