The alphabet was born something like 3300 years ago when men went from writing signs that symbolized predefined things or concepts to writing signs that merely represented sounds: by breaking words into smaller components, each of them can be written in an infinite combination of variants, limiting the representation of sounds to 20/30 signs just against the thousands of graphic representations characteristic of pictographic and ideographic writings.

But despite the undoubted practicality of the alphabetic system, the use of symbols allows for an economy of concept that goes beyond the linguistic barrier, which is why their use remains constant through the millennia, side by side with the letters of the alphabet, for represent the most diverse concepts: from weights to measures, to road rules, to mathematical, physical and chemical concepts up to the colorful emoticons of our daily chats.

If numbers as words have the same value as the letters of the alphabet, numbers as figures are an excellent example of this essential need for the use of symbols in everyday life both because they arise from the need for abstraction of the concept of quantity and because the symbol that represents them, in addition to expressing their value, must also lend itself to abstract calculation operations.

However, even if man has been counting since the dawn of time, the solution to this need for practicality in calculation asked of numerical symbols was found only 1500 years after the invention of the alphabet and then it took almost 500 more years for the numerical system simpler and more intuitive - the decimal numbering system, called Arabic numeration, took over in the Western world, without however completely supplanting the previous numerical systems: the Roman numbering system for example, an additive/subtractive system whereby each symbol literal is associated with a value and the number represented is given by the sum or difference of the values of each symbol that composes it, it has survived over the centuries until today to write dates in engravings and communications of a classic or particular nature.

Indian mathematicians were the first to give a meaning and a mathematical use to the symbol that we know as "zero" which was originally nothing more than a graphic symbol to indicate an "empty" space, in other words a simple "place marker".

This symbol, first used by the Babylonians who represented it as two overturned wedges and then by the Greeks, owes its graphic form to the latter who, in calling it oÃ¹Î´ÎÎ½ (nothingness), represented it with the letter omicron, o.

It seems that around the eighth century BC, when Baghdad became the residence of the Caliph of the time, the opportunity arose for Arab scholars to come into contact with the wealth of Indian astronomical and mathematical knowledge, given that Mesopotamia and India at the time they were in close contact.

But if it is certain that it was Arab mathematicians who developed the decimal system as we know it today, the introduction of this system in Europe was for a long time attributed to various legends, one of which attributed its diffusion to Pope Sylvester II ( 999 - 1003) almost for the sole fact that he had studied in the cities of Cordoba and Seville and used an abacus with zeros.

In fact, it took another 200 years for Europe to understand the usefulness of this system and adopt it in everyday life. The translation into Italy of Arabic mathematical texts such as "The algebra manual" by Muhammad ibn Musa Al - Khawarizmi (ninth century) by Gherardo da Cremona and the work of Leonardo Fibonacci da Pisa with his Liber Abaci of 1203.

But numbers were not easy to introduce in the West, not even from a strictly graphic point of view: in Europe their spread in fact gave rise to the problem of how to align them with the Roman and Gothic characters.

The greatest difficulty was to transpose their oriental "movement" into the geometric construction of Roman letters which involve the letter divided into two ascenders, a central body and two descenders.

If the problem was initially relative, since the texts were written entirely by hand, this became evident with the introduction of printing in 1500.

It is at this moment that the shape of the Arabic numerals is "crystallized" into a very specific form which will take the name in the Anglo-Saxon world of "old style" or "Text" numerals while in Italian they are called small capital or __Elzevirian numbers.____ ____Their__ characteristic, in addition to perfect legibility in every body, is their misalignment, rendered in English with the concept of "non lining numerals": they are numbers with ascending and descending strokes perfectly compatible with the lowercase alphabet.

The use of these numbers decreased during the 20th century for economic and practical reasons: it was preferable to be able to print with a single type of typographical character compatible with the massive use of titlings, therefore one that adapts mainly to capital letters. This is how the so-called "lining numerals" were born, numbers perfectly aligned with the text, which have now become the standard provided font set even though it presents some evident readability disadvantages, which is why even today scientific publications and prestigious editions prefer the use of small capitals.

An interesting curiosity is the case of Dattilo, an Egyptian typeface produced by the Nebiolo company of Turin in the early 1970s as a result, together with its sans serif twin Forma, of an unprecedented study on the subject of readability and application in the field of advertising and editorial context.

To offer an innovative solution to the known problem of readability of uppercase numbering in a body of text, Dattilo is proposed with an optional "lower case numbering" composed of uppercase numbers of proportions suitable for use in the body of text.

This feature of Dattilo has been maintained in its Reber R41 digital transformation and is currently available as an Open Type option. .

After an initial "disappearance" in the phototypesetting system, small capital numbers are now in a phase of rediscovery and increasingly included in new digitizations of characters.

What about page numbers? As Ezio d'Errico tells us in his beautiful "Mistero dei Caratteri", contrary to what one might think, the numbering of the pages is not contemporary with the invention of printing but seems to make its appearance for the first time around 1470 in a pamphlet in-quarto by Arnoldo Teodoro Hoernen of Cologne; it is therefore the Parisian proto-typographer Gering who used them seven years later, placing them at the head, while after him Ugo di Ruggero in Bologna, Andrea Torresani in Venice and Tommaso Anselmo in Haguenau indicated them at the bottom right, where they are still commonly indicated today .

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