Who Invented Algebra?

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Algebra was invented by the Babylonians about 4,000 years ago. Find out who invented algebra with tips from a mathematics instructor in this free video on math history.

Part of the Video Series: History of Mathematics
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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Steve Jones and I'm going to look at who invented algebra. Now algebra, the representation of numbers by variables is something which is thought to have been originally available 4000 years ago with the Babylonians. They produced formulae. They had unknowns and they could work out the value of the unknown by using these formulae. So that was formal algebra. At this time, the Greeks, and the Chinese and the Indians were still using geometric solutions to find these unknowns. And this was not algebra. So although the Greek mathematics was quite complex and extremely good, it was not algebra. In fact, it was and Indian from Brahmaputra who developed the algebra itself. And obviously, we often think that algebra was something that came from the Arabs. However, we do find that in 820, it was in fact part of the title of a mathematical thesis, this word "al Jabr" meaning reunion. It was just part of a title and it was this that was used to describe this process of working out unknowns from a formula. So to sum up, we have a good idea were algebra came from; it was used 4000 years ago. But the development came through the Indians and through the Arabs so today's algebra, which we use so commonly, has a very complex origin.


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