Mercantile Arithmetic in Renaissance Italy: A Translation and Study of a Vernacular Abbaco Work

Alessandra Petrocchi


This essay is a study of a Renaissance Italian manuscript which has been published under the title of Arte giamata Aresmetica (“The Art called Arithmetic”). This represents a type of mathematical texts called Libri d’abbaco or “abbacus books”, which were produced in large numbers during the period of the Italian Renaissance (13th -16th centuries CE). This paper provides the first translation into English of selected passages and an analysis of the algorithms found in this work. The style of presentation, the vocabulary used, and the mathematical procedures explained in Arte giamata Aresmetica manifest some features that deserve scholarly attention. Though the majority of the mathematical rules mentioned are fairly standard treatments of these subjects not unlike to those found in many other manuscripts written during this period, the uniqueness of this text lies instead in the author’s expository technique, in the sample problems presented, and in its distinctive dialectical terms. Aresmetica is a valuable source for the history of Renaissance business and culture as it gives us the feeling of how merchants operated, the mathematical ability and the mind-set they had to develop, and it provides interesting economic information of that time (prices, products, and various measuring units).


Renaissance, Italy, Arithmetic, Merchants, Business

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