Roman numerals

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Roman numerals on stern of the ship Template:Ship showing draught in feet. The numbers range from 13 to 22, from bottom to top.

Template:Numeral systems

Roman numerals are a numeral system that originated in ancient Rome and remained the usual way of writing numbers throughout Europe well into the Late Middle Ages. Numbers in this system are represented by combinations of letters from the Latin alphabet. Modern usage employs seven symbols, each with a fixed integer value:[1]

Symbol Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn
Value 1 5 10 50 100 500 1000

The use of Roman numerals continued long after the decline of the Roman Empire. From the 14th century on, Roman numerals began to be replaced by Arabic numerals; however, this process was gradual, and the use of Roman numerals persists in some applications to this day.

One place they are often seen is on clock faces. For instance, on the clock of Big Ben (designed in 1852), the hours from 1 to 12 are written as:

Template:Block indent

The notations Template:Rn and Template:Rn can be read as "one less than five" (4) and "one less than ten" (9), although there is a tradition favouring representation of "4" as "Template:Rn" on Roman numeral clocks.[2]

Other common uses include year numbers on monuments and buildings and copyright dates on the title screens of movies and television programs. Template:Rn, signifying "a thousand, and a hundred less than another thousand", means 1900, so 1912 is written Template:Rn. For the years of this century, Template:Rn indicates 2000. The current year is Template:Rn (2022).


Roman numerals are essentially a decimal or "base ten" number system, but instead of place value notation (in which place-keeping zeros enable a digit to represent different powers of ten) the system uses a set of symbols with fixed values, including "built in" powers of ten. Tally-like combinations of these fixed symbols correspond to the (placed) digits of Arabic numerals. This structure allows for significant flexibility in notation, and many variant forms are attested.

In fact, there has never been an officially binding, or universally accepted standard for Roman numerals. Usage in ancient Rome varied greatly and became thoroughly chaotic in medieval times. Even the post-renaissance restoration of a largely "classical" notation has failed to produce total consistency: variant forms are even defended by some modern writers as offering improved "flexibility".[3] On the other hand, especially where a Roman numeral is considered a legally binding expression of a number, as in U.S. Copyright law (where an "incorrect" or ambiguous numeral may invalidate a copyright claim, or affect the termination date of the copyright period)[4] it is desirable to strictly follow the usual style described below.

Standard form

The following table displays how Roman Numerals are usually written:[5]

Individual decimal places
Thousands Hundreds Tens Units
1 Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn
2 Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn
3 Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn
4 Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn
5 Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn
6 Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn
7 Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn
8 Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn
9 Template:Rn Template:Rn Template:Rn

The numerals for 4 (Template:Rn) and 9 (Template:Rn) are written using "subtractive notation",[6] where the first symbol (Template:Rn) is subtracted from the larger one (Template:Rn, or Template:Rn), thus avoiding the clumsier (Template:Rn, and Template:Rn).[lower-alpha 1] Subtractive notation is also used for 40 (Template:Rn) and 90 (Template:Rn), as well as 400 (Template:Rn) and 900 (Template:Rn).[7] These are the only subtractive forms in standard use.

A number containing several decimal digits is built by appending the Roman numeral equivalent for each, from highest to lowest, as in the following examples:

Any missing place (represented by a zero in the place-value equivalent) is omitted, as in Latin (and English) speech:

Roman numerals for large numbers are seen in the form of year numbers, as in these examples:

The largest number that can be represented in this notation is 3,999 (Template:Rn), but since the largest Roman numeral likely to be required today is Template:Rn (the current year) there is no practical need for larger Roman numerals. Prior to the introduction of Arabic numerals in the West, ancient and medieval users of the system used various means to write larger numbers; see Large numbers below.

Variant forms

Forms exist that vary in one way or another from the general standard represented above.

Use of additive notation

A typical clock face with Roman numerals in Bad Salzdetfurth, Germany

While subtractive notation for 4, 40 and 400 (Template:Rn, Template:Rn and Template:Rn) has been the usual form since Roman times, additive notation (Template:Rn, Template:Rn and Template:Rn)[10] continued to be used, including in compound numbers like Template:Rn,[11] Template:Rn,[12] and Template:Rn.[13] The additive forms for 9, 90, and 900 (Template:Rn,[10] Template:Rn,[14] and Template:Rn[15]) have also been used, although less frequently.

