Rhind Mathematical Papyrus

Thebes, Egypt, end of the Second Intermediate Period, around 1550 BC

A number of documents have survived that allow us insight into the ancient Egyptians' approach to mathematics. This papyrus is the most extensive.


It is not a theoretical treatise, but a list of practical problems encountered in administrative and building works. The text contains 84 problems concerned with numerical operations, practical problem-solving, and geometrical shapes.

The majority of literate Egyptians were scribes and they were expected to undertake various tasks. These must have demanded some mathematical as well as writing skills.

The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus is also important as a historical document, since the copyist noted that he was writing in year 33 of the reign of Apophis, the penultimate king of the Hyksos Fifteenth Dynasty (about 1650-1550 BC) and was copied after an original of the Twelfth Dynasty (about 1985-1795 BC).

On the other side of the papyrus 'year 11' is mentioned, with a reference to the taking of some Egyptian towns. This probably refers to the fighting between the Egyptians and the Hyksos before the beginning of the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC). However, it is not certain to which king 'year 11' refers.

The papyrus was acquired by the Scottish lawyer A.H. Rhind during his stay in Thebes in the 1850s.


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2nd Intermediate period

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Although its a dead language, Egyptian is preserved in texts written over a period of more than four thousand years.

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Rhind Mathematical Papyrus

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Rhind Mathematical Papyrus

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Object details

Height: 32 cm
Width: 199.5 cm

 

EA 10057

Room 90

    References

    G. Robins and C. Shute, The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    L. Hodgkin, A History of Mathematics: From Mesopotamia to Modernity (Oxford, 2005)

    A. Imhausen, Mathematics in Ancient Egypt. (Princeton, 2010)

    B. Kemp, Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization (London, 2006)

    E. Robson, and J. Stedall (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Mathematics (Oxford, 2009)

    C. Rossi, Architecture and Mathematics in Ancient Egypt (Cambridge, 2004)