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History of Mathematics
Abacuses and Aqueducts - Roman Mathematics

History of Mathematics
History of Mathematics

Abacuses and Aqueducts - Roman Mathematics
Print Abacuses and Aqueducts - Roman Mathematics Reading Comprehension

Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 12
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   9.59

     challenging words:    calare, coin-making, jugerum, Jugerums, libra, passus, fractional, abacus, lenders, multiplication, attest, precision, mathematics, geometry, calculation, numerical
     content words:    North Africa, Today Roman, Roman Empire, Roman Emperor Numa Pompilius, Julius Caesar, Annus Confusionus, One Roman, Many Roman

Abacuses and Aqueducts - Roman Mathematics
By Colleen Messina

1     According to legend, two brothers who were the sons of the god of war founded Rome in 753 BC. By 146 BC, when the Roman soldiers crushed Carthage, Rome became the greatest power in the Mediterranean. The Romans were known as mighty conquerors and had control of southern Europe, Gaul, Britain, North Africa, and much of Asia. Roman merchants had to develop accounting and measuring systems that assisted them in keeping track of their trades as they traveled across the vast empire. Since the Romans also controlled the Greek colonies, they absorbed a great deal about art, literature, and geometry from them. However, the Romans didn't copy everything from the Greeks: they devised their own simpler numerical system, and they also made notable contributions to our modern calendar and architecture.
2     The Roman number system was based on seven symbols: I for 1; V for 5; X for 10; L for 50; C for 100; D for 500; and M for 1,000. Like the Greeks, the Romans had little need for large numbers. The Romans still did not have a zero in their system, but the position of the number determined its value. If the number follows a larger number, the two numbers are added. For example, VI equals 6. When a smaller number precedes a larger number, the smaller number is subtracted, so IV equals 4. Today Roman numerals are still sometimes used for dates, or to label volumes in books, or on the faces of clocks, but calculating with Roman numerals was difficult. Multiplication or division was practically impossible, so Roman merchants assigned the task of calculations to slaves, who used a device called an abacus for the task.
3     The Roman abacus was a table with columns drawn on its surface. Each column represented a power of 10. A column on the right was one; the column to the left was 10; the next column to the left was 100, and so on. There were also two columns on the far right that were used for fractional values. Counters or pebbles, called calculi, were placed in the columns to represent different numbers, and were moved from column to column to perform calculations. Calculating anything with an abacus was a complicated process and required a great deal of training. The calculi were made of different materials ranging from bronze to gold depending on the wealth of the merchant.

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