What kind of numeral system was used by the Egyptians?

What arithmetic operations will the passage deal with?

The Egyptians, like the Romans after them, expressed numbers according to a decimal scheme, using separate symbols for 1, 10, 100, 1,000, and so on; each symbol appeared in the expression for a number as many times as the value it represented occurred in the number itself.

For example, stood for 24. This rather cumbersome notation was used within the hieroglyphic writing found in stone inscriptions and other formal texts, but in the papyrus documents the scribes employed a more convenient abbreviated script, called hieratic writing, where, for example, 24 was written.

In such a system, addition and subtraction amount to counting how many symbols of each kind there are in the numerical expressions and then rewriting with the resulting number of symbols. The texts that survive do not reveal what, if any, special procedures the scribes used to assist in this. But for multiplication they introduced a method of successive doubling. For example, to multiply 28 by 11, one constructs a table of multiples of 28 like the following:

The several entries in the first column that together sum to 11 (i.e., 8, 2, and 1) are checked off. The product is then found by adding up the multiples corresponding to these entries; thus, 224 + 56 + 28 = 308, the desired product.

To divide 308 by 28, the Egyptians applied the same procedure in reverse. Using the same table as in the multiplication problem, one can see that 8 produces the largest multiple of 28 that is less then 308 (for the entry at 16 is already 448), and 8 is checked off. The process is then repeated, this time for the remainder (84) obtained by subtracting the entry at 8 (224) from the original number (308). This, however, is already smaller than the entry at 4, which consequently is ignored, but it is greater than the entry at 2 (56), which is then checked off. The process is repeated again for the remainder obtained by subtracting 56 from the previous remainder of 84, or 28, which also happens to exactly equal the entry at 1 and which is then checked off. The entries that have been checked off are added up, yielding the quotient: 8 + 2 + 1 = 11. (In most cases, of course, there is a remainder that is less than the divisor.)

For larger numbers, this procedure can be improved by considering multiples of one of the factors by 10, 20, . . . or even by higher orders of magnitude (100, 1,000, . . .), as necessary (in the Egyptian decimal notation, these multiples are easy to work out). Thus, one can find the product of 28 by 27 by setting out the multiples of 28 by 1, 2, 4, 8, 10, and 20. Since the entries 1, 2, 4, and 20 add up to 27, one has only to add up the corresponding multiples to find the answer.

Computations involving fractions are carried out under the restriction to unit parts (that is, fractions that in modern notation are written with 1 as the numerator). To express the result of dividing 4 by 7, for instance, which in modern notation is simply ^{4}/_{7}, the scribe wrote ^{1}/_{2} + ^{1}/_{14}. The procedure for finding quotients in this form merely extends the usual method for the division of integers, where one now inspects the entries for ^{2}/_{3}, ^{1}/_{3}, ^{1}/_{6}, etc., and ^{1}/_{2}, ^{1}/_{4}, ^{1}/_{8}, etc., until the corresponding multiples of the divisor sum to the dividend. (The scribes included ^{2}/_{3}, one may observe, even though it is not a unit fraction.) In practice, the procedure can sometimes become quite complicated (for example, the value for ^{2}/_{29} is given in the Rhind Papyrus as ^{1}/_{24} + ^{1}/_{58} + ^{1}/_{174} + ^{1}/_{232}) and can be worked out in different ways (for example, the same ^{2}/_{29} might be found as ^{1}/_{15} + ^{1}/_{435} or as ^{1}/_{16} + ^{1}/_{232} + ^{1}/_{464}, etc.). A considerable portion of the papyrus texts is devoted to tables to facilitate the finding of such unit-fraction values.

These elementary operations are all that one needs for solving the arithmetic problems in the papyri. For example, “to divide 6 loaves among 10 men” (Rhind Papyrus, problem 3), one merely divides to get the answer ^{1}/_{2} + ^{1}/_{10}. In one group of problems an interesting trick is used: “A quantity (aha) and its 7th together make 19—what is it?” (Rhind Papyrus, problem 24). Here one first supposes the quantity to be 7: since 1 ^{1}/_{7} of it becomes 8, not 19, one takes ^{19}/_{8} (that is, 2 + ^{1}/_{4} + ^{1}/_{8}), and its multiple by 7 (16 + ^{1}/_{2} + ^{1}/_{8}) becomes the required answer. This type of procedure (sometimes called the method of “false position” or “false assumption”) is familiar in many other arithmetic traditions (e.g., the Chinese, Hindu, Muslim, and Renaissance European), although they appear to have no direct link to the Egyptian.

I. Suggest the Russian counterparts for the following words and phrases:

hieratic writing, amount to, to apply a procedure, in reverse, a multiplication problem, a remainder, to check off, to yield, a numerator, to find a quotient, division of integers, unit fraction, to get an answer, a dividend, false position.

II. Write out from the passage and learn all the terms pertaining to arithmetic operations

III. How will you translate the indefinite pronoun "one" in the sentences:

1. Using the same table as in the multiplication problem, one can see that 8 produces the largest multiple of 28 that is less then 308 (for the entry at 16 is already 448), and 8 is checked off

2. Thus, one can find the product of 28 by 27 by setting out the multiples of 28 by 1, 2, 4, 8, 10, and 20.

3. …one has only to add up the corresponding multiples to find the answer.

4. … where one now inspects the entries for ^{2}/_{3}, ^{1}/_{3}, ^{1}/_{6}, etc., and ^{1}/_{2}, ^{1}/_{4}, ^{1}/_{8}, etc

5. The scribes included ^{2}/_{3}, one may observe, even though it is not a unit fraction.

6. These elementary operations are all that one needs for solving the arithmetic problems in the papyri.

7. “to divide 6 loaves among 10 men” (Rhind Papyrus, problem 3), one merely divides to get the answer ^{1}/_{2} + ^{1}/_{10}.

8. In one group of problems an interesting trick is used

9. Here one first supposes the quantity to be 7: since 1 ^{1}/_{7} of it becomes 8, not 19, one takes ^{19}/_{8} (that is, 2 + ^{1}/_{4} + ^{1}/_{8}), and its multiple by 7 (16 + ^{1}/_{2} + ^{1}/_{8}) becomes the required answer.

IV. What do the pronouns "this" and "it" stand for? Suggest the way to translate them and the sentence:

This, however, is already smaller than the entry at 4, which consequently is ignored, but it is greater than the entry at 2 (56), which is then checked off.

By the way, look up the word "entry" in the dictionary and suggest its good translation as well.

V. Is the noun " papyrus " in the sigular or in the plural? What is the corresponding form?

VI. Translate the Present Perfect Passive in the sentence:

The entries that have been checked off are added up, yielding the quotient: 8 + 2 + 1 = 11.

VII. How do you understand the ellipsis in the sentence? Suggest the variant of its translation.

The texts that survive do not reveal what, if any, special procedures the scribes used to assist in this.