You are on page 1of 8

# A guide to numerals in Syriac

Gareth Hughes
¯ lebruary zc1c
Contents
1 Syriac alphabetic numerals 1
1.1 Higher numerals· thousands, myriads and beyond . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . !
1.z lractions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2 Eastern Arabic numerals 4
3 Aramaic sign–value numerals 4
4 Appendix: on numerals in the Payne Smiths’ dictionaries 5
5 Bibliography 6
1 Syriac alphabetic numerals
Syriac numerals are traditionally wriuen with the leuers of the alphabet. Te system is very
similar to the alphabetic numerals traditionally used in Hebrew, Arabic (the abjadi numerals),
Armenian, Greek and Cyrillic. Where it is necessary to make sure that the reader does not
try to read them as words they are wriuen overlined. Tus, the numeral for !¯ is wriuen -:,
and the overline tells us not to read it as leh ‘to him’ or lah/loh ‘to her’. Te overline is onen
omiued where the context means it can only be read as a numeral, when it is a page number
in the header or footer, or when it is followed by the name of a month (e.g. ܡ
ܶ
.. ܢ.
ܽ
.
ܳ
- -- is
z¯ December).
Te appendix to Teodor Nöldeke’s Kurzgefaßte syrise Grammatik oﬀers a short introduc-
tion to the use the leuers of the Syriac alphabet as numerals. Aner brieﬂy noting how the leuers
from ܐ to ܬ suﬃce for the numerals 1–.)), he goes on to describe how the decades from ,· to
ܨ are recycled to provide the numerals for ¯cc–)cc, taking the raised point to distinguish them
as centuries rather than their usual decade values. Terefore, the leuer ܣ, whid is usually
1
A cuiii 1o xu·ii~is ix Svii~c — G~ii1n Hucnis
Table 1· Use of Syriac leuers as numerals
units 1 z ! . ¯ e ¯ s )
ܐ ܒ ܓ ܕ ܗ ܘ ܙ ܚ ܛ
decades 1c zc !c .c ¯c ec ¯c sc )c
ܝ .-
*
ܠ ܡ ,·
*
ܣ ܥ ܦ ܨ
centuries 1cc zcc !cc .cc ¯cc ecc ¯cc scc )cc
ܩ ܪ ܫ ܬ ,̇ ·
*
or ܩܬ ̇ ܣ or ܪܬ ̇ ܥ or ܫܬ
̇
ܦ or ܬܬ ̇ ܨ or ܩܬܬ
the numeral ec, can also stand in for ecc, especially if marked ̇ ܣ. Seeing as the numerals are
always wriuen from highest to lowest, one of these decades followed by another decade must
be a ‘raised’ decade, a century. Sometimes, this means that the raised point might be omiued
without danging the meaning of the numeral.
Occasionally, the lower decades, ܡ–ܝ, are also used for centuries when marked with a raised
point, even though the last four leuers of the alphabet are available for these numbers.
An alternative system to the raising of the decades is to create the higher centuries by an ad-
ditive system that combines the existing centuries, using the leuer ܬ in front of lower hundreds.
So, ¯cc is wriuen ܩܬ, .cc-1cc, ecc is wriuen ܪܬ, .cc-zcc, ¯cc is wriuen ܫܬ, .cc-!cc, scc is
wriuen ܬܬ, .cc-.cc, and, rather inelegantly, )cc is wriuen ܩܬܬ, .cc-.cc-1cc.
So for example
• 1z is wriuen .. 1c-z (yav)
• !e is wriuen .: !c-e (lu)
• 1¯¯ is wriuen ... 1cc-¯c-¯ (qnaz)
or ..̇ . or ... (1c·1c)-¯c-¯ (ynaz)
• ¯e. is wriuen ..
̇
• sc¯ is wriuen -
̇
± (sc·1c)-¯ (peh) the raised point is the only thing that distinguishes this from s¯
or ܗܬܬ .cc-.cc-¯ (tetheh)
• ))) is wriuen ܛ ܨ ̇ ܨ or ܛ ܨ ܨ ()c·1c)-)c-) (ṣaṣṭ)
or ܛ ,.ܬܬ .cc-.cc-1cc-)c-) (tethqṣaṭ)
Onen some numerals will be spelt out in full and mixed with alphabetic numerals, this is onen
especially true of thousands and myriads — ...ܘ ,.
