- Thousands of years ago, as far back as 3000 BC, the ancient Egyptians had developed a highly advanced system of writing using hieroglyphic symbols.
- The used hieroglyphs for numbers as well.
- A single line, for example, represented the number 1. Two strokes represented 2. Nine strokes for the number 9.
- Since the Egyptians had not yet invented the “zero” in 3000 BC, representing the number 10 required a new symbol– a sort of upside down horseshoe.
- So the number 99, for example, required eighteen different symbols: nine upside down horseshoes for the number 90, and another nine strokes for the number 9.
- There was another symbol for 100, another for 1,000, and so forth.
- The largest number in ancient Egypt was 1 million. As historian Will Durant wrote,
- “The sign for 1,000,000 was a picture of a man striking his hands above his head, as if to express amazement that such a number should exist.”