Who Created Fractions?

jpitha/CC-BY-SA 2.0

Fractions were created by the ancient Egyptians in 1800 B.C. Egyptians created a number system on a base 10 concept, which is similar to the numerical systems used in the United States and around the world for creating fractions. Originally, Egyptians used pictures as well as numerals to display and differentiate numbers.

Egyptian numeral hieroglyphs were used to represent numbers of various sizes, and included the numbers one through 100,000. Fractions were also denoted in pictographs, and they had different representational objects than whole numbers. Egyptians described fractions in units, which had the number “one” as the numerator, or top number. Instead of placing a straight line beneath the numerator to separate it from the denominator, Egyptians used the image of a mouth; the mouth meant “part,” and served as an appropriate symbol for partitioning the two numbers in fractions. The Egyptian system of representing fractions was relatively basic; it was easy to understand and facilitated the calculation of simple fractions. However, this system was quite difficult for performing complex calculations. The Egyptians created tables to overcome this problem, which allowed them to look up answers to numerical problems. Ancient Romans quickly adopted the fraction-denoting system created by the Egyptians, and they created more complex and elaborate counting charts and tables.