Discovery Science: Mathematics – The First Mathematicians


Mathematics as a science was more than likely established by Pythagoras of ancient Greece. He and his teacher Thales of Miletus are considered two of the first philosophers. From its very beginning, mathematics was tied to philosophy.

To this day, logic is still very much a part of both disciplines, mathematics and philosophy.

Mathematics – The First Mathematicians

Civilizations in the ancient Middle East, China, India, and ancient America explored mathematical problems long before mathematics became a discipline in itself.

The first approaches to mathematics as we know it today date back about 5,000 years (before 3000 B.C.), from Mesopotamia. They generated the Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian cultures. The most important mathematical scripts originate from the old Babylonian period (around 2000 B.C.). These included formulas for calculating areas, volume, approximate values for the number pi, calculation of V2 with an accuracy of six decimal digits and references to the Pythagorean theorem about a right-angled triangle.

The most important Egyptian sources that remain from the Middle Kingdom (around 2100 to around 1790 B.C.) are two papyrus manuscripts and one leather script proving that basic calculation methods, fractions, geometry, and the number pi were already known in ancient Egypt. Despite these advances, neither of the two cultures has passed down any mathematical proofs.

High point of mathematics

Mathematical historians concentrate mainly on ancient Greece, as the Romans were predominantly preoccupied with architecture and law. The Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus is considered the first mathematician who demonstrated by logical argumentation that his theorems were valid. He was born around 620 B.C. The Greeks have passed down formulas, laws, and rules about geometry which are still valid today.

Not only did they prove their own formulas but also the ones previously stated by the Babylonians and Egyptians. In contrast to the Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greek civilizations, the history of Chinese mathematics dates back to 4,000 years ago. The Jiuzhang Suanshu or The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art is the most famous Chinese textbook on mathematics of all time. It originates from about A.D.

100 and contains solutions to problems as well as algorithms. Additional texts about the proof of algorithms were written up to the 13th century A.D., the high point of mathematics in China.


Euclid’s manuscript The Elements is one of the most significant sources of Greek mathematics. It is the first systematic summary of fundamental geometry and arithmetics.

Euclid derives the characteristics of geometric objects and natural numbers from axioms (basic statements that do not require proof) and covers geometric algebra, proportions, primes, divisibility of numbers, and the method of exhaustion.