Al-Khwarizmi (c.780 - c.850)

The Muslim Abbasid regime in Baghdad was entering a golden age during Al-Khwarizmi’s lifetime. The arts and sciences were flourishing at a place known as the House of Wisdom. This institute, where Al-Khawarizmi worked, contained the first proper collection of academic works in the world since the great ancient library at Alexandria had been destroyed.

The House of Wisdom translated a great many Greek works into Arabic as well as publishing new tracts. Al-Khwarizmi certainly read Ptolemy and may also have read Euclid. But his great inspiration came from the Hindu writings which were just beginning to appear in Baghdad.

His work, while not revelatory, has been extremely influential. It was through his work that the European world and mathematics began to use the Hindu place-value system and he also used zero as a place holder in this number system. His work focused on practical problems and contains a collection of rules for solving linear and quadratic equations.

Today we remember him for giving us two words - algebra and algorithm. The first was a Latin mistranslation of one of his books, while the second is another mistranslation of his name. His book was written entirely in prose, so you wouldn’t initially regard it as a maths book, but for many people the systematic approaches used by Al-Khwarizmi constituted the first ever algebra book.