What Social and Political Meanings did Mathematics Acquire in the Ancient and Medieval Middle East?

Essay by Armi89University, Bachelor's November 2008

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The ancient and medieval Middle East is seen by many as the home of modern mathematics. However this is a dangerous approach because it leans towards mathematical realism, with its emphasis on modern life rather than the period it was created in. Huge advancements were made in the use of Mathematics and this was largely due to the need for more accurate and advanced administrative control over the large, thriving empires present during this period. The other fields which made great advances in Mathematics were astrology and astronomy. Therefore great steps were made in Mathematical understanding, but not for the sake of pure scholasticism. Further to this its role in society, as a social and political player, increased dramatically as it became an emblem of justice and a force behind rulers' decisions.

Mathematics became essential in dealing with the sudden increase in administrative needs generated by the size of the empires.

The first uses in this field were the counting or measuring of commodities. Initially in Mesopotamia there were four sets of units for counting objects, another for area, and one more for counting days, months and years. When Mesopotamia was unified in the late 4th century BCE the old metrological systems were overhauled and standardised. These systems were then used in land surveys, building plans, and construction and labour management. The state used these advances to predict both the raw materials and manpower needed to complete state-funded agricultural, irrigation and construction projects. Further to this Mathematics was the basis for the administrative and economic reforms which became required for a growing empire, in order to deal with the control of new lands and the increased income from taxation. This allowed the maximisation of profits and therefore further expansion. During this period there was the creation of uniform scribal education,