Brahmi number script

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The Brahmi digits are Indian numerals from the 3rd century BC. The Indian numerals are derived from them.

Origin and development

Brahmi numerals in the first century AD

The origin of the Brahmi numerals is unknown. According to one hypothesis, the symbols originated from the Kharoshthi script , which is derived from the Aramaic alphabet , and according to another from the hieratic numerals . While there are some plausible reasons for both assumptions, they should be viewed as speculative. The Brahmi numerals, similar to the numerical symbols of the hieratic script, but independent of them, were probably created from simplifications of originally primitive groups of lines for the economy of writing (Ifrah 2000, p. 391).

Together with the Brahmi script derived from the Aramaic script, the Brahmi numerals are used by 250 BC at the latest. Used under the rule of Ashoka .

Around 500 AD the decimal place value system developed in India , although initially not with the Brahmi digits, but with allegorical numerals, only Bhaskara I used the first nine Brahmi digits together with a small circle for the zero in a decimal system .


Even if the first nine numerals are the direct ancestors of our today's digits, the Brahmi digits are not a system of place values . There were no zeros and separate numerals for the tens (10, 20, 30, ...) as well as for the 100 and 1000. The corresponding numbers 200, 300, ... were represented by ligatures of their digits.

An essential feature of the Brahmi numerals is that they were used exclusively to represent numbers, in this respect similar to the Babylonian , Egyptian and Chinese numerals, and not, as in all other ancient scriptures derived from the Phoenician alphabet , a double meaning as letter and number possessed.


  • Georges Ifrah: Universal History of Numbers. Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main et al. 1986, ISBN 3-593-33666-9 .