A number in mathematics is an object used to count and measure. 1, 2, 3, and so forth are examples of natural numbers. In common usage, the term number may refer to a symbol, a word, or a mathematical abstraction.
The English names for the cardinal numbers were derived ultimately from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language, the supposed proto-language that existed anywhere between 4000 and 8000 years ago. PIE was the first proposed proto-language to be widely accepted by linguists. With time, the pronunciation shifted and changed.
(originally meaning one, unique)originally meaning one, unique)
(þ here is the orthography for “th” as in “thing”)
eahta or æhta
nigen (the /g/ here is pronounced lije the y in “young”.
A numeral is a notational symbol that represents a number. We use the Hindu-Arabic numerals 0 to 9 every day. But how did these Hindu-Arabic numerals derive their form? It is a puzzle to me.
Some folk etymologies have argued that the original forms of these symbols indicated their value through the number of angles they contained, but no evidence exists of any such origin.
Recently I came across a statement that elaborated on the folk etymologies. It said:
“Numbers were named after the number of angles they represented, and each angle represented a quantity. For example, the number one has one angle, number two has two angles and so on. They have to be written with straight lines (not curved).”
I found the following image on Facebook.
Many have copied and propagated this image – the concept of angles associated with numbers. One can find them on Facebook and on many websites, explaining that this is how the numerals obtained their values.
But this claim seems to be spurious like many other urban legends. For example, 0 (zero) would have four angles if it is written with straight lines like the other numerals. So, here lies the fallacy.
So, I am still in a quandary.
Are there any authentic, rational explanation for how the present form of the Hindu-Arabic numerals we use today was derived?
If you hear the name Aladdin (Arabic: علاء الدين), immediately what comes to our mind is the story of a youth and the wonderful magic lamp. Isn’t it? It is one of the best known Middle Eastern folk tale in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (“The Arabian Nights”).
The story of “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” was not in the original collection of “The Arabian Nights”. There is no evidence among the Arabic sources for the magical tale.
Antoine Galland, a Frenchman, translated “The Arabian Nights” into french. He called his book “Les Mille et Une Nuits“. He incorporated the tale of “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” in his volumes ix and x, published in 1710.
In his diary, in the entry made on March 25, 1709, Galland wrote that he met the Maronite scholar named Youhenna Diab (“Hanna”). This scholar was brought from Aleppo to Paris by Paul Lucas, the celebrated French traveller. Galland says he heard the story of Aladdin from Hanna.
According to Antoine Galland, Aladdin was a Chinese, not an Arab.
The story is set in China, and Aladdin is a Chinese youth. Most of the characters in this Middle Eastern tale are Muslims. and have Arabic names. The emperor in this tale seems more like a Muslim ruler than a Chinese emperor. There is a Jewish merchant who cheats Aladdin after buying his wares, but there is no mention of Buddhists or Confucians. This suggests that the storyteller had only a sparse knowledge of China and did not know much geography. He was unaware of the existence of the New World. To him, Aladdin’s “China” was “the Utter East” and the sorcerer’s homeland in the Maghreb (Northwest Africa) was “the Utter West”.
Some commentators suggest the story was set in Turkestan that encompasses Central Asia and the modern Chinese province of Xinjiang.
I believe the narrator of the Aladdin tale had without qualms used an exotic setting as a common storytelling device.
Here is the story of “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” in a summarized form:
Aladdin, an impoverished youth, lives in a Chinese town. A sorcerer from the Maghreb (Northwest Africa) approaches Aladdin and his mother. He introduces himself as the brother of his Aladdin’s late father Mustapha the tailor. He promises Aladdin’s mother that he would set up the youth as a merchant. The sorcerer’s real motive was to retrieve a wonderful lamp from a booby-trapped magic cave with the help of young Aladdin. He lends Aladdin a magic ring for protection.
As soon as Aladdin retrieves the lamp from the cave the sorcerer double-crosses him and traps Aladdin in the magic cave.
