What Are the Advantages of Egyptian Numerals?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Apr 4, 2020 11:20:25 AM ET

Additive systems such as the Egyptian numbering method make finding sums easy. Also, their base 10 system is easy for modern people to understand, as the decimal base is still in use. The symbols for each power of 10 are easy to distinguish.

There is less control in the Egyptian system than in the Hindu-Arabic system because place value is not important. Each power of 10 has its own distinct image, so counting the number of items within each classification is all one needs to do to determine the numerical value.

The seven characters in the Egyptian numbering system are a staff (1), an arch (10), a coiled rope (100), a lotus flower (1000), a pointed finger (10,000), a tadpole or whale (100,000), and a surprised person (1,000,000). Grouping these items together and writing them from left to right or top to bottom expresses the numerical identity.

One disadvantage of the Egyptian numbering system is that the numbers do not have any multiplicative shortcuts. Roman numerals, for example, allow the insertion of a horizontal line over a number in order to multiply that number by 1,000. For example, while X means 10 in the Roman system, writing a bar over the X converts the value from 10 to 10,000. The Egyptian system keeps lining up symbols over and over again, making numbers in the six-figure category sometimes require a lot of symbols.