The two conventions could be mixed in the same document or inscription, even in the same numeral. On the numbered gates to the Colosseum, for instance, Template:Rn is systematically used instead of Template:Rn, but subtractive notation is used for other digits; so that gate 44 is labelled Template:Rn.[16]

Modern clock faces that use Roman numerals still very often employ Template:Rn for four o'clock but Template:Rn for nine o'clock, a practice that goes back to very early clocks such as the Wells Cathedral clock of the late 14th century.[17][18][19] However, this is far from universal: for example, the clock on the Palace of Westminster tower, Big Ben, uses a subtractive Template:Rn for 4 o'clock.[18]

Isaac Asimov once mentioned an "interesting theory" that Romans avoided using Template:Rn because it was the initial letters of Template:Lang, the Latin spelling of Jupiter, and might have seemed impious.[20] He did not say whose theory it was.

The year number on Admiralty Arch, London. The year 1910 is rendered as Template:Rn, rather than the more usual Template:Rn

Several monumental inscriptions created in the early 20th century use variant forms for "1900" (usually written Template:Rn). These vary from Template:Rn for 1910 as seen on Admiralty Arch, London, to the more unusual, if not unique Template:Rn for 1903, on the north entrance to the Saint Louis Art Museum.[21]

Especially on tombstones and other funerary inscriptions 5 and 50 have been occasionally written Template:Rn and Template:Rn instead of Template:Rn and Template:Rn, and there are instances such as Template:Rn and Template:Rn rather than Template:Rn or Template:Rn.[22][23]

Irregular subtractive notation

There is a common belief that any smaller digit placed to the left of a larger digit is subtracted from the total, and that by clever choices a long Roman numeral can be "compressed". The best known example of this is the Template:Code function in Microsoft Excel, which can turn 499 into Template:Rn, Template:Rn, Template:Rn, Template:Rn, or Template:Rn depending on the "Template:Tt" setting.[24] There is no indication this is anything other than an invention by the programmer, and the universal-subtraction belief may be a result of modern users trying to rationalize the syntax of Roman numerals.

Epitaph of centurion Marcus Caelius, showing "Template:Rn"

There is however some historic use of subtractive notation other than that described in the above "standard": in particular Template:Rn for 17,[25] Template:Rn for 18,[26] Template:Rn for 97,[27] Template:Rn for 98,[28][29] and Template:Rn for 99.[30] A possible explanation is that the word for 18 in Latin is Template:Lang, literally "two from twenty", 98 is Template:Lang (two from hundred), and 99 is Template:Lang (one from hundred).[31] However, the explanation does not seem to apply to Template:Rn and Template:Rn, since the Latin words for 17 and 97 were Template:Lang (seven ten) and Template:Lang (ninety seven), respectively.

There are multiple examples of Template:Rn being used for 8. There does not seem to be a linguistic explanation for this use, although it is one stroke shorter than Template:Rn. Template:Rn was used by officers of the XVIII Roman Legion to write their number.[32][33] The notation appears prominently on the cenotaph of their senior centurion Marcus Caelius (Template:Circa – AD 9). On the publicly displayed official Roman calendars known as Fasti, Template:Rn is used for the 18 days to the next Kalends, and Template:Rn for the 28 days in February. The latter can be seen on the sole extant pre-Julian calendar, the Fasti Antiates Maiores.[34]

Rare variants

While irregular subtractive and additive notation has been used at least occasionally throughout history, some Roman numerals have been observed in documents and inscriptions that do not fit either system. Some of these variants do not seem to have been used outside specific contexts, and may have been regarded as errors even by contemporaries.

