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Rhind Mathematical Papyrus

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Rhind Mathematical Papyrus

British Museum, London


Place of

A portion of the Rhind Papyrus

Second Intermediate Period of Egypt


Language(s) Egyptian (Hieratic)



Length: 536 centimetres (211 in)

Width: 32 centimetres (13 in)

BM/Big no. AE 10058, Reg no. 1865,0218.3


The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus (RMP; also designated as: papyrus British Museum 10057, and pBM
10058), is the best example of Egyptian mathematics. It is named after Alexander Henry Rhind, a Scottish
antiquarian, who purchased the papyrus in 1858 in Luxor, Egypt; it was apparently found during illegal excavations
in or near the Ramesseum. It dates to around 1650 BC. The British Museum, where the majority of papyrus is now
kept, acquired it in 1865 along with the Egyptian Mathematical Leather Roll, also owned by Henry Rhind;[1] there
are a few small fragments held by the Brooklyn Museum in New York[2][3] and an 18 cm central section is missing.
It is one of the two well-known Mathematical Papyri along with the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus. The Rhind
Papyrus is larger than the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus, while the latter is older than the former.[2]

The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus dates to the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt. It was copied by the scribe
Ahmes (i.e., Ahmose; Ahmes is an older transcription favoured by historians of mathematics), from a now-lost text
from the reign of king Amenemhat III (12th dynasty). Written in the hieratic script, this Egyptian manuscript is
33 cm tall and consists of multiple parts which in total make it over 5m long. The papyrus began to be transliterated
and mathematically translated in the late 19th century. In 2008, the mathematical translation aspect remains
incomplete in several respects. The document is dated to Year 33 of the Hyksos king Apophis and also contains a
separate later Year 11 on its verso likely from his successor, Khamudi.[4]

In the opening paragraphs of the papyrus, Ahmes presents the papyrus as giving "Accurate reckoning for inquiring
into things, and the knowledge of all things, mysteries...all secrets". He continues with:
This book was copied in regnal year 33, month 4 of Akhet, under the majesty of the King of Upper
and Lower Egypt, Awserre, given life, from an ancient copy made in the time of the King of Upper
and Lower Egypt Nimaatre (?). The scribe Ahmose writes this copy.[1]
Several books and articles about the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus have been published, and a handful of these
stand out.[2] The Rhind Papyrus was published in 1923 by Peet and contains a discussion of the text that followed
Griffith's Book I, II and III outline [5] Chace published a compendium in 1927/29 which included photographs of
the text.[6] A more recent overview of the Rhind Papyrus was published in 1987 by Robins and Shute.[7]


1 Book I
2 Book II
2.1 Volumes
2.2 Areas
2.3 Pyramids
3 Book III
4 See also
5 References
6 Further reading
7 External links

Book I

Main articles: Rhind Mathematical Papyrus 2/n table and Egyptian fraction

The first part of the Rhind papyrus consists of reference tables and a collection of 20 arithmetic and 20 algebraic
problems. The problems start out with simple fractional expressions, followed by completion (sekhem) problems
and more involved linear equations (aha problems).[2]

The first part of the papyrus is taken up by the 2/n table. The fractions 2/n for odd n ranging from 3 to 101 are
expressed as sums of unit fractions. For example,
. The decomposition of 2/n into unit
fractions is never more than 4 terms long as in for example
This table is followed by a list of fraction expressions for the numbers 1 through 9 divided by 10. For instance the
division of 7 by 10 is recorded as:
7 divided by 10 yields 2/3 + 1/30

After these two tables, the scribe recorded 84 problems altogether and problems 1 through 40 which belong to
Book I are of an algebraic nature.

Problems 16 compute divisions of a certain number of loaves of bread by 10 men and record the outcome in unit
fractions. Problems 720 show how to multiply the expressions 1 + 1/2 + 1/4 and 1 + 2/3 + 1/3 by different
fractions. Problems 2123 are problems in completion, which in modern notation is simply a subtraction problem.
The problem is solved by the scribe to multiply the entire problem by a least common multiple of the denominators,
solving the problem and then turning the values back into fractions. Problems 2434 are aha problems. These
are linear equations. Problem 32 for instance corresponds (in modern notation) to solving x + 1/3 x + 1/4 x = 2 for
x. Problems 3538 involve divisions of the hekat. Problems 39 and 40 compute the division of loaves and use
arithmetic progressions.[1]

Book II

The second part of the Rhind papyrus consists of geometry problems.

Peet referred to these problems as "mensuration problems".[2]


Problems 41 46 show how to find the volume of both cylindrical and

rectangular based granaries. In problem 41 the scribe computes the
volume of a cylindrical granary. Given the diameter (d) and the height (h),
the volume V is given by:
In modern mathematical notation (and using d = 2r) this equals
. The quotient 256/81
approximates the value of as being ca. 3.1605.

