David Anhaght, author of the world’s first textbook on arithmetic problems

David the Invincible, also known as David Anhaght, was an Armenian scholar and mathematician active in the 5th and 6th centuries. Remarkably, he holds the distinction of creating the very first textbook of arithmetic problems known to the world. To this day, an original copy of this pioneering work is preserved at the Matenadaran, a venerable repository of ancient manuscripts in Yerevan, Armenia.

Little is known about David’s personal life, but historical records suggest he was born in the mid-70s of the 5th century in the western region of Armenia. His roots trace back to a small village named Nergin, located in the Taron region, leading to him being commonly referred to in the manuscripts as David Nerginatsi. David’s academic journey took him to the esteemed centers of learning in Alexandria and Athens.

In Alexandria, a hub of scholarly and philosophical discourse at the time, David not only enriched his knowledge but also shared it, teaching philosophy for a significant period. His intellectual explorations also led him to Athens and Constantinople. It was in these places that he engaged in debates with Byzantine scholars, consistently emerging victorious. These triumphs earned him the honorific “Anhaght,” which translates to “Invincible.”

In the annals of Western literature, he is recognized as David the Armenian. His philosophical outlook was marked by a pursuit of spiritual perfection and avoidance of evil. He viewed knowledge as a tool for the moral advancement of humanity, rather than an end unto itself.

David Anhaght’s philosophical teachings, particularly about the soul, were infused with Neoplatonic ideas. His logical frameworks embraced dialectical thought. Significantly, his philosophy introduced secular and rationalist elements into the largely theological landscape of Armenian medieval thought.

David Anhaght’s contributions to philosophy and education are significant, however, there is some debate over whether he was the author of the world’s first arithmetic problem textbook.

Several historical texts suggest that the origins of mathematics and the first known mathematics textbooks can be traced back to ancient civilizations, specifically Babylon and Egypt, from 1800 to 1600 BC.

For instance, one of the most well-known early mathematical documents is the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus from ancient Egypt. Named after the Scottish antiquarian, Alexander Henry Rhind, who purchased the papyrus in 1858, this document is believed to date back to around 1550 BC. It contains a collection of mathematical problems and their solutions, including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and fractions.

You can find more about the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus on British Museum’s official site or Wikipedia’s dedicated page.

Additionally, ancient Babylonian mathematics is known for its sophistication and includes early examples of mathematical textbooks. The Plimpton 322 tablet, dating from the 18th century BC, is one example. It’s one of the oldest surviving documents of Babylonian mathematics and contains an extensive list of Pythagorean triples.

However, it was David Anakht with a comprehensive set of rules, tasks, explanations, and answers that created the first textbook on mathematics in the form in which a modern person perceives information as a textbook.

by Vigen Avetisyan

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