Article

abacus

Serafina Cuomo

in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics


Published online December 2015 | e-ISBN: 9780199381135 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.013.1

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An abacus (ἄβαξ, ἀβάκιον), a counting board, was the usual aid to reckoning in antiquity. The Greeks and Romans alike used a board with vertical columns, on which (working from right to left) units, tens, and hundreds; or (where money was in question) units of currency, for instance the Attic signs for ⅛ obol, ¼ obol, ½ obol, 1 obol, drachma and so on, could be inscribed. The Salamis abacus is an example of a type of flat, large counting board, made of stone, of which more than twenty have survived from antiquity (Figure 1).There are also significantly fewer examples of small, bronze abacus. (Figure 2).The extant flat, large counting boards have been found in the Greek-speaking part of the Mediterranean, whereas the small bronze abaci appear to originate in the Roman world, and are engraved with Roman numerals. There are different possible reconstructions of how calculations were carried out on the ancient Greek or Roman abacus, which would seem to indicate that different procedures were also in use in antiquity In general, with addition, the totals of the columns were carried to the left, as in ordinary 21st-century addition.

Keywords: abacus; calculations; addition; counting board

Article.  407 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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