Padlock used on the north gate of the Irish town of Athlone. "1613" in the date is rendered Template:Rn, (literally "16, 13") instead of Template:Rn
  • Template:Rn was how people associated with the XXII Roman Legion used to write their number. The practice may have been due to a common way to say "twenty-second" in Latin, namely duo et vice(n)sima (literally "two and twentieth") rather than the "regular" vice(n)sima secunda (twenty second).[35] Apparently, at least one ancient stonecutter mistakenly thought that the Template:Rn of "22nd Legion" stood for 18, and "corrected" it to Template:Rn.[35]
Excerpt from Bibliothèque nationale de France.[36] The Roman numeral for 500 is rendered as Template:Rn, instead of Template:Rn
  • There are some examples of year numbers after 1000 written as two Roman numerals 1–99, e.g. 1613 as Template:Rn, corresponding to the common reading "sixteen thirteen" of such year numbers in English, or 1519 as Template:Rn as in French quinze-cent-dix-neuf (fifteen-hundred and nineteen), and similar readings in other languages.[37]
  • In some French texts from the 15th century and later one finds constructions like Template:Rn for 99, reflecting the French reading of that number as quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (four-score and nineteen).[37] Similarly, in some English documents one finds, for example, 77 written as "Template:Rn" (which could be read "three-score and seventeen").[38]
  • Another medieval accounting text from 1301 renders numbers like 13,573 as "Template:Rn", that is, "13×1000 + 5×100 + 3×20 + 13".[39]
  • Other numerals that do not fit the usual patterns – such as Template:Rn for 45, instead of the usual Template:Rn — may be due to scribal errors, or the writer's lack of familiarity with the system, rather than being genuine variant usage.

Non-numeric combinations

As Roman numerals are composed of ordinary alphabetic characters, there may sometimes be confusion with other uses of the same letters. For example, "XXX" and "XL" have other connotations in addition to their values as Roman numerals, while "IXL" more often than not is a gramogram of "I excel", and is in any case not an unambiguous Roman numeral.


"Place-keeping" zeros are alien to the system of Roman numerals - however the actual number zero (what remains after 1 is subtracted from 1) was also missing from the classical Roman numeral system. The word Template:Wikt-lang (the Latin word meaning "none") was used to represent 0, although the earliest attested instances are medieval. For instance Dionysius Exiguus used Template:Lang alongside Roman numerals in a manuscript from A.D.525.[40][41] About 725, Bede or one of his colleagues used the letter Template:Rn, the initial of Template:Lang or of Template:Wikt-lang (the Latin word for "nothing") for 0, in a table of epacts, all written in Roman numerals.[42]

The use of Template:Rn to indicate "none" long survived in the historic apothecaries' system of measurement: used well into the 20th century to designate quantities in pharmaceutical prescriptions.[43]


A Template:Lang coin (Template:Frac or Template:Frac of an Template:Lang). Note the four dots (····) indicating its value.
A Template:Lang coin (Template:Frac or Template:Frac of an Template:Lang). Note the Template:Rn indicating its value.

The base "Roman fraction" is Template:Rn, indicating Template:Frac. The use of Template:Rn (as in Template:Rn to indicate 7Template:Frac) is attested in some ancient inscriptions[44] and also in the now rare apothecaries' system (usually in the form Template:Rn):[43] but while Roman numerals for whole numbers are essentially decimal Template:Rn does not correspond to Template:Frac, as one might expect, but Template:Frac.

The Romans used a duodecimal rather than a decimal system for fractions, as the divisibility of twelve (12 = 22 × 3) makes it easier to handle the common fractions of Template:Frac and Template:Frac than does a system based on ten (10 = 2 × 5). Notation for fractions other than Template:Frac is mainly found on surviving Roman coins, many of which had values that were duodecimal fractions of the unit Template:Lang. Fractions less than Template:Frac are indicated by a dot (·) for each Template:Lang "twelfth", the source of the English words inch and ounce; dots are repeated for fractions up to five twelfths. Six twelfths (one half), is Template:Rn for Template:Lang "half". Uncia dots were added to Template:Rn for fractions from seven to eleven twelfths, just as tallies were added to Template:Rn for whole numbers from six to nine.[45] The arrangement of the dots was variable and not necessarily linear. Five dots arranged like () (as on the face of a die) are known as a quincunx, from the name of the Roman fraction/coin. The Latin words Template:Lang and Template:Lang are the source of the English words sextant and quadrant.

