Writing, as well as various mathematical techniques, were created in proto-literate Uruk in order to serve accounting, and Mesopotamian mathematics as we know it was always expressed in writing. In so far, mathematics generically regarded was always part of the generic written tradition. However, once we move away from the generic perspective, things become much less easy. If we look at basic numeracy from Uruk IV until Ur III, it is possible to point to continuity and thus to a “tradition”, and also if we look at place-value practical computation from Ur III onward – but already the relation of the latter tradition to type of writing after the Old Babylonian period is not well elucidated by the sources. Much worse, however, is the situation if we consider the sophisticated mathematics created during the Old Babylonian period. Its connection to the school institution and the new literate style of the period is indubitable; but we find no continuation similar to that descending from Old Babylonian beginnings in fields like medicine and extispicy. Still worse, if we look closer at the Old Babylonian material, we seem to be confronted with a small swarm of attempts to create traditions, but all rather short-lived. The few mathematical texts from the Late Babylonian (including the Seleucid) period also seem to illustrate attempts to establish norms rather than to be witnesses of a survival lasting sufficiently long to allow us to speak of “traditions”.
Main Research Area:
Traditions of Written Knowledge in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, 2011