What is the origin of the fact that a circle has 360 degrees? Why not 720 or 270?

Asked by: R. Nair

Answer

It was during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 BC) in the Chaldean dynasty in Babylon that the circle was divided into 360 degrees. This was because the Chaldeans had calculated by observation and inference that a complete year numbered 360 days. The basis of angular measure for the mathematicians of Babylon was the angle at each of the corners of an equilateral triangle. They did not have decimal fractions and thus found it difficult to deal with remainders when doing division. So they agreed to divide the corner of an equilateral triangle into 60 degrees, because 60 could be divided by 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 without remainder. Each degree was divided into 60 minutes and each minute into 60 seconds. If the angles at the corners of six equilateral triangles are placed together they form the angle formed by a complete circle. It is for this reason that there are six times 60 degrees of arc in the complete circle.

'The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry.'