History of zero
How humans have tried to represent the absence of value
The history of zero goes back quite far.
The first stop in our examination of the history of zero is with the ancient Babylonians (The Babylonians were a Semitic people who invaded Mesopotamia who conquered the Sumerians and by approximately 1900 BC established their capital at Babylon.
- At first the Babylonians, who used a base 60 digit system, did not have any way to represent the number zero or even any way to indicate an 'empty' placeholder. For quite some time, the Babylonians inconsistently would leave an opening between digits. For example, they might write their equivalent of our number 202 (remember they used base 60) as something like 2 2, with the space representing the '0' in 202. However, the Babylonians did not employ this rule consistently.
- By about the time of the conquest of Alexander the Great, a special sign (two small slanted wedges pictured below) was used by the Babylonians to represent the '0' spot in a number like 202 (remember they did not use these digits or even a decimal system). However, this symbol is not considered the first, unequivocal, use of the number zero because this 'zero' symbol was only used for intermediary digits like the '0' in our 202. .
Picture of Babylonian symbol for intermediary digits with no value.
History of Zero: India-The earliest known occurrence of a zero in India is an inscription of 876
India--India made use of the Hindu numeral notation. However, historians are not sure whether the number zero (as opposed to the placeholder the Babylonians used above) in the Hindu notation arose with the other 9 Hindu-based digits. It's possible that the zero originated in the Greek world, possibly at Alexandria, and from there was transmitted to India. What has become known as the Hindu zero used by India is a round goose egg like shape the one we all know and love : 0.
It was once assumed that our goose egged zero, 0, came from the Greek letter omicron, but recent evidence undermines that claim. Although some of the zeros in Ptolemy's tables of chords resemble our goose egged zero, the early uses of zero in various Greek fractions are indeed also round but they are also embellished and far from the well known zero of modern times: 0.