Each fraction from Template:Frac to Template:Frac had a name in Roman times; these corresponded to the names of the related coins:

Fraction Roman numeral Name (nominative and genitive) Meaning
Template:Frac · Template:Lang "Ounce"
Template:Frac = Template:Frac ·· or : Template:Lang "Sixth"
Template:Frac = Template:Frac ··· or Template:Lang "Quarter"
Template:Frac = Template:Frac ···· or Template:Lang "Third"
Template:Frac ····· or Template:Lang "Five-ounce" (quinque unciaequincunx)
Template:Frac = Template:Frac Template:Rn Template:Lang "Half"
Template:Frac Template:Rn· Template:Lang "Seven-ounce" (septem unciaeseptunx)
Template:Frac = Template:Frac Template:Rn·· or Template:Rn: Template:Lang "Twice" (as in "twice a third")
Template:Frac = Template:Frac Template:Rn··· or Template:Rn Template:Lang
or Template:Lang
"Less a quarter" (de-quadransdodrans)
or "ninth ounce" (nona uncianonuncium)
Template:Frac = Template:Frac Template:Rn···· or Template:Rn Template:Lang
or Template:Lang
"Less a sixth" (de-sextansdextans)
or "ten ounces" (decem unciaedecunx)
Template:Frac Template:Rn····· or Template:Rn Template:Lang "Less an ounce" (de-unciadeunx)
Template:Frac = 1 Template:Rn Template:Lang "Unit"

Other Roman fractional notations included the following:

Fraction Roman numeral Name (nominative and genitive) Meaning
Template:Frac=12−3 Template:Rn Template:Lang
Template:Frac Template:Rn Template:Lang "scruple"
Template:Frac=12−2 Template:Rn Template:Lang "half a sextula"
Template:Frac Template:Rn Template:Lang "Template:Frac of an uncia"
Template:Frac Template:Rn Template:Lang
Template:Frac Template:Rn Template:Lang "two sextulas" (Template:Lang)
Template:Frac Template:Rn or Template:Rn or Template:Rn Template:Lang "Template:Frac uncia" (semi- + uncia)
Template:Frac Template:Rn or Template:Rn or Template:Rn Template:Lang "Template:Frac uncias" (sesqui- + uncia)

Large numbers

During the centuries that Roman numerals remained the standard way of writing numbers throughout Europe, there were various extensions to the system designed to indicate larger numbers, none of which were ever standardised.


"1630" on the Westerkerk in Amsterdam. "Template:Rn" and "Template:Rn" are given archaic "apostrophus" form.

One of these was the apostrophus,[46] in which 500 was written as Template:Rn, while 1,000 was written as Template:Rn.[20] This is a system of encasing numbers to denote thousands (imagine the Template:Rns and Template:Rns as parentheses), which has its origins in Etruscan numeral usage. The Template:Rn and Template:Rn used to represent 500 and 1,000 most likely preceded, and subsequently influenced, the adoption of "Template:Rn" and "Template:Rn" in conventional Roman numerals.

Each additional set of Template:Rn and Template:Rn surrounding Template:Rn raises the value by a power of ten: Template:Rn represents 10,000 and Template:Rn represents 100,000. Similarly, each additional Template:Rn to the right of Template:Rn raises the value by a power of ten: Template:Rn represents 5,000 and Template:Rn represents 50,000. Numerals larger than Template:Rn do not occur.[47]

Page from a 16th-century manual, showing a mixture of apostrophus and vinculum numbers (see in particular the ways of writing 10,000).

