Ah, those magic numbers. Without them, how could we do our taxes? As a matter of fact, can you imagine doing taxes with Roman Numerals? When the Romans developed their numerical system, it had the benefit of using only seven symbols to express all numbers from 1 to 1 million, but had the drawback of not allowing for quick written calculations. With all the combinations possible for those seven symbols, though, there is not one that represents zero.
Zero is the only number that is neither positive nor negative, and represents the boundaries between the two. That makes it the perfect starting point on many scales, such as thermometers, weight scales, and coordinate axes, to name a few. It also has become the ending point in things such as countdowns for a space launch.
A symbol for zero was long in coming, as many ancient societies had developed symbols for the other numbers long before inventing one for zero. When zero was introduced, it was not used for computation, initially, but as a position marker to allow the use of much larger numbers without having to develop additional symbols (such as 15, 105, 1050, etc.)
The very first use of a symbol for zero actually came in two different places around the same time. The Mesopotamians developed a symbol around the time of Alexander the Great's invasion. Also around this time period, a dot was introduced into the numerical system in India and called sunya, meaning void or empty.
It wasn't until the 7th Century (more than 100 years after Dionysius) that scholars attempted to make zero a bonafide number by explaining how it could be divided by itself. It wasn't until much later, during the 1400-1500's, that zero and a decimal system began to be routinely taught in Europe.
Just what does this have to do with the millennium?
It is the reason why we have no year zero. As we said, Dionysius did not have the benefit of dubbing Christ's birth year as zero, since the numeral had not been invented yet. Even when the AD system was popularized by a monk named Venerable Bede in the 8th Century, who also created and used the BC system, zero was not used as a starting point for counting things. Even after the BC system came into popular use, during the Renaissance, people would never have thought of dubbing any year strictly as Year Zero.
Even when our current calendar was developed, and all the way up to today, we don't always use zero as the starting point in our counting, since it is used to represent naught, or nothing. January is the first month of the year. Each month starts with one, and not zero. We use numbers in this sense to represent a product, in this case, a set amount of time (days, months, years) that has, is, and will pass. It is assigning something tangible to things that are intangible. A child's first year of life is still referred to as "Year 1" of that child's exsistence, even though the child is not yet a full year old.
The simplist example of why counting systems, when used in this manner, cannot start with zero is our monetary system. Gather together 10 one dollar bills, and start counting. We start with one, otherwise we will only get to nine if we start with zero. Which is why we don't start with zero -- the bill that zero would represent does not exist. Since it does not exist, we have no need to include it in our calculation. So, we start with 1. For the most part, zero is the only number that is not used regularly in our methods of counting, and still is used primarily as a means to have an infinity of number calculations, without having an overwhelming amount of symbols to represent those numbers.
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