The Yale Babylonian Collection YBC 7289 clay tablet was created between 1800 BC and 1600 BC, showing √2 and √2/2 = 1/√2 as 1;24,51,10 and 0;42,25,35 base 60 numbers on a square crossed by two diagonals. (1;24,51,10) base 60 corresponds to 1.41421296 which is a correct value to 5 decimal points (1.41421356...).
The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus is a copy from 1650 BC of an earlier Berlin Papyrus and other texts – possibly the Kahun Papyrus – that shows how the Egyptians extracted square roots by an inverse proportion method.
In Ancient India, the knowledge of theoretical and applied aspects of square and square root was at least as old as the Sulba Sutras, dated around 800–500 BC (possibly much earlier). A method for finding very good approximations to the square roots of 2 and 3 are given in the Baudhayana Sulba Sutra. Aryabhata in the Aryabhatiya (section 2.4), has given a method for finding the square root of numbers having many digits.
It was known to the ancient Greeks that square roots of positive whole numbers that are not perfect squares are always irrational numbers: numbers not expressible as a ratio of two integers (that is to say they cannot be written exactly as m/n, where m and n are integers). This is the theorem Euclid X, 9 almost certainly due to Theaetetus dating back to circa 380 BC.
The particular case 2 is assumed to date back earlier to the Pythagoreans and is traditionally attributed to Hippasus. It is exactly the length of the diagonal of a square with side length 1.
In the Chinese mathematical work Writings on Reckoning, written between 202 BC and 186 BC during the early Han Dynasty, the square root is approximated by using an "excess and deficiency" method, which says to "...combine the excess and deficiency as the divisor; (taking) the deficiency numerator multiplied by the excess denominator and the excess numerator times the deficiency denominator, combine them as the dividend."
A symbol for square roots, written as an elaborate R, was invented by Regiomontanus (1436–1476). An R was also used for Radix to indicate square roots in Gerolamo Cardano's Ars Magna.
According to historian of mathematics D.E. Smith, Aryabhata's method for finding the square root was first introduced in Europe by Cataneo in 1546.
According to Jeffrey A. Oaks, Arabs used the letter jīm/ĝīm (ج), the first letter of the word “جذر” (variously transliterated as jaḏr, jiḏr, ǧaḏr or ǧiḏr, “root”), placed in its initial form (ﺟ) over a number to indicate its square root. The letter jīm resembles the present square root shape. Its usage goes as far as the end of the twelfth century in the works of the Moroccan mathematician Ibn al-Yasamin.
The symbol '√' for the square root was first used in print in 1525 in Christoph Rudolff's Coss.