ܺ
݂ ±
ܱ
»
̄
ܒ ÷ z1¯z, or ...
݈
ܕܘ i
ܳ
݂
ܬ
ܳ
.
݁
-
ܶ
. ..
÷ .!.,!¯s. Note the ܘ in both examples, they are overlined but are not numbers: they are the
*Te leuers .- and ,· are traditionally wriuen double when they would otherwise stand alone, but they are
wriuen singularly when combined with other numerals.
z
A cuiii 1o xu·ii~is ix Svii~c — G~ii1n Hucnis
conjunction ‘and’. likewise other inseparable particles can be wriuen before numerals and may
look like they are to be interpreted as numerals, but are to be read grammatically. Te leuer ܕ
in front of a numeral signiﬁes that it is to be understood as an ordinal — ܡܕ ÷ the fortieth.
1.1 Higher numerals: thousands, myriads and beyond
Te numeral 1ccc is wriuen with the leuer ܐ. Seeing as ܐ read as a numeral and standing before
any other leuer cannot be read as 1, it must be read as 1ccc. Tus, ܒܐ can only be read as 1ccz.
likewise, the other units can be used as thousands, so the year zc1c is .-.
Nöldeke remarks that a small oblique stroke is sometimes placed below a unit when it stands
for a thousand. Tus, 1ccz can be wriuen ܒ
݈
ܐ, and zc1c as .
݈
-. Another system is to use the
same raised point used to create higher centuries as above — ܒ
̇
ܐ and . ̇ -.
Robert Payne Smith’s esaurus Syriacus explains some variant signs used for creating higher
numerals in its entry for ܐ. Te entry outlines three higher numerals using ܐ·
̣
ܐ is 1ccc,
̱
ܐ is 1c,ccc
̤
ܐ is 1c,ccc,ccc (a thousand myriads).
Payne Smith cites Georgius Midael Amira’s Grammatica Syriaca, siue Chaldaica as his
source for this information. However, that old grammar actually gives
݈
ܐ as the numeral for
1ccc, with an oblique stroke below:
̱
ܐ as the numeral for 1c,ccc, a myriad: two oblique strokes
below — thus
݇
݈
ܐ — represents a thousand myriads, or 1c,ccc,ccc: two oblique strokes, one above
and one below — thus
݇
݇
ܐ — represents a thousand thousand myriads, or 1c,ccc,ccc,ccc.
Just to confuse things, louis Costaz’s Dictionnaire syriaque–français notes the symbols
̇
ܐ and
̱
ܐ with the same values as Payne Smith, but gives Georgius Midael Amira’s
݈
ܐ as an alternative
for 1ccc, and uses
݇
݈
ܐ (or is it
̭
ܐ `) for the smaller value of 1cc,ccc.
We can compound these systems thus·
Table z· Higher numerals with ܐ
1 1ccc 1c,ccc 1cc,ccc 1,ccc,ccc 1c,ccc,ccc 1c,ccc,ccc,ccc
1c⁰ 1c` 1c⁴ 1c⁵ 1c⁶ 1c⁷ 1c'⁰
ܐ
݈
ܐ or
̣
ܐ or
̇
ܐ
̱
ܐ
݇
݈
ܐ or
̭
ܐ wanting
݇
݈
ܐ or
̤
ܐ
݇
݇
ܐ
However, it should be remembered that no uniﬁed system is in place and writers are wont to
develop systems to mark higher numerals as the need presents itself.
Simply reading through the entries for the leuers of the alphabet in Robert Payne Smith’s
esaurus Syriacus and Jessie Payne Smith’s A Compendious Syriac Dictionary show a range
of inconsistencies in how the higher numerals are marked. See the appendix on p. ¯ for the full
lor example, the population of lraq is around !1,z!.,ccc, whid can be wriuen

݈
.
̱
.
̱
.
̱
.
݇
݈
. or
݈
.
̱
.
̱
.
̱
.
̤
• ,
̈
.
ܺ
݂ ±
ܱ
» .:ܪt , for !1-thousand-and-z!. thousands
!
