The Hindu-Arabic number system, which is the system used around the world to represent figures, permits mathematical operations to be made on arbitrarily large numbers. This place-value number system, with its use of zero, uses only 10 distinct digits to represent any number.
In a place-value number system, numbers can be placed in columns for easy addition, subtraction and multiplication. The same basic operation is performed on each column, using zero as a placeholder. For example, to multiply 14 by 53, 3 is multiplied by 4 and then 1 in the tens column, resulting in 12 + 30, or 42; 5 in the tens column is multiplied by 4 to yield 20 in the tens column, or 200, and multiplied by 1 in the tens column to result in 5 in the hundreds column. The two numbers are then added to result in 742.
The advantages of the Hindu-Arabic number system are most apparent when compared to Roman numerals, which they replaced in Western society. For example, to multiply XIV (14) by LIII (53) to form DCCXLII (742) requires XIV to be represented as XIIII. Multiplying each Roman numeral results in DLLLL + XIIII + XIIII + XIIII, then the letters must be combined to yield the final result, which requires considerably more addition.