Did the Romans know how to count?
You can count and multiply to hundreds of thousands quite satisfactorily on your paws or hands, that is, if you use the decimal or “base ten” system. IT is a delusion that we use decimal because we have ten digits. We have eight fingers and two toes. We have a whole host of body pieces and attachments that we can use and count quite satisfactorily. But the decimal system seemed to win out in most respects except time. The Summerian hexadecimal or 6 based system seems to have won time, seconds, minutes, degrees, hours…. On an interesting (I hope) side fact note – the number 4 on Latin clocks and watches is always written as “iiii” and not “iv”. I don’t know why, maybe someone else is asking or will.
We have evidence as other answers have mentioned that we are not alone as a species in the ability to count. In fact, there is ample evidence that other species are able to handle or estimate larger numbers at a glance. We also have good evidence that our cousins on the evolutionary trail also had the ability to count (((Just like the etchings we used to put on the end of our beds as teenagers. Oh!! was I alone??? ))) and perform other mathematical operations such as subtraction, multiplication and division. Among the remains left by Neanderthals and Cro Magnon are bones with etchings, the obvious interpretation of which is ordinal marks or the very simplest “counting 1,2,3,…, but we also see other marks that imply subtraction and division. IF someone can understand division, then we assume they can multiply.
I have a wonderful book in my collection. MY copy is a Spanish translation of the original text by Georges Ifrah. I have enjoyed this volume for years in its Spanish translation and to this day I have never tried to find out what its original language was……. (googling last minute)…… historia universal de las cifras …..Historia universal de las cifras bingo!!!! English From One to Zero: A Universal History of Numbers: Georges Ifrah, Lowell Bair: Amazon.com: Books
Evidence of ancient number systems is mentioned, including a finger game that was popular among ancient Mediterranean cultures, from Phoenician, Egyptian, Minoan and Hellenic Greek to Roman…. For over 2,000 years, and quite possibly 3,000 years, people have been playing finger games, multiplying huge numbers just to make trivial decisions the way we (or at least my wife and I) play rock paper scissors today.