CDAM Research Report, LSE-CDAM-2008-06
Mathematics of Currency and Exchange: Arithmetic at the end of the Thirteenth Century
Norman BiggsIn Western Europe, a sophisticated banking system for the purposes of international trade had evolved by the end of the thirteenth century. It was based upon the `bill of exchange', which enabled an exporter of goods to receive payment in his own currency, by means of a balancing payment made in the currency of the importer. This paper discusses the arithmetical tools that were available for use in accounting for transactions made in different currencies. It is argued that algorithmic methods based on the Hindu-Arabic numerals were used at the higher levels of banking, in order to prepare tables of foreign exchange such as those collected by the Florentine banker, Francesco Pegolotti. On the other hand, the clerks who were responsible for routine book-keeping would have used a simple abacus and counters, and recorded their transactions in Roman numerals.
A PDF file (2.8 MB) with the full contents of this report can be downloaded by clicking here.
Alternatively, if you would like to get a free hard copy of this report, please send the number of this report, LSE-CDAM-2008-06, together with your name and postal address to:
CDAM Research Reports Series
Centre for Discrete and Applicable Mathematics
London School of Economics
London WC2A 2AE, U.K.
Phone: +44(0)-20-7955 7494.
Fax: +44(0)-20-7955 6877.
|Introduction to the CDAM Research Report Series.|