In order to make the number 16 we must take the numerals for 10 (X), 5 (V) and 1 (I), thus making XVI.
Roman Numerals and Roman Numbers
An Introduction to Roman NumeralsRoman numbers are created by combining two or more numerals, these numerals are written from left to right usually in descending order. For example; in order to make the Roman numeral 12 we must take both the numerals for 10 (X) and 2 (II), which when combined make XII. Use the Roman numeral converter above to get a better understanding of the Roman number system.
The Rules
Rule 1 - SubtractionThe Romans didn't want four of the same symbols to recur in succession. In order to prevent this subtraction is used. For example; the number four is made by putting an 'I' in front of a 'V', this simply means 5-1. Here are some rules for bigger numbers.
The number 1904 is a great example of the above rules. The number 1904 is represented by the numerals MCMIV. If we break it down then; M = 1,000, CM = 900 and IV = 4. Use the Roman numeral converter above to find more examples of these rules!
Rule 2 - Large NumbersAs the system of Roman numbers developed there was a need for numerals to represent larger numbers. As a result, it was decided that a horizontal line on top of a numeral would represent one thousand times the value of that numeral. For example; 10,000 was represented by an X with a line across the top of it (10 x 1000 = 10,000). Use the Roman numeral converter above to write some larger Roman numbers.
Rule 3 - FractionsFractions were often used in currency. The most common fractions used were twelfths and halves. A twelfth is represented by a single dot '•', which is known as an 'uncia'. A half is represented by the Latin letter 'S', which is short for semis.
Rule 4 - ZeroThis isn't really a rule, but interestingly, there is no numeral to represent zero. This is because the system of Roman numbers was developed as a means of trading and there was no need for a numeral to represent zero. Instead they would have used the Latin word 'nulla' which means zero.
Origin of Roman NumeralsThere were a number of counting systems in the ancient world prior to the creation of Roman numbers. For example, the Etruscans, who lived in central Italy before the Romans, developed their own numeral system with different symbols.
Theory 1A common suggested theory for the origin of the Roman number system is that the numerals represent hand signals. The numbers; one, two, three and four are signalled by the equivalent amount of fingers. The number five is represented by the thumb and fingers separated, making a 'V' shape. The numbers; six, seven, eight and nine are represented by one hand signalling a five and the other representing the number 1 through to 4. The number ten is represented by either crossing the thumbs or hands, signalling an 'X' shape.
Theory 2The second theory suggests that numerals originate from notches which would be etched onto tally sticks. Tally sticks had been used for hundreds of years previous to the Romans and were still used up until the 19th century by shepherds across Europe.The numbers one, two, three and four were represented by the equivalent amount of vertical lines. The number five represented by an upside down 'V'. The number was represented by an 'X'. In order to make larger numbers they would use the same rules as numerals did. For example; seven on a tally stick would look like: IIIIVII, when shortened it would look like VII, identical to Roman numbers. 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 numerals. 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. As the Roman number system was developed further 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'. The numbers 500 and 1000 were represented by a 'V' and 'X' in a circle respectively. 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 NumeralsDespite Arabic numbers being used predominantly in today's world, numerals can be commonly found in different places. For example;
Other Number and Counting SystemsPrior to the Romans there were many civilisations who had invented and used their own counting and number systems. We are going to take a quick look at Egyptian, Babylonian and Arabic number mechanisms.
Egyptian numbers: 3000-1600BCOne of the oldest number systems we have comes from ancient Egypt, with the earliest record being recovered from 3000BC, over 5000 years ago. The Egyptian counting system was very comprehensive compared to others, they even had a symbol to represent infinity!In this system the number 1 was represented by a straight line, just like the Roman numeral. The number 10 is represented by a semi-coiled length of rope and 100 being represented by a coiled rope. As the numbers get larger they are represented by other symbols. The number 1,000 is illustrated using a water lily or lotus. The symbol for 10,000 is a large upward facing finger. The figure 10,000 is represented by a frog and finally 1,000,000 is represented the Egyptian god Heh. The Egyptians unlike the Romans didn't use the subtraction rule, instead they would just use the symbols for 1, 10, 100, 1,000 and so on. For example; the number 3 is illustrated by 'III', similarly the number 9 is represented by 'IIIIIIIII'.
Babylonian numbers: 1750BCThe Babylonian number system was one of the more complicated arithmetic systems. The Babylonian civilisation adopted the system from another much older civilisation, the Sumerians. Similar to Roman numerals there is no figure to represent zero. Another major flaw in this system is that the symbol for both one and sixty are the same!Similar to the Egyptian numeral system 1 to 9 would be represented by the equivalent amount of single units. For example; the number 3 is written as . This is the same for multiples of 10 and thus the number 20 is written as . Using these examples we can make the number 23, which is written as . Similar to Roman numerals there is no figure to represent zero. As we use one to ten as our base, the Babylonians would use one to sixty, furthermore the symbols for one and sixty were the same!
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