A cuiii 1o xu·ii~is ix Svii~c — G~ii1n Hucnis
1.2 Fractions
Tere is liule documentation on the use of Syriac leuers to represent fractions. However, a
simple system of reciprocal fractions (that is fractions in whid the numerator is 1) is formed
by placing an oblique stroke above the leuer representing the denominator. Tus,
݇
ܒ represents
', and
݇
ܩ represents ⅟₁₀₀. Tese are discussed in Amira’s grammar, but can also be found in
George Phillips’s Syriac Grammar and Rubens Duval’s Traité de Grammaire syriaque.
2 Eastern Arabic numerals
Syriac has regularly also used lastern Arabic numerals, the numerals commonly used with
Arabic, over the last millennium. Tese numerals are commonly found on manuscripts to mark
page numbers. Although they have diﬀerent shapes to Western Arabic numerals (the 1,z,!…
we use in lnglish) the system works in exactly the same way.
Western Arabic numerals c 1 z ! . ¯ e ¯ s )
Eastern Arabic numerals ٠ ١ ٢ ٣ ٤/
۴
٥/
۵
٦/
۶
٧ ٨ ٩
lor example
• 1z ÷ ١٢
• zc ÷ ٢٠
• !e¯ ÷ ٣٦٥ or
۳۶۵
• zc1c ÷ ٢٠١٠
Just like our Western numerals, the lastern Arabic numerals arrange high to low ﬁgures from
len to right on a purely decimal system. Te alternative forms
۶ ،۵ ،۴
are used in lran.
3 Aramaic sign–value numerals
At the close of Nöldeke’s Appendix on numerals, he oﬀers the reader a rather cryptic statement,
„ln gewissen Handsdrinen ﬁndet sid nod ein sehr altes, auf einem ganz andern
Princip beruhendes Ziﬀernsystem.“
Tis system is described in the introduction to Duval’s Traité de Grammaire syriaque. Te an-
cient varieties of Aramaic employ a numeral system similar to that of the ancient lgyptians, to
whid it is likely related: it is also somewhat similar to Roman numerals. lt is a mostly additive
system of tally marks that employs special signs for certain ‘round’ numbers. Variations of this
system are evidenced in llephantine, Nabataean, Palmyrene, Hatran and early Syriac. Te Syr-
iac variant has signs for 1÷, z÷, ¯÷, 1c÷, zc÷and 1cc÷(the lauer being a multiplicative
.
A cuiii 1o xu·ii~is ix Svii~c — G~ii1n Hucnis
sign rather than additive). Te numerals are wriuen with the highest on the right and lowest
on the len, with the exception that the sign for 1 is always wriuen before z, and so s is wriuen
÷¯-1-z. Te number !e¯ is wriuen as ÷(1-z)·1cc-zc-zc-zc-¯.
Table !· System of old Syriac sign–value numerals
1 z ! . ¯ e ¯ s ) 1c 11 1z 1¯ 1) zc !c

.c 1cc 1c1 zcc zc! e)¯

Two other signs exist in the system, but they are not always used. Te symbol stands for
the number ¯cc. Tus, the numeral for e)¯ above could be wriuen as . Te symbol
or is an odditiy as it either represents the number !cc or scc: the understanding of it as
scc obviously includes an implied .
Tere is no evidence for how thousands or higher numerals should be wriuen in this system.
Only the Aramaic numerals at llephantine witness to a thousands sign, whid operates as a
multiplier in the same manner as the hundreds sign.
Duval shows a couple of examples of hybrid numerals that combine these sign–value numer-
als with alphabetic numerals· szc -, sz. .-, s.c ܡ, ¯e! ܓܤ.
4 Appendix: on numerals in the Payne Smiths’ dictionaries
Below are the collected entries for the numerical utility of ead leuer of the Syriac alphabet from
the two great dictionaries of the Payne Smiths, father and daughter (tables . and ¯, pp. ¯–s). l
have included them as they witness a few irregularities of the system of alphabetic numerals
outlined above. While many of the entries are straightforward, l shall ﬁrst excerpt the oddities.
Robert Payne Smith’s entry for ܒ gives the numeral for zccc as
݈
ܒ. However, Jessie Payne
Smith suggests that the higher numerals created with ܒ are diﬀerent in last- and West-Syriac
̱
ܒ for zccc, while the last Syriac has
̄
ܒ for zccc and
̱
ܒ for
zc,ccc.
