By the 10th Century the understanding of Shūnyam had degraded to the near irrecoverable in the region of its birth.

It had gone East to China and taken on local forms. The Symbol ‘О’ headed West. And did the same. We follow it in both directions over the course of the Posts.

The Symbol stops for a tour of Byzantine and Islamic Astronomy before finally docking in Venice, brought over by Arab traders long settled in Sind, the north-west coast of present day India.

Shūnyam births from a root-syllable for empty or hollow. In Arabic: Sifr [‘Cypher’], in Medieval Latin: Zephirum, to Zerum, to its settling in English as Zero.

The use of the idea got initial support from Leonardo Fibonacci who famously touted the virtues of the concept in his ‘Modus Indorum‘. Liber Abaci was published in 1202 CE. If the early philosophical links with the West were Greek, the later mathematical links, as with Fibonacci and Guiseppe Peano, were Italian.

[Fibonacci’s statue still stands in the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa, an hour’s drive from where I spend many an unhurried Autumn. And I haven’t been back to Pisa in years.]

The Clergy, users of the Abacus, were less impressed. They saw something decidedly sinister in this immigrant ‘Infidel Symbol’. The Roman script at that time didn’t have a symbol for Nothing. More precisely, it didn’t carry a symbol for the absence of symbol.

But the economy was booming. Double-Entry, Zero-Balance Bookkeeping had just been discovered. And this new symbol just fit the bill quite literally, of the emerging mercantile classes. And they were the supplanting power in the new trading Economy.

That’s how ‘О’ came West. It was not the fierce love for some mystic, metaphysical truth. It helped make money; or rather, keep track of it. A refreshingly sensible reason.


The early Indian archaeological and manuscript finds were mostly along trade routes used by the vibrant Gujarathi and other mercantile communities. The symbol has historically shown a strong preference for Money over Mathematics.