# Ancient Egyptian Numerals

How data is represented is an important part of computer science. There are lots of ways numbers can be represented. Choosing a good representation can make things easier or harder to do.

The Ancient Egyptians had a simple way using hieroglyphs (symbols). It is similar to Roman Numerals but simpler.

They represented numbers 1 to 9 with a hieroglyph with that number of straight lines. They arranged them into patterns (a bit like we do dots on a dice). The patterns make them easier to recognise. They used an upside down U shape for 10, two of these for 20, and so on. Their symbol for 10 also meant a “cattle hobble”. They then had a new symbols for each power of 10 up to a million. So 100 is the hieroglyph for a coil of rope.

The hieroglyph for the number 1000 was a water lily.

The hieroglyph for a million, which also rather sensible meant ‘many’, was just the hieroglyph of the god Hey who was the personification of eternity.

To make a number you just combined the hieroglyph for the ones, tens, hundreds and so on.

This number system makes it very easy to write numbers and to add and subtract numbers. Big numbers are fairly compact, though take up more space than our decimals. It is easy to convert a tally representation into this system too. More complicated things like multiplication are harder to do.

Activity

Try doing some sums as an Ancient Egyptian would – without converting to our numbers. What is the algorithm for adding Egyptian numbers?

Activity

Image of Hey by Jeff Dahl / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

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