Again, with the leuer ܙ , the two diﬀer over the marking of the numeral ¯ccc. Robert gives
݈
ܙ ,
whid is in keeping with the system described above, while Jessie gives
̄
ܙ .
lor ܚ, Robert gives the unexpected value of scc for the sign
݈
ܚ, rather than sccc.
lor ܠ, Robert gives the unusual mark of
ً
ܠ for !cc, rather than the expected
̇
ܠ. Jessie
gives the lauer sign but values it at !ccc!
lor ܥ, both Payne Smiths give
̄
ܥ as the sign for ¯cc.
lor ܪ , both agree that the underline marks myriads, and thus
̱
ܪ is zcc myriads, or z,ccc,ccc.
Ten they both dange their minds by making
̱
ܬ value just .ccc!
¯
A cuiii 1o xu·ii~is ix Svii~c — G~ii1n Hucnis
5 Bibliography
A·ii~, Gioicius Micn~ii [i.... :- ,. ×.i...ܕ ܗ.- ...ܪ..] (1¯)e). Grammatica Syriaca, siue
Chaldaica [ ,:.: ̇ ܘܐ ,:.ܪ.+ ...¿..,..]. Rome.
Cos1~z, louis (1)e!). Dictionnaire syriaque–français: Syriac–English Dictionary: ينايرس سوماق
يبرع. Beirut.
Duv~i, Runixs (1ss1). Traité de Grammaire syriaque. Paris.
Noiiixi, Tnioioi (1ssc). Kurzgefaßte syrise Grammatik. leipzig.
P~vxi S·i1n, Jissii (1)c!). A Compendious Syriac Dictionary: Founded upon the Tesaurus
Syriacus of R. Payne Smith. Oxford.
P~vxi S·i1n, Ronii1 (1s¯)). esaurus Syriacus. Oxford.
Pniiiiis, Gioici (1see). Syriac Grammar. Cambridge.
e
A cuiii 1o xu·ii~is ix Svii~c — G~ii1n Hucnis
Table ¡· Numerical descriptions of leuers .-–ܐ in dictionaries
letter Robert Payne Smith’s
esaurus Syriacus
Jessie Payne Smith’s
Compendious Syriac Dictionary
ܐ Qae ut nota numeralis valet unus, a :
cum ܕ praeﬁxa primus, a : cum lineola
subscripta in hunc modum
̣
ܐ 1,ooo,
̱
ܐ 1o,ooo,
̤
ܐ 1o,ooo,ooo, teste Amira,
Gr.Syr. pp. 1e–:1.
Used as the cardinal numeral 1 : with
ܕ preﬁxed the ordinal, the ﬁrst : with
a point beneath
̣
ܐ it stands for 1,ooo :
with a line beneath
̱
ܐ 1o,ooo : with two
points beneath
̤
ܐ 1o,ooo,ooo.
ܒ Ut nota numeralis valet duo, cum ܕ
praeﬁxa secundus, -a cum lineola sub-
scripta
݈
ܒ duo millia, ib. 1e.
Te number : : with ܕ the second : with
a line beneath
̱
ܒ:,ooo, l-Syr.
̄
ܒ:,ooo,
̱
ܒ :o,ooo.
ܓ Ut nota numeri valet tres : it. cum ܕ
tertius.
Te cardinal number + : with ܕ the or-
dinal, the third.
ܕ ln numerando valet ܕ quatuor, Amir.
1+ : it.
݈
ܕ quatuor millia, ib. 1e : it.
̱
ܕ
quadraginta millia, ib. 1;. Cum ܕ
praeﬁxa quartus,
̄
ܕ
̄
ܕ
̄
ܨ , BHSdol. in
Job. ix. ;.
Te number ¡ : with another ܕ the
fourth, ܕܕ :
݈
ܕ ¡ooo :
̱
ܕ ¡o,ooo.
ܗ ln numerando valet ܗ quinque,
Amir. 1:, et
̄
ܗܕ quintus, BHSdol. in
Job. xii. 18.
Te cardinal number · : ܗܕ ordinal the
ﬁh.
ܘ ln numerando valet sex, et ܘܕ sextus. Te number e :
̄
ܘܕ the sixth.
ܙ ln numerando valet septem, et
݈
ܙ
septem millia, Amir. 1:, 1e.
Te number ; : ܙܕ the seventh :
̄
ܙ ;ooo.
