Saturday, March 10, 2012

Reading Arabic Numbers and Dates

There are several modern numeral systems used in the world today that use symbols other than 1, 2, 3, 4, 5... (known frequently as Western Arabic or European numerals) that many of us are familiar with. Japanese, Thai, and Arabic are just a few examples of languages that use different symbols to represent numbers.

For a world coin collector, it is helpful to be able to read numbers in these different languages. It lets you figure out the date on a coin, and its quantity or denomination (e.g. 25 cents) which are both important for proper cataloging of your collection.

The Eastern Arabic Numerals

The symbols that Middle Eastern Arabic uses to represent the numbers from 0 to 9 are referred to as Eastern Arabic Numerals. They are shown here with their European equivalent:
Note the "false friends" - numerals that look similar to the European numerals but don't mean the same thing. ٥ looks like 0, but means 5. ٦ looks like 7 but means 6.

Numbers that are larger than 9 use combinations of these symbols just like we do with the European numerals:
  • 10 = ١٠
  • 25 = ٢٥
  • 713 = ٧١٣
Here are some examples on actual foreign coins:

Left to right: 2, 25, 100

Arabic Dates

Most coins from Arabic or Islamic countries use the Islamic Calendar, which began (Year 1) in 622 A.D. (by the Gregorian calendar we use in the United States). That is why the dates on modern Arabic coins are usually in the 1300s and 1400s - it's not because the coins are 600-700 years old.

Here are some date examples on actual coins:
Left to right: 1984 and 1404, 1965 and 1385, 1956 and 1375
More recent coins frequently have both the Islamic year and the Gregorian year on them, which makes our understanding of the year it was made a little easier. But the Gregorian year is usually written using Arabic numerals (like the examples above), so you still need to practice your transcription from Arabic to European numbers to be able to read them.