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Knowledge About Pi (π) in Various Ancient Civilisations

By Shiwani PandeyNovember 30, 2022
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Learn About the History of Pi

Mathematics is a diverse subject that derives its constants and formulas from the data presented by different civilisations. Just like the other concepts which are popular in mathematics, the concept of Pi is also very common. So, what exactly is Pi in mathematics? Well, it can be defined as the ratio of the circumference of a circle to the diameter that it has. 

A Plate with a Pi

A Plate with a Pi

Also, Read: How the Invention of Cars Changed the World?

The concept of pi has come from different ancient civilisations and yet in the modern concepts, most people are unaware of where this mathematical concept comes from. For those who want to know about the history of Pi and where it came from, there are some civilisations that claim to have had the value ascertained before. Hence, in this article, we are going to talk about the knowledge that ancient civilisations have about Pi. 

History of Pi From Ancient to Modern Times 

Pi is a very important figure in mathematical calculations and its value remains a constant. Pi is used in calculations of area, volume, and other stems of mathematics as well. So, there is no doubt that the value of Pi is of great importance for mathematical studies. However, the Pi value that we have today is a result of the efforts of ancient civilisations who tried to ascertain the correct value of this constant. The history of Pi in Maths states that there were countless civilisations with the knowledge to decide the value of Pi. Let us have a look at some of these civilisations and the values that they decided for Pi. 

1. Babylonian : In the 17th Century BC, the Babylonians actually had some knowledge about the advanced concepts related to the field of mathematics. Hence, they managed to memorialize those concepts into complicated tables which would express fractions, squares, and cube roots as well along with other details about linear equations, quadratic equations, and algebraic forms. 

So, it doesn’t come off as a surprise that these math wizards actually had an estimate of the value of Pi at 3.125. This is definitely a very commendable feat since the Babylonians could only count the numbers on their fingers. One of the main theories surrounding the development of mathematics in the Babylonian times is that they had a numeric system of 60. They only used the 12 knuckles of their fingers, minus the thumb and multiplied it by the five fingers on the other hands. Now that is a very efficient technique, to be honest. 

2. Egyptian : Just like the contemporary mathematical geniuses from Babylonia, the Egyptians were also great in the field of mathematics. In fact, the people from Egypt were believed to be the first developers of the full-fledged 10-number system that we have. Apart from that, you will also be surprised to know that the oldest evidence of the value of Pi in Egypt can be found in the Rhind Papyrus and the dates go back to about 1650 B.C. Along with the combinations of division and multiplication as well as the evidence of fractions, prime numbers, and linear equations, the value of Egyptian Pi was calculated to be 3.1605. Now the modern-day value of Pi is 3.14 which means that their value was a bit higher. But considering the absence of technology and methods of calculation, this feat was impossible to achieve. 

3. Hebrew : During the time when the Temple of Solomon was built by the Hebrews in 950 BC, the people managed to skillfully record all the specifications. This included the specifications of a huge brass casting that was properly described in I Kings 7:23 which read, "Then he made the molten sea; it was made with a circular rim and measured 10 cubits across, five in height and thirty in circumference." Now the important thing to note here is that the ratio that is described between the diameter and the circumference is valued at 3. While the value is not very precise, it can definitely be said that the Hebrews managed to come very close to the value of Pi. This is given the fact that they had only managed to come forth from the wilderness just a few centuries ago. 

4. Greek

The Greeks were also advanced in the study of mathematics and they excelled in Geometric studies. One of the earliest quests that they had was to ‘square the circle’ and that too in the 5th Century BC. They managed to create a square that had the exact same area as the square. The reason behind such a feat was unexplainable for a very long time. It was in the 3rd Century BC when Archimedes of Syracuse managed to provide a theoretical calculation of Pi. At this point, the Archimedes calculation gives the value of Pi as 3.1418 which is by far the closest of the values. 

5. Chinese : Back in 2000 BC, Chinese Mathematics was built using a 10-number-based, place value system. Liu Hiu, the developer of the Early concepts of Calculus created the algorithm which would help in deciding the value of Pi and that took up to 5 decimal places. 200 years after that, another scholar named Zu Chongzhi calculated the value to six decimal places. 

6. Persian : Now we come to the Middle Ages and during the 9th Century AD, Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi, who was credited widely for the creation of the fundamental methods of algebra (reducing and balancing) and the Hindu numbering system consisting of 1-9, managed to calculate the value of Pi up to 4 decimal places. A few hundred years later in the 15th Century AD, Jamshid al-Kashi presented his method of Circumference using which he calculated 2 π to 16 decimal places.


It can be said without a single speck of doubt that the knowledge about pi in various ancient civilisations led to the calculation of the accurate value today. From the Middle Ages to the Modern Era, there have been different developments made to calculate the exact value of Pi. In 1600, Ludolph Van Ceulen managed it to about 35 decimal places. In the year 1701, John Machin was able to calculate up to 100 digits for the value of π. Ever since then Americans and Europeans have tried and succeeded in bringing the exact value of Pi that we use in modern calculations.