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around 300 BCE

Salamis Tablet

Oldest known counting board

The Salamis tablet is a marble counting board dated to around 300 BCE. It was discovered on the island of Salamis in 1846 and is the oldest known counting board as well as the oldest known surviving calculating device of any type.

Salamis Tablet

The counting board was a precursor to the abacus that is thought to have been used by the ancient Greeks to perform mathematical calculations. To compute with the board, pebbles were placed at various locations and could be moved as calculations were performed. A complete number was then composed of various pebbles on lines and spaces, both on the positive and negative sides. Five groups of markings appear on the tablet, with sets of Greek acrophonic numbers arranged along the left, right and bottom edges of the tablet.

Artifact dimensions

60 in. × 30 in. × 2 in.

Artifact origin

Salamis, Greece

Current artifact location

Epigraphical Museum, Athens

Catalog number

EM 11515

Timeline

Arithmetic timeline Rhind Papyrus Egyptian Mathematical Problem Papyrus Salamis Tablet Bakhshali Manuscript Pacioli's Summa Incan Yupana Napier's Rabdologiæ

Interactive Content

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Computational Explanation

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Additional Reading

  • Kubitschek, W. "XII. Die Salaminische Rechentafel." In Numismatische Zeitschrift, Vol. 31. Vienna, Austria: p. 394ff, 1899.
  • Menninger, K. W. "The Nature of the Counting Board." In Number Words and Number Symbols : A Cultural History of Numbers. New York: Dover, pp. 297–318, 2013.
  • Wussing, H.; Alten, H.-W.; and Wesemüller-Kock, H. 6000 Jahre Mathematik: Eine kulturgeschichtliche Zeitreise—1. Von den Anfängen bis Leibniz und Newton. Springer Spektrum, p. 152, 2008.