Fortunately, the sorcerer’s magic ring is with Aladdin. When Aladdin rubs his hands in despair, he rubs the ring inadvertently. A jinnī (or “genie”) appears and takes him home to his mother. Aladdin gives the dirty lamp to his mother. When the mother tries to clean the lamp, a genie more powerful than the ring genie, appears. This genie of the lamp declares that he is bound to do the bidding of the person currently holding the lamp.
With the help of the genie of the lamp, Aladdin becomes rich and powerful. He marries Princess Badroulbadour, the Emperor’s daughter. The genie of the lamp builds Aladdin a magnificent palace more luxurious than that of the Emperor.
The sorcerer returns. Aladdin’s wife is unaware of the lamp’s importance. The sorcerer tricks her to part with the old lamp by offering to exchange “new lamps for old”.
The sorcerer then orders the genie of the lamp to move Aladdin’s palace along with all its contents, including the princess, to the Maghreb.
Aladdin gets help from the lesser powerful genie of the magic ring. The genie transports Aladdin to the Maghreb where he recovers the wonderful lamp and kills the sorcerer in battle. Aladdin then asks the genie of the lamp to move the palace along with all its contents, including the princess, back to its proper place.
The sorcerer’s more powerful and evil brother disguises himself as an old woman known for her healing powers. The princess falls for his disguise and commands the “old woman” to stay in her palace to cure anyone who falls ill.
The genie of the lamp warns Aladdin about the sorcerer in masquerading as the ‘old woman’. Aladdin slays the imposter. Aladdin succeeds to his father-in-law’s throne and everyone lives happily ever after.
As early as the 9th century BC, the Assyrians and the Greco-Roman world used fiery weapons such as incendiary arrows and pots that contained combustible substances in warfare. Thucydides mentioned the use of tubular flame throwers during the siege of Athens in 424 BC. According to the chronicler John Malalas, the naval fleet of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I used a sulphur-based mixture to subdue the revolt of Vitalianas in 515 AD as advised by Proclus, a philosopher from Athens.
During the classical and medieval periods – about 8th century BC until the mid-16th century AD, warring factions used thermal weapons such as burning projectiles and other incendiary devices to burn, damage and destroy enemy personnel, fortifications, towns, villages and farms.
In the simplest, and most common cases, the antagonists used boiling water and hot sand, as thermal projectiles. They poured or spewed hot liquefied bitumen, pitch, resin, animal fat and boiling oil, and at times chemicals such as sulphur and nitrates that burned or caused physical irritation over the enemy who tried to scale their fortifications, or projected the incendiaries onto the enemies waiting at a distance using war machines such as catapults. They used smoke to confuse or drive off attackers.
They followed the scorched-earth strategy – a practice carried out by an army in enemy territory or in its own home territory that involved destroying large tracts of land, towns, villages, and assets used or can be used by the enemy such as food sources, and transportation.
Though the Western Roman Empire fragmented and collapsed in the 5th century, the Byzantine Empire continued to thrive. It existed for more than a thousand years as the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe until 1453.
An incendiary weapon used by the Byzantine Empire in naval battles known as “Greek fire” instilled fear in its enemies and helped to win many Byzantine military victories. It saved Constantinople from two Arab sieges securing the Empire’s survival. It provided a technological advantage over other incendiaries because It continued to burn while floating on water.
When the west European Crusaders came face-to-face with the Greek fire, it made an impression such that they applied the name to any incendiary weapon, including those used by the Arabs, the Chinese, and the Mongols.
Even though we use the term “Greek fire” in English and in many other languages, the original Byzantine sources called it by a variety of names, such as: “sea fire” (Ancient Greek: πῦρ θαλάσσιον), “Roman fire” (πῦρ ῥωμαϊκόν), “war fire” (πολεμικὸν πῦρ), “liquid fire” (ὑγρὸν πῦρ), or “manufactured fire” (πῦρ σκευαστόν).