ܚ ln numerando valet octo, cum ܕ praef.
octavus : it.
݈
ܚoctingenti, Amir. 1+, 1e.
Te numeral 8, with ܕ preﬁxed the
eighth.
ܛ ln numerando valet novum: it. cum ܕ
praef. novus.
Te number ,, with ܕ the ninth.
ܝ ln numerando valet decem, cum
puncto supra posito
̇
ܝ, centum, Amir.
1+, 1· : cum ܕ praef. decimus, a, um,
BHSdol. in Job. xxvii. :.
Te number 1o : with a point above,
̇
ܝ,
1oo : with ܕ preﬁxed, ܝܕ, the tenth.
.- ln numerando valet :o, et
̄
.
̇
- :oo, et
duplici scribitur Coph, initiali et ﬁnali,
sic tamen ut ﬁnalis tollatur, quum nu-
mero crescit, ut i
̄
- :1, .- ::,
̄
i
̇
- :o1,
̄
.
̇
- :o:, etc., cf. lud. de Dieu, Heb. Gr.
Te numeral :o,
̄
i- :1,
̄
.- ::, with a
point .
̇
- :oo,
̄
i
̇
- :o1,
̄
.
̇
- :o: &c.
¯
A cuiii 1o xu·ii~is ix Svii~c — G~ii1n Hucnis
Table ·· Numerical descriptions of leuers ܬ–ܠ in dictionaries
letter Robert Payne Smith’s
esaurus Syriacus
Jessie Payne Smith’s
Compendious Syriac Dictionary
ܠ ln numerando valet ܠ +o, t +1, etc.,
ً
ܠ +oo,
ً
t +o1, etc., Amir. 1·.
As a numeral, : +o, t +1, .: +: &c.,
̇
ܠ +ooo.
Amir. 1+ :
̄
ragesimum, B.O. iii. i. ++1 : at
̇
ܡ
Amir. 1·, 1,.
Te numeral ¡o,
̄
ܡ i
ܳ
..i
ܺ
. Discourse
¡o :
̇
ܡ ¡oo.
,· ln numerando valet quinquaginta, et
,̇ · quingenti, Amir. 1+, 1· : it. cum ܕ
praef. quinquagesimus.
Te number ·o, with ܕ the ﬁieth.
ܣ quae in numerando sexaginta valet, et
cum puncto supra posito ̇ ܣ sexcenti,
Amir. 1+, 1·.
Te numeral eo : with a point, ̇ ܣ, eoo.
ܥ Qae numerando valet septuaginta, et
cum ܕ praef. septuagesimus : it. cum
̄
ܥ septingenti.
As a numeral ;o : with ܕ preﬁxed the
seventieth : with a line above,
̄
ܥ, ;oo.
ܦ Qae numerando octoginta valet, et
cum ܕ praef., octogesimus, it. cum
puncto supra posito
̇
± octingenti,
Amir. e, 1+, 1·, BHGr. +e. ,, 11, BH-
Sdol. in Act. i. :, lphr. i. +o8 B.
As a numeral eighty : with ܕ preﬁxed
the eightieth : with a point above,
̇
ܦ,
8oo.
ܨ [`] ln numerando valet octoginta,
et cum puncto suprascripto, ̇ ܨ , octin-
genti, Amir. 1+, 1·.
Te number ,o, with a point above, ̇ ܨ ,
,oo.
ܩ ln numerando valet ܩ centum: it.
̄

centesimus.
Te numeral 1oo, .ܕ the one hun-
dredth.
ܪ ln numerando valet ducenti : cum
ܕ praeﬁxa ducentesimus : cum linea
supposita
̱
ܪ :,ooo,ooo, Amir. 1¡–:o.
Te numeral :oo, ܪܕ the two hun-
dredth : with a line beneath,
̱
ܪ ,
:,ooo,ooo.
ܫ ln numerando valet trecenti, ib. 1¡ : it.
cum ܕ praeﬁxa trecentesimus.
Te number three hundred, with ܕ ,
ܫܕ , the three hundredth.
cum lineola subscripta,
̱
ܬ , quatuor
millia, Amir. 1¡, :o.
Te numeral ¡oo : with ܕ , ܬܕ the four
hundredth : with a line beneath,
̱
ܬ ,
¡ooo.
s