How to Add and Subtract Like an Egyptian

What do drawings of ropes, fingers, and flowers have to do with math? Keep on reading to learn how the ancient Egyptians used these and many other hieroglyphs to count numbers!

Jason Marshall, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #138

While this system is certainly more efficient than notch-carving, it’s definitely not without its flaws (which, again, is why we’re not all using it today). After all, you still have to do quite a bit of work to write down a number like 3,358—try it and see! Even worse, imagine having to do addition and subtraction of large numbers using this ancient Egyptian system. Just to get a taste for how “fun” this can be, I encourage you to try your hand at solving an arithmetic problem Egyptian style—perhaps 1,927 + 2,743. If you do it, you’ll definitely gain an appreciation for the beauty of the decimal system that we use every day. Aren’t you glad you live in the modern world with our modern numeral system? I know I am!

Wrap Up

So what comes next in our brief (and certainly incomplete) tour through the history of numbers? Have any other clever people come up with clever methods of counting? There’s one other system that I bet you’re already at least somewhat familiar with: the Roman numeral system. How does that work? Well, unfortunately we’re all out of time for today. Which means that our journey into the world of ancient Rome, ancient Romans, and their numerals will have to wait until next time.

In the meantime, remember to become a fan of the Math Dude on Facebook where you’ll find lots of great math posted throughout the week. If you’re on Twitter, please follow me there, too. Finally, please send your math questions my way via Facebook, Twitter, or email at mathdude@quickanddirtytips.com.

Until next time, this is Jason Marshall with The Math Dude’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Make Math Easier. Thanks for reading, math fans!

Egyptian Cat image from Shutterstock


About the Author

Jason Marshall, PhD

Jason Marshall is the author of The Math Dude's Quick and Dirty Guide to Algebra. He provides clear explanations of math terms and principles, and his simple tricks for solving basic algebra problems will have even the most math-phobic person looking forward to working out whatever math problem comes their way.