# Why the hour’s dividers are called minutes and minute’s dividers are called seconds?

**Perhaps some reader has ever asked about so seemingly irrelevant question as the origin of the names "minute" and "second", the time’s dividers, but any knowledge is valuable.**

*History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine "Firsts" in Recorded History* (1956) is the title of a famous work of *Noah Krame*r published in the fifties of the last century. The *Sumerians *were pioneered on writing, astronomy, mathematics, etc.. Egyptians learned a lot from them and from both (Sumerians and their descendants in the area, Babylonians, Persians, etc.., and Egyptians) learned Greeks and other Mediterranean peoples.

In Sumer there is any indication of a numeral system with five as the base, *quinary*, undoubtedly related to the five fingers. They also used a *dozenal *(*duodecimal*) system with base twelve, base-12; (they had it pointing with the thumb three phalanges in each of the remaining four fingers); it is related to the twelve moons of the year ... They used also a *decimal *system, *denary *),base-10, associated with the ten hand’s fingers.

Interestingly also they used a *sexagesimal *system, (base 60) but we do not know exactly its origin. It is thought that this system facilitated the equivalence between the *decimal *and *dozenal *(duodecimal), since the divisors of 60 are 1, 2, 3, 4,5, 6, 10, 12, 20, 30, 60.

Well, from the *dozenal *(duodecimal) and *sexagesimal *systems, from the Sumerians approaches and Egyptian and Greek , it was established the division of time in *hours*, these in *minutes*, and these in *seconds*. And this is the system that we employed.

The same system is applied to the division of space.

So the current measures of the *angles *in *degrees *and *minutes*, this one of the *clock *face or timing measure, and this one of the *earth *orb globe with *latitude *and *longitude *coordinates, have their origin in the numeral system invented by the *Sumerians *and *Babylonians *4,000 years ago.

*Eratosthenes*, Greek mathematician and astronomer (c. 276-194 BC) used the *sexagesimal *system to divide the circle into 60 parts or degrees (the Latin word *gradus *means *step*) and created the horizontal parallel lines from east to west to indicate the *latitude*.

A century later *Hipparchus *created a system of vertical lines going from north to south, dividing the sphere into 360 degrees.

At mid-second century A.D. *Ptolemy *developed the work of *Hipparchus *and divided the 360 degrees each one into 60 smaller parties in his work “*Almagest*”. These fractions are called "*partes minutae primae*", ie, *"first small parts*." Again he fractionated these first parts into other smaller 60, and he called these "*partes minutae secundae* ", ie "*second small parts*."

The first fraction, the "*partes minutae primae*" ended up being called "*minutae*", "*small*", from where we derive our word "*minute*".

The second fraction, "*partes minutae secundae*", "*second small parts*", ended up being called "*secundae*", and from this were derive the word "*second*".

*Note*: *Ptolemy *wrote his work in Greek and it is named Μαθηματικὴ Σύνταξις (*Mathematike Syntax*), *Mathematical Composition*. In Latin it was known as *Syntaxis mathematica*. It was then called 'Ἡ Μεγάλε Σύνταξις' *He Megale Syntaxis, Great syntax, the Great Treatise*.

The superlative of Greek adjective μεγάλε, *megale, great, big*, is μεγίστη, μέγιστος, *megiste, megistos,* (*the greatest, the largest*). The word *Almagest *is the Arabized form, with presenter or article "*al*-", of the Greek superlative μεγίστη: *al-Majisti* (المجسطي). *Gerard of Cremona* translated this book from Arabic into Latin in the famous school of *Toledo *in 1175, which won a great importance in European scientific world.

Moreover, the division of hours into sixty minutes and minutes into sixty seconds only became widespread in use much later, when the man was able to build mechanical clocks to mark that duration, ie, from the sixteenth century , XVII ...

It is still an interesting curiosity how in the necessary division of the seconds we do not longer use the *sexagesimal *system but the *decimal *: we talk with *tenths *and *hundredths *and *thousandths *of a second

Serve this current coexistence of numbering systems as evidence of possible coexistence also of the *dozenal *(*duodecimal*) system, the *decimal *and *sexagesimal *in ancient *Sumer*.

I'll talk another time about the division of time in hours by *Greeks *and *Romans *. It is enough now to know that in Greek mythology, Ὣραι (*Horai*) were originally goddesses who marked the passing of the *seasons *and they have evolved to be twelve, each one for the twelve divisions of the day.

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