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Abacus – Definition, Types, and Uses

Abacus – Definition, Types, and Uses


An abacus is a calculation instrument that slides counters along the rods to perform mathematical functions. In addition to calculating the fundamental operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication & division, it can also calculate roots up to the cubic degree. It was the world’s first calculator, and its initial uses were in Europe, China, and Russia.

Knowing Abacus:

One cannot foresee counting without numbers. Still, there was a time when numbers did not exist on paper. Earlier counting devices were the human hands and fingers that count to only ten. Nevertheless, to count, more than ten people took their toes in their hands.

Supposedly, earlier, natural items like pebbles, seashells, and twigs came in handy for counting things. Traders who used to trade goods required a way to keep count of the goods they bought & sold. Before the development of Computers, calculators, or even arithmetic using paper & pencil, this instrument was everything for counting numbers.

  • A=Abundant
  • B=Beads
  • A=Addition
  • C=Calculation
  • U=Utility
  • S=System

Types of Abacus:

  1. The Roman Abacus: Ancient Romans used stones as counters up & down on a smooth table to do calculations, and a metal plate produces such an Abacus. Such development was to help bankers, money changers, business people, and engineers. Furthermore, Romans invented other types of this instrument, such as the dust & the line and the grooved Abacus.
  2. Japanese Soroban: Stemming inspiration from Chinese Suanpan, Soroban emerged in the 14th century. Wood is the main element of the Japanese Soroban beads, and the rods are made from bamboo to slide up and down. However, electronic calculators have replaced this instrument in counting numbers.
  3. Russian: The main difference observed between the Chinese & the Russian Abacus is the position of its rods. The placement of the rods is horizontal. However, the Russian beads must slide from the right to the left.

A usual Russian Abacus would measure 28 cm wide and 46 cm in height. Generally, the Abacus is placed on the desk so that the course of the right hand should coincide with the wire of the Abacus.

  1. A binary Abacus is a simple mechanical device to signify and perform binary arithmetic operations. It consists of rods or wires with back & forth movable beads. Each rod represents a binary value (1, 2, 4, 8, etc.), and beads are to represent 0 or 1.

Users can add, subtract, or perform other binary calculations by sliding the beads. Binary abacuses are educational tools for understanding binary math & computer programming concepts. They offer a hands-on way to learn binary principles.


Therefore, Abacus is an ancient calculating tool that is still in existence. It is a modest yet effective device that can execute basic arithmetic operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Learning to use such an instrument can provide some benefits, including:

  • Improved concentration and focus
  • Enhanced memory and visualization skills
  • Increased speed and accuracy in mathematical calculations
  • Boosted creativity and problem-solving abilities
  • Greater self-confidence and motivation

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