The Byzantine formula for the composition of Greek fire, a closely guarded state secret, now lost, remains a matter of speculation and debate. Some suggest combinations of pine resin, naphtha, quicklime, sulphur, or nitre (the mineral form of potassium nitrate, KNO3, also known as saltpetre). Byzantines used pressurized siphons to project the liquid incendiary mixtures onto the enemy.
Saint Theophanes the Confessor, a member of the Byzantine aristocracy who became a monk and chronicler accredits Kallinikos, an architect from Heliopolis in the former province of Phoenice, by then overrun by the Muslim conquests, as the developer of the Greek fire around 672 AD. However, Thephanes also reports the use of fire-carrying and siphon-equipped ships by the Byzantines a couple of years before the supposed arrival of Kallinikos at Constantinople. The report of this chronicler stands unresolved due to the variance in the chronology of events.
Around 672, the Arabs who subdued Syria, Palestine and Egypt now set out to capture Constantinople, the imperial capital of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine navy used Greek fire to repel the Muslims during the first and second Arab sieges of the city. During the expansion of the Byzantine Empire in the late 9th and early10th centuries, the Byzantines used Greek fire in naval battles against the Saracens.
The Byzantines themselves used Greek fire in their civil wars, for example, in the revolt of the thematic fleets in 727 and during the large-scale rebellion in i821–823 led by Thomas the Slav. In both cases, the Imperial Fleet defeated the rebel fleets by using Greek fire. The Byzantines also used the weapon against the various Rus’ raids to the Bosporus in 941 and 1043, as well as in the Bulgarian war of 970–971, when the fire-carrying Byzantine ships blockaded the Danube.
The Byzantines believed that divine intervention led to the discovery of Greek fire during the Empire’s struggle against the Arabs. Emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetos who ruled from 945 to 959 in his book De Administrando Imperio, advised his son and heir, Romanos II never to reveal the secrets of its composition. He wrote that since it was “shown and revealed by an angel to the great and holy first Christian Emperor Constantine” and that the angel bound him “not to prepare this fire but for Christians, and only in the imperial city.” He also warns by citing an incident of one official bribed into handing some of it over to the Empire’s enemies struck down by a “flame from heaven.”
However, the enemies of the Byzantine Empire captured their precious secret weapon: in 827, the Arabs captured at least one fireship intact, and in 812/814, the Bulgars captured several siphons and a fair amount of the substance. Even so, the Bulgars found the amount of substance not sufficient enough to copy it. The Arabs used a variety of incendiary substances similar to the Byzantine Greek fire, but they never succeeded in copying the Byzantine method of deployment by siphon – they used catapults and grenades.
Greek fire continued to be mentioned during the 12th century. Anna Komnene, a Greek princess, scholar, physician, hospital administrator and the daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium in her book Alexiad gives a vivid description of the use of Greek fire in a naval battle against the Pisans in 1099.
During the 1203 siege of Constantinople by the Crusade, though reports mentioned hastily improvised fire-ships, none of them confirmed the use of the actual Greek fire. This might be because of the disarmament of the Empire in the twenty years leading up to the sacking of Constantinople, or because the Byzantines had lost access to the territories where the ingredients that composed the Greek fire were to be found, or because the secret had been lost over time.
The UN general assembly has just voted overwhelmingly to recognize Palestine as a state. An astounding 138 nations chose to support the path of peace and justice.
Just weeks ago, the vote was expected to be much closer, with Israel and the US lobbying hard to deny Palestine key European support. But in the face of major public pressure and vigorous campaigning by the Avaaz community, countries such as France, Spain, Belgium and Sweden decided to vote yes to statehood for Palestine. In the end, just nine countries ended up on the wrong side of history: Israel, the US, Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama, Palau, Nauru, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.
Celebrate this historic moment, share this map with everyone.
[Update: This map has been corrected to show New Zealand also voted in favor, rather than abstaining.]