chevron icon chevron icon chevron icon

The intriguing history of Maths: Who invented it and how it has changed the world

The intriguing history of Maths: Who invented it and how it has changed the world

Image by jcomp on Freepik

The history of Mathematics is as old as human civilisation itself. It has been around for thousands of years and has evolved from simple counting to complex equations used in everyday life. But who invented Maths? To answer this question, we must look back into the distant past.

Throughout history, many different cultures have made significant contributions to the development of Mathematics. From ancient Babylonians and Egyptians creating basic numerical systems to modern mathematicians applying calculus and algebraic equations, each culture has left its mark. Let's look at the brief timeline of how Maths has evolved over the centuries.

Unravelling the mystery of who invented Maths

  • Exploring the impact of ancient Greeks on Maths

The history of Maths dates back as far as the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians, who made significant contributions in establishing basic numerical systems. However, the Greeks were the first to work out and prove many mathematical principles and constructions, such as prime numbers, geometrical figures, and trigonometric functions. This led to the development of Euclid's Elements which became one of the most influential works in mathematics and is still used today.

  • Indian mathematicians' contribution: From trigonometry to zero

Following the Ancient Greeks, Indian mathematicians made significant contributions with what became known as "Arabic" or "Hindu-Arabic" numerals, algorithms for computing squares and cube roots, fractions, decimals, algebraic equations and geometric progressions. They also developed advanced concepts like negative numbers and zero (essential for modern Maths) along with trigonometry related to astronomical calculations.

  • Roman contribution: Developing unique system and tools

The Romans adopted much of Greek philosophy but created their own mathematical system based on Roman numerals. They also built on previous research done by other cultures in developing geometry tools like compasses for measurement purposes.

  • Decimal fractions and paper money: Innovations by Chinese mathematicians

In China during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), mathematicians began using decimal fractions while continuing to develop a base 10 system of arithmetic similar to that used by Indian mathematicians before them. They were also among the first to use paper money which was a new concept at this time period.

  • Islamic scholars make groundbreaking mathematical advances during the Golden age

During the Islamic Golden Age (7th through 15th centuries), Islamic scholars made advances in Mathematics that would have broad-ranging implications for generations to come including innovations such as algebraic equations, number theory, spherical trigonometry, geometry formulas like those found in Euclid's Elements well as solving linear equations with unknown coefficients—all building from prior knowledge established by other cultures before them.

From then on going forward into more recent times various scholars from different countries around the world continued making new developments in Maths affecting everything from astronomy to engineering advancements that would shape modern society today.

Maths wouldn't be the same without them: The brilliant minds behind the foundation of modern Maths

1. Pythagoras (Ancient Greece)

Pythagoras of Samos was born around 570 BC on what is now the Greek island of Samos, and his influence on mathematics has been profound and lasting. Pythagoras is best known for his theorem which states that “the sum of the areas of two squares on a right triangle is equal to the area of a square on the hypotenuse”. This theorem not only revolutionised geometry but also led to discoveries in trigonometry and calculus.

In addition to this, he developed the irrational number system which allowed him to calculate more accurate results than ever before. This system contained numbers such as pi, e and phi, which are still used today. 

The impact Pythagoras had on modern Mathematics cannot be overstated; his theorem paved the way for Euclidean geometry while his irrational number system provided mathematicians with key insights into complex equations. His discovery that musical sounds were based on mathematical principles changed how we understand sound production and formed the basis for many modern theories on music theory. All these accomplishments demonstrate why Pythagoras remains one of history's most important mathematicians; his inventions have shaped the way we think about Maths today.

2. Euclid (Ancient Greece)

Euclid of Alexandria is considered one of the most influential mathematicians in history. His work, The Elements, laid out many of the basic principles of geometry that are still used today. Euclid's Elements consists of 13 books containing 465 propositions that deal with geometric topics such as the Pythagorean theorem and conic sections.

The Elements is considered to be one of the most important works in Mathematics. In fact, it has been said that if all of the other mathematical works were lost, we would still be able to reconstruct much of Mathematics from Euclid’s Elements alone.

Euclidean geometry was named after its creator and is based upon Euclid’s axioms concerning points, lines and triangles. This system relies on using logic rather than physical measurements to prove geometric theorems, which allows for precision in calculations that was previously impossible. This has had a lasting impact on modern mathematics; for example, Euclid’s principles have been incorporated into calculus and can be used to solve problems in physics, engineering and computer science.

Euclid’s accomplishments have also contributed to our understanding of non-Euclidean geometries such as spherical geometry or hyperbolic geometry which are essential for making advances in physics and astronomy. His work remains an invaluable resource for mathematicians today; even after more than two thousand years his influence over modern mathematics continues to be felt through his innovative ideas and inventions.

4. Hypatia (Ancient Greece)

Hypatia, a Greek mathematician who lived in Alexandria during the fourth century AD, is credited with several important contributions to the field of Mathematics. One of her most significant inventions was the creation of the hydroscope, a device that used principles of fluid dynamics to measure the specific gravity of liquids. This instrument was an early precursor to the modern-day hydrometer, which is widely used in various fields including chemistry, winemaking, and brewing. 

