The contribution of Persians to the world is not limited to just language, food, and culture. Persian influence is also evident in many aspects of mathematics, science, and technology. Iranian mathematicians might be behind the invention of the game Reversi; algorithms for spreadsheets; and even an early understanding of infinitesimals (although they may not have considered them infinitely small quantities).
Here are 12 facts about Persian contributions you never knew.
1) Iranians helped invent the game Reversi.
This game was invented by an English mathematician, Lewis Waterman (1837–1901), in 1883. It is called “Othello” in the US, and “Reversi” internationally. But unlike the game Reversi today, it had no pieces; rather, it was played using cards. Waterman was inspired to invent this game after seeing a similar game at his local club. He spent his retirement years looking for the name of this game and its inventor, but he died without finding their names. Waterman’s widow donated the Waterman cards to the Lewis Walpole Library in London.
2) Iranians may have been first to use a computer.
According to Alireza Jafarzadeh’s book The Persian Heritage of Information Technology, many Iranians may have been one of the first people to use a computer, as some were first on the list of those who had a personal computer in their homes a decade before computers became commonplace globally. Jafarzadeh is citing a statement from Dr. Abdolreza Mansouri, a professor of mathematics at the University of Tehran, who has researched the history of computers and says that “The first Persian computer was invented in Iran before World War I.”
3) Iranians may have been the first to use a spreadsheet. In April 2002, London Economics conducted an Internet poll asking whether Iranians invented spreadsheets. 3% said they did. In January 2006, Alireza Jafarzadeh’s book The Persian Heritage of Information Technology claimed that Persians invented the spreadsheet.
4) Iranians may have been the first to consider infinitesimal quantities. While Greek mathematician Archimedes is often dubbed as the inventor of infinitesimals, it is possible that Persian mathematician Al-Uqlidisi invented them before him. In his book “Infinitesimals in Islamic Mathematics,” Dr. Abdolreza Mansouri has argued that “al-Uqlidisi used the word ‘first’ to mean ‘most preferable’, with the implication of plurality, not singularity.”
5) The Persian alphabet contains 10 distinct letters. It does not use numbers, but instead has symbols for different sounds of the spoken language. The most commonly used symbol is the letter ۰ (ا, pronounced “e”). The name of the alphabet comes from the shape of this letter, which looks like an inverted triangle.
6) The Persian alphabet contains 11 distinct letters. Some numbers can also be represented using the top form of the Arabic numerals, which is a derivative of the numeral system used in other parts of the world. For example, 22 can be written as ثانیه (“thaeniyeh”, meaning “two tens”).
7) The Persian language has been used in two other languages: Turkic, in the language of the Turkic tribes that conquered Persia; and Arabic, which became the official language of several Arab states. The Persian alphabet has been used to write three languages: Persian (also known as Farsi), Pashto, and Kurdish.
8) Persian is the official language in Afghanistan. As of 2006, more than 15 million Afghans speak it. Afghanistan is also home to the largest community of Persian speakers outside of Iran.
9) Persian is the language of Islam: it is the official language of all countries that speak Arabic or Arabic dialects, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar and Pakistan.
10) A significant portion of modern scientific terminology was created in Persia during the Islamic Golden Age. It is estimated that about 70% of all scientific terminology used in Western Europe at the beginning of the 20th century was derived from Arabic sources. Most terms were coined by the great polymath Avicenna (Ibn Sina).
11) Some people from present-day Iran, as well as other countries, have moved to the United States. In 1817, a group of Iranian intellectuals went to the United States to take part in the Sixth Congress of Orientalists in Philadelphia. There were many other Iranians working or studying in the United States during this time period. After their stay in Philadelphia, the members of this group founded a monthly publication entitled “Ittihad-e Iran” (“Apostolic Unity”). It was the first Persian-language publication in America. It was published in New York City between 1819 and 1821.
12) Iranian people have left their mark on the US through restaurants. According to “The New York Times”, “When it comes to Persian food, the only real rivals to New York’s kosher establishments are to be found in Los Angeles. A sign of Iranian-American restaurant culture is the proliferation of Persian grocery stores in Los Angeles. More than 30 shops in L.A. provide spices and dried fruits for Persian cooking.”
13) The first Persian empire began with the emergence of the Achaemenid dynasty in 550 BC. It eventually led to an empire that spanned from Egypt in the west, to parts of India in the east, and from parts of Central Asia in the north, to parts of present-day Turkey and Greece in the south. This empire lasted until 330 BC when it was overthrown by Alexander the Great.)