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Introduction

Arithmetic tables for children, Lausanne, 1835

Arithmetic (from the Greek ἀριθμός arithmos, "number" and τική [τέχνη], tiké [téchne], "art") is a branch of mathematics that consists of the study of numbers, especially the properties of the traditional operations on them—addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Arithmetic is an elementary part of number theory, and number theory is considered to be one of the top-level divisions of modern mathematics, along with algebra, geometry, and analysis. The terms arithmetic and higher arithmetic were used until the beginning of the 20th century as synonyms for number theory and are sometimes still used to refer to a wider part of number theory.

The Egyptians and Babylonians used all the elementary arithmetic operations as early as 2000 BC. Later Roman numerals, descended from tally marks used for counting. The continuous development of modern arithmetic starts with ancient Greece, although it originated much later than the Babylonian and Egyptian examples. Euclid is often credited as the first mathematician to separate study of arithmetic from philosophical and mystical beliefs. Greek numerals were used by Archimedes, Diophantus and others in a positional notation not very different from ours. The ancient Chinese had advanced arithmetic studies dating from the Shang Dynasty and continuing through the Tang Dynasty, from basic numbers to advanced algebra. The ancient Chinese used a positional notation similar to that of the Greeks. The gradual development of the Hindu–Arabic numeral system independently devised the place-value concept and positional notation, which combined the simpler methods for computations with a decimal base and the use of a digit representing zero (0). This allowed the system to consistently represent both large and small integers. This approach eventually replaced all other systems. In the Middle Ages, arithmetic was one of the seven liberal arts taught in universities. The flourishing of algebra in the medieval Islamic world and in Renaissance Europe was an outgrowth of the enormous simplification of computation through decimal notation.

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