Hypatia’s work largely focused on Mathematics, particularly geometry, astronomy, and astrology. She wrote several important works on these subjects, including commentaries on Diophantus’s Arithmetica and Apollonius’s Conics. In addition, she wrote commentaries on the astronomical writings of Ptolemy which helped pave the way for future scientific discoveries.

Not only did Hypatia make major contributions to Mathematics during her lifetime, but she also left behind an enduring legacy as one of the earliest female mathematicians. Her fame extended beyond Alexandria; she was known throughout the Greco-Roman world for her knowledge of science and philosophy. Even today she remains an inspiring figure for women in STEM fields due to her groundbreaking work in mathematics during a time when women were largely excluded from academia.

5. Aryabhata (India)

Aryabhata, an Indian mathematician and astronomer from the 5th century CE,  is credited with developing a number of important concepts in algebra and trigonometry, including pi, sine functions, and even a type of calculus. Aryabhata was also one of the first mathematicians to use zero as a placeholder in numbers and equations.

Aryabhata's work on trigonometry introduced the concept of Sine (in Sanskrit: jyā) and Cosine (in Sanskrit: koti-jyā). This allowed him to calculate the positions of planets more accurately than ever before, as well as solve complex problems related to astronomy. He was also able to derive formulas for calculating areas and volumes of figures that were based on his understanding of integral calculus. His work in this area helped pave the way for further advancements in Mathematics over subsequent centuries.

Aryabhata's ideas are still relevant today; his work on algebra helps us understand how to solve linear equations, while his work on trigonometry provides us with methods to calculate angles and lengths accurately. His use of zero has become fundamental to modern Mathematics; it is used in calculations across all fields such as finance, engineering, and physics. Aryabhata's work has been so influential that he is considered one of the greatest mathematicians of all time - an accolade which shows no sign of diminishing through time.

6. Brahmagupta (India)

Brahmagupta, an Indian mathematician and astronomer active in the 7th century CE, was a major contributor to the field of mathematics. He is known for being the first to recognise zero as a number (and not just a placeholder) and introducing it into calculations. His book, Brahmasphutasiddhanta, contains many important mathematical concepts such as arithmetic operations on zero, negative numbers, square roots, and algebraic equations. He used these concepts to solve mathematical problems such as finding the area of a triangle and calculating the volume of a sphere.

Brahmagupta's work on zero helped establish the idea that numbers don't have to be positive; this concept is still fundamental for Maths today. His methods for solving linear equations are similar to those used by modern mathematicians and his understanding of algebra paved the way for further advances in trigonometry and calculus.

Brahmagupta also wrote about negative numbers and elaborated various ways in which they could be used when solving equations. This marked an important step forward in understanding how negative numbers can be incorporated into calculations; this concept is still used by mathematicians today when dealing with complex equations. In addition, his work on constants such as pi were essential for working out mathematical problems related to circles and spheres - something which continues to be relevant even today. His contributions to Mathematics remain highly influential; he has been credited with laying down some of the foundations of modern Maths through his innovative ideas and inventions.


Mathematics' evolution is a result of contributions from various cultures throughout history, such as the Ancient Greeks and Islamic scholars during the Golden Age. It is impossible to attribute the invention of Maths to a single culture or individual, rather these contributions built upon each other to form the Maths we know today. 

We should continue to recognise this legacy and strive to build upon it, encouraging future generations to explore their own unique mathematical ideas. This will ensure that Maths remains dynamic and continues to develop over time. By increasing access to STEM fields through initiatives such as diversity programs, scholarships, and mentorship for underrepresented groups, we can foster a more inclusive culture and help break down stereotypes about who can excel in this field.  Only by embracing the past can we move forward with a brighter future.


If you liked reading this article, you'll love reading The brief history of geometrical shapes next.

Resources - Academic Topics
icon expand icon collapse Primary
icon expand icon collapse Secondary
icon expand icon collapse
Book a free product demo
Suitable for primary & secondary
select dropdown icon
Our Education Consultants will get in touch with you to offer your child a complimentary Strength Analysis.
Book a free product demo
Suitable for primary & secondary
icon close
Default Wrong Input
Get instant access to
our educational content
Start practising and learning.
No Error
arrow down arrow down
No Error
*By submitting your phone number, we have
your permission to contact you regarding
Geniebook. See our Privacy Policy.
Success
Let’s get learning!
Download our educational
resources now.
icon close
Error
Error
Oops! Something went wrong.
Let’s refresh the page!
Geniebook CTA Illustration Geniebook CTA Illustration
Turn your child's weaknesses into strengths
Geniebook CTA Illustration Geniebook CTA Illustration
close icon
close icon
Turn your child's weaknesses into strengths
Trusted by over 220,000 students.
 
Arrow Down Arrow Down
 
Error
Oops! Something went wrong.
Let’s refresh the page!
Error
Oops! Something went wrong.
Let’s refresh the page!
We got your request!
A consultant will be contacting you in the next few days to schedule a demo!
*By submitting your phone number, we have your permission to contact you regarding Geniebook. See our Privacy Policy.