What is an 'Abacus'

An abacus is a calculation tool used by sliding counters along rods or grooves, used to perform mathematical functions. In addition to calculating the basic functions of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, the abacus can calculate roots up to the cubic degree.

Abacus is also a semi-annual accounting journal published and edited by the University of Sydney. Published in 1965, this journal covers all areas of accounting.


Before the Hindu-Arabic number system was invented in India in the 6th or 7th century and introduced to Europe in the 12th century, people counted with their fingers, and even their toes in tropical cultures. Then, as even larger quantities (greater than ten fingers and toes could represent) were counted, people picked up small, easy-to-carry items such as pebbles, sea shells and twigs to add up sums.

However, merchants who traded goods needed a more comprehensive way to keep count of the many goods they bought and sold. The abacus is one of many counting devices invented in ancient times to help count large numbers, but it is believed that the abacus was first used by the Babylonians as early as 2,400 B.C. The abacus was in use in Europe, China and Russia, centuries before the adoption of the written Hindu-Arabic numeral system. When the Hindu-Arabic number system was widely accepted, abaci were adapted to use place-value counting, a system in which the position of a digit in a number determines its value. In the standard system, base ten, each place represents ten times the value of the place to its right. Since the first abacus, the physical structure of abaci have changed, but the concept has survived almost five millennia, and is still in use today.

Evolution of Counting Devices

Over time, counting devices continued to evolve due to technological advancements. For example, in 1622, the modern slide-rule was invented and it was widely used until 1972 when the Hewlett Packard HP-35 scientific calculator made the slide-rule obsolete. These days people rely on calculators on their computers and cell phones. Nevertheless, the abacus is still a trusted tool used by shopkeepers in Asia, and Chinatowns in North America, as well as by merchants, traders and clerks in parts of Eastern Europe, Russia and Africa.

Another popular use of abaci around the world is to teach arithmetic to children, especially multiplication; the abacus can substitute for rote memorization of multiplication tables.

In addition, people who are can't use a calculator due to visual impairment may use an abacus. Blind children are often taught to use the abacus to learn math and perform calculations as a substitute for paper and pencil.

  1. Back-Of-The-Envelope Calculation

    A back-of-the-envelope calculation is an informal mathematical ...
  2. Average Return

    The simple mathematical average of a series of returns generated ...
  3. Count

    Count is a form of technical analysis that employs point and ...
  4. Calculation Agent

    A calculation agent is an entity that determines the price of ...
  5. Optimization

    Optimization, in the context of technical analysis, is the process ...
  6. Historic Pricing

    Historic pricing is a method for calculating the value of an ...
Related Articles
  1. Investing

    Assess Shareholder Wealth With EPS

    Find out if management is doing its job of creating profit for investors.
  2. Tech

    Blockchain: One of History's Greatest Inventions?

    Blockchain may be the most important invention since the internet.
  3. Investing

    Breaking Down The Geometric Mean

    Understanding portfolio performance, whether for a self-managed, discretionary portfolio or a non-discretionary portfolio, is vital to determining whether the portfolio strategy is working or ...
  4. Investing

    The Goldman Sachs Accusation Explained

    Despite the airtime this scandal has received, the details aren't clear. Find out what happened and how it affects you.
  5. Personal Finance

    5 Financial Math Skills Every Teen Should Learn

    Calculus is good for abstract thinking, but what math skills should every student learn for managing his or her money?
  6. Insurance

    4 Mortgage Calculators that Include Taxes and Insurance

    Discover four websites that offer mortgage calculators that include property taxes and homeowners insurance cost along with other financial features.
  7. Trading

    Trading Systems: Run With The Herd Or Be A Lone Wolf?

    Find out if taking the path less traveled will work in your favor - or against it.
  8. Investing

    Understanding Periodic vs. Perpetual Inventory

    An overview of the two primary inventory accounting systems.
  9. Retirement

    The 3 Best Retirement Calculators For 2016

    Find out the top three online retirement calculators to use in 2016 for determining how much you need to save to provide for sustainable income.
  1. How do you calculate the income effect distinctly from the price effect?

    Learn more about how the income and substitution effects operate in economics and how to separate either of these while calculating ... Read Answer >>
  2. Calculate your portfolio's investment returns

    Learn the basic principles underlying the data and calculations used to perform personal rates of return on investment portfolios. Read Answer >>
  3. How do you calculate the percentage gain or loss on an investment?

    Calculating the percentage gain of an investment is quite easy. Here is what you need to know to determine the gain or loss. Read Answer >>
  4. What is the formula for calculating earnings per share?

    Learn how to calculate earnings per share and why it's an important gauge in determining a stock’s value and a company's ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center