Sometimes Template:Rn was reduced to Template:Rn for 1,000. John Wallis is often credited for introducing the symbol for infinity (modern ∞), and one conjecture is that he based it on this usage, since 1,000 was hyperbolically used to represent very large numbers. Similarly, Template:Rn for 5,000 was reduced to Template:Rn; Template:Rn for 10,000 to Template:Rn; Template:Rn for 50,000 to Template:Rn (); and Template:Rn () for 100,000 to Template:Rn. [48]


Another system was the vinculum, in which conventional Roman numerals were multiplied by 1,000 by adding a "bar" or "overline".[48] It was a common alternative to the apostrophic ↀ during the Imperial era: both systems were in simultaneous use around the Roman world (M for '1000' was not in use until the Medieval period).[49] [50] The use of vinculum for multiples of 1,000 can be observed, for example, on the milestones erected by Roman soldiers along the Antonine Wall in the mid-2nd century AD.[51] There is some scope for confusion when an overline is meant to denote multiples of 1,000, and when not. The Greeks and Romans often overlined letters acting as numerals to highlight them from the general body of the text, without any numerical significance. This stylistic convention was, for example, also in use in the inscriptions of the Antonine Wall,[52] and the reader is required to decipher the intended meaning of the overline from the context. The vinculum for marking 1,000s continued in use in the Middle Ages, though it became known more commonly as titulus.[53]

Some modern sources describe Vinculum as if it were a part of the current "standard".[54] However, this is purely hypothetical, since no common modern usage requires numbers larger than the current year (Template:Rn). Nonetheless, here are some examples, to give an idea of how it might be used:

Another inconsistent medieval usage was the addition of vertical lines (or brackets) before and after the numeral to multiply it by 10 (or 100): thus Template:Rn for 10,000 as an alternative form for Template:Rn. In combination with the overline the bracketed forms might be used to raise the multiplier to (say) ten (or one hundred) thousand, thus:

Use of Roman numeral "Template:Rn" (with exaggerated serifs) contrasting with the upper case letter "I".

This use of lines is distinct from the custom, once very common, of adding both underline and overline (or very large serifs) to a Roman numeral, simply to make it clear that it is a number, e.g. Roman numerals drawn with connecting lines for 1967.

Origin of the system

The system is closely associated with the ancient city-state of Rome and the Empire that it created. However, due to the scarcity of surviving examples, the origins of the system are obscure and there are several competing theories, all largely conjectural.

Etruscan numerals

{{#invoke:main|main}} Rome was founded sometime between 850 and 750 BC. At the time, the region was inhabited by diverse populations of which the Etruscans were the most advanced. The ancient Romans themselves admitted that the basis of much of their civilization was Etruscan. Rome itself was located next to the southern edge of the Etruscan domain, which covered a large part of north-central Italy.

The Roman numerals, in particular, are directly derived from the Etruscan number symbols: "𐌠", "𐌡", "𐌢", "𐌣", and "𐌟" for 1, 5, 10, 50, and 100 (They had more symbols for larger numbers, but it is unknown which symbol represents which number). As in the basic Roman system, the Etruscans wrote the symbols that added to the desired number, from higher to lower value. Thus the number 87, for example, would be written 50 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 5 + 1 + 1 = 𐌣𐌢𐌢𐌢𐌡𐌠𐌠 (this would appear as 𐌠𐌠𐌡𐌢𐌢𐌢𐌣 since Etruscan was written from right to left.)[55]

The symbols "𐌠" and "𐌡" resembled letters of the Etruscan alphabet, but "𐌢", "𐌣", and "𐌟" did not. The Etruscans used the subtractive notation, too, but not like the Romans. They wrote 17, 18, and 19 as "𐌠𐌠𐌠𐌢𐌢", "𐌠𐌠𐌢𐌢", and 𐌠𐌢𐌢, mirroring the way they spoke those numbers ("three from twenty", etc.); and similarly for 27, 28, 29, 37, 38, etc. However they did not write "𐌠𐌡" for 4 (or "𐌢𐌣" for 40), and wrote "𐌡𐌠𐌠", "𐌡𐌠𐌠𐌠" and "𐌡𐌠𐌠𐌠𐌠" for 7, 8, and 9, respectively.[55]

Early Roman numerals

The early Roman numerals for 1, 10, and 100 were the Etruscan ones: "Template:Rn", "Template:Rn", