The first reference to what we today call “Arabic” numerals comes in a letter by the Syriac scholar, Severus Sebokht, in about 662 AD. The letter is often referenced in the literature, but has never been translated into English. A German text and translation has been published fairly recently. The letter itself is preserved in a unique manuscript witness, Paris BNF Syr. 346, which contains a collection of works by Severus Sebokht. (Elsewhere on this site readers may find translations of Severus “On the Astrolabe” and “On the Constellations”).
A few months ago Daniel Knister wrote to me of his intention to make such an English translation. He has very kindly made this available to us all, and it may be circulated freely and placed on websites etc. It’s here:
- Severus Sebokht-Letter to Basil-662-2022 (PDF)
- Severus Sebokht-Letter to Basil-662-2022 (Word .doc file)
I’ve also uploaded it to Archive.org here.
This is a wonderful thing to have at last! Thank you so much!