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Muscovite Arithmetic in Seventeenth-Century Russian Civilization: Is It Not Time to Discard the “Backwardness” Label?

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image of Russian History

Muscovite civilization utilized Byzantine-Greek alphanumerals for its mathematical symbols. Occasionally derided by historians for being retrograde in comparison to the Hindu-Arabic numerals sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe adopted, Muscovy’s alphanumerals were versatile and suitably contoured to perform a variety of computational tasks. Muscovite alphanumerals were an integral part of early Moderen Russia’s administrative culture, and played a prominent role in fostering the experiential knowledge underlying the educational achievements of the Imperial Period. Though they lacked the zero and the decimal, Muscovites still had a reasonable grasp of the base-ten system, and comprehended well basic arithmetical skills and relationship properties, less so equational ones. The Russians developed complex abaci well suited for commercial transactions, large-scale construction, military inventories and payrolls, and the land registry, to name a few. These instruments manipulated an extensive variety of weights, measures, linear distances, area dimensions, volume measurements, and currency. Muscovite arithmetic was a prominent factor assisting in the advancement of critical thinking skills in 1600’s Russia. Nonetheless, as the seventeenth century wore on, sociological, educational or pedagogical, military scientific, administrative, and cultural arguments or interactive phenomena came to bear and increasingly found the Muscovite algorithmic symbols wanting. In 1699 the government decreed that Hindu-Arabic numerals henceforth were to be used in official documents throughout the country. Directly and indirectly, the complex thought processes bound up when operating with Muscovite alphanumerals were one impetus for the further unfolding of Russian civilization after 1700.

Affiliations: 1: Rhode Island College, Email:, URL:


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