In problem 42 the scribe uses a slightly different formula which computes

the volume and expresses it in terms of the unit khar.
notation this is equal to

A portion of the Rhind Papyrus

In modern mathematical

(measured in khar). This is equivalent to

measured in cubic-cubits as used in the other problem.[1]

Problem 47 gives a table with equivalent fractions for fractions of 100 quadruple hekat of grain. The quotients are
expressed in terms of Horus eye fractions. The short table gives the values related to the original 100 quadruple
hekat; the quantity "ro" here is a standard ancient Egyptian measure equivalent to 1/320 of a hekat.1/10 gives 10 quadruple hekat
1/20 gives 5 quadruple hekat
1/30 gives 3 1/4 1/16 1/64 (quadruple) hekat and 1 2/3 ro
1/40 gives 2 1/2 (quadruple) hekat
1/50 gives 2 (quadruple) hekat
1/60 gives 1 1/2 1/8 1/32 (quadruple) hekat 3 1/3 ro
1/70 gives 1 1/4 1/8 1/32 1/64 (quadruple) hekat 2 1/14 1/21 ro

1/80 gives 1 1/4 (quadruple) hekat

1/90 gives 1 1/16 1/32 1/64 (quadruple) hekat 1/2 1/18 ro
1/100 gives 1 (quadruple) hekat[1]


Problems 4855 show how to compute an assortment of areas. Problem 48 is often commented on as it computes
the area of a circle. The scribe compares the area of a circle (approximated by an octagon) and its circumscribing
square. Each side is trisected and the corner triangles are then removed. The resulting octagonal figure
approximates the circle. The area of the octagonal figure is:
approximate 63 to be 64 and note that
we get the approximation

; Next we

. And we get the approximation

. Solving for ,

(the approximation has an error of .0189).

That this octagonal figure, whose area is easily calculated, so accurately approximates the area of the circle is just
plain good luck. Obtaining a better approximation to the area using finer divisions of a square and a similar
argument is not simple.[1][8] Other problems show how to find the area of rectangles, triangles and trapezoids.


The final five problems are related to the slopes of pyramids. A seked problem is reported by :[9]
If a pyramid is 250 cubits high and the side of its base 360 cubits long, what is its seked?"

The solution to the problem is given as the ratio of half the side of the base of the pyramid to its height, or the runto-rise ratio of its face. In other words, the quantity he found for the seked is the cotangent of the angle to the base
of the pyramid and its face.[9]

Book III

The third part of the Rhind papyrus consists of the remainder of the 84 problems.[2] Problem 61 consists of 2 parts.
Part 1 contains multiplications of fractions. Part b gives a general expression for computing 2/3 of 1/n, where n is
odd. In modern notation the formula given is

Problems 6268 are general problems of an algebraic nature. Problems 6978 are all pefsu problems in some form
or another. They involve computations regarding the strength of bread and or beer.[1]

Problem RMP 79 sums five terms in a geometric progression. It is a multiple of 7 riddle, which would have been
written in the Medieval era as, "Going to St. Ives" problem.[2] Problems 80 and 81 compute Horus eye fractions of
henu (or hekats). Problem 81 is followed by a table. The last three problems 8284 compute the amount of feed

necessary for fowl and oxen.[1]

See also

Lahun Mathematical Papyri

Akhmim wooden tablet
Berlin Papyrus 6619
Rhind Mathematical Papyrus 2/n table


1. Clagett, Marshall Ancient Egyptian Science, A Source Book. Volume Three: Ancient Egyptian Mathematics
(Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society) American Philosophical Society. 1999 ISBN 978-0-87169-232-0
2. Anthony Spalinger, The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus as a Historical Document, Studien zur Altgyptischen Kultur,
Bd. 17 (1990), pp. 295-337, Helmut Buske Verlag GmbH
3. "Collections: Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art: Fragments of Rhind Mathematical Papyrus"
Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved November 1, 2012.
4. cf. Thomas Schneider's paper 'The Relative Chronology of the Middle Kingdom and the Hyksos Period (Dyns. 1217)' in Erik Hornung, Rolf Krauss & David Warburton (editors), Ancient Egyptian Chronology (Handbook of
Oriental Studies), Brill: 2006, p.194-195
5. Peet, Thomas Eric. 1923. The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, British Museum 10057 and 10058. London: The
University Press of Liverpool limited and Hodder & Stoughton limited
6. Chace, Arnold Buffum. 1927-1929. The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus: Free Translation and Commentary with
Selected Photographs, Translations, Transliterations and Literal Translations. Classics in Mathematics Education
8. 2 vols. Oberlin: Mathematical Association of America. (Reprinted Reston: National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics, 1979). ISBN 0-87353-133-7
7. Robins, R. Gay, and Charles C. D. Shute. 1987. The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus: An Ancient Egyptian Text.
London: British Museum Publications Limited. ISBN 0-7141-0944-4
8. Don Allen Egyptian and Babylonian Mathematics from [1]
9. Maor, Eli (1998). Trigonometric Delights. Princeton University Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-691-09541-8.

Further reading

Gillings, Richard J. "Mathematics in the Time of the Pharaohs", 1972, MIT Press, Dover reprint ISBN 0486-24315-X

External links

Allen, Don. April 2001. The Ahmes Papyrus

( and Summary of Egyptian Mathematics
Egypt/Texts ( at
British Museum webpage on the Papyrus.
O'Connor and Robertson, 2000. Mathematics in Egyptian Papyri (

O'Connor and Robertson, 2000. Mathematics in Egyptian Papyri (

Truman State University, Math and Computer Science Division. Mathematics and the Liberal Arts: The
Rhind/Ahmes Papyrus (
"Rhind Papyrus" ( MathWorldA Wolfram Web
Williams, Scott W. Mathematicians of the African Diaspora
(, containing a page on Egyptian Mathematics Papyri
BBC audio file ( A History
of the World in 100 Objects. (15 mins)
Retrieved from ""
Categories: Egyptian mathematics Egyptian fractions Ancient Egyptian literature Papyrus
Mathematics manuscripts Pi Ancient Egyptian objects in the British Museum
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