Roman numerals were invented as there was a need for a system to easily price different goods and services. Roman numbers were widely used throughout the Roman Empire in everyday life. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, numerals continued to be used throughout Europe up until the 1600ís.
Roman numbers are created by combining two or more numerals, these numerals are written from left to right in order of the largest number. E.g. the number one is illustrated by the numeral 'I', and number two is represented by the numeral 'II'. The number 10 is represented by the numeral 'X' and the number 12 by 'XII'. Use the Roman numeral converter below to get a better understanding of the Roman number system.
Roman Numerals Chart
Roman Numeral Converter
In order to avoid four of the same symbols recurring in succession some numerals are subtracted in order to make numbers. An example of this is the number 4; it's illustrated by the numeral IV. The following rules can be applied for creating numbers which would otherwise be represented by four identical numerals.
I can be positioned before V (5) and X (10) to make the numbers 4 and 9.
X can be positioned before L (50) and C (100) to make the numbers 40 and 90.
C can be positioned before D (500) and M (1000) to make the numbers 400 and 900.
The number 1904 is a great example of this. In Roman numerals 1904 reads as MCMIV. To make this number we should treat each unit separately; therefore, M = 1,000, CM = 900, IV = 4. Use the Roman numeral converter above to find more examples.
During the middle ages a system for illustrating larger Roman numbers was established. A horizontal line above a numeral represents one thousand times the worth of that number. Lines each side of a numeral illustrate one hundred times the worth of that number. Use the Roman numeral converter above to write some large Roman numbers.
The Roman number system had little use for fractions except for on coins, the most common fractions being twelfths and halves. A single dot '•' would signal a twelfth or in Latin an 'uncia'. A half would be represented by the Latin letter S, which was short for 'semis'.
Interestingly, there is no numeral for the zero. The reason for this is that Roman numbers were developed as a means of trading and bartering, alternatively the Latin word 'nulla' represents the value of zero.
Roman Numerals History & Origin
Roman numbers did exist in a form prior to the Roman civilisation. The Etruscans, who lived in central Italy prior to the Romans, developed their own system with different symbols to represent numbers.
In the 11th century AD Arabic numerals were introduced into Europe, this was a result of Arab traders visiting major cities of Europe often. Despite this Roman numerals were still widely used throughout Western Europe for a long period of time. Roman numbers were persistently used up until the 1600's, following this period Arabic numbers were the preferred counting system in society.
A common suggested theory for the source of the Roman number system is that the numerals actually relate to hand signals. The numbers one, two, three and four relate to the number of fingers on a hand. The number 5 (V) symbolises a hand with the thumb and fingers separated. Number 6, 7, 8 and 9 are signalled with two hands. This is done by showing one hand as five and the second illustrating the number 1, 2, 3 or 4. For this we assume that the number four is represented by four dashes rather than IV. The number 10 is shown by crossing either the thumbs or hands, signalling the numeral X.
Another common theory of the origin of Roman numerals is that they originate from the notches which would have been etched onto tally sticks. Tally sticks had been used for many centuries previous to numerals and were used up until the 19th century by shepherds across Europe.
Each unit is represented by a single mark across the tally stick. The number five is illustrated by a double notch that takes the form of an upside down 'V', the number ten is written as 'X'. Tally stick's use the same principle as numerals when making up the rest of the numbers in between 1, 5 and 10. For example; seven on a tally stick would look like: IIIIVII, when shortened it would look like VII, this is identical to how Roman numerals are shown. Just like the above example the number seventeen, in long form, would look like IIIIVIIIIXIIIIVII, this in short form would look like XVII, which is also identical to the numeral system.
The Roman numeral four when written on a tally stick would like this: IIIIV. When the tally was re-written at a later date four could be written as either IIII or IV. For every tenth V it would be written with an extra notch to illustrate the number 50. When the Roman number system was developed fully it adapted the number 50 to be represented by the letter 'L'. Similarly, the number 100 was illustrated by a wide array of symbols, most commonly, represented by the numeral 'I' on top of an 'X'. As the system was developed the number 50 was represented by the Roman letter 'C', this is because C was short for 'centum' which is the Latin word is for one-hundred.
The numbers 500 and 1000 were represented by a V and X in a circle. As the Roman Empire grew these symbols were replaced with a 'D' (500) and 'M' (1000). The Latin letter M was short for 'mile', which is translated as one-thousand.
Modern Use of Roman Numerals
Despite Arabic numbers being used predominantly in today's world, numerals can be commonly found in different places. For example;
Numerals are often used to distinguish between monarchs and Roman emperors. For example; Henry VII and Henry VIII.
Numerals are often found on clocks and other timepieces.
Numerals can be found on buildings to illustrate the year of construction.
Numerals are also used in the Olympic Games. The Olympic Games in Brazil will be the 31st Olympics, use the Roman numeral converter above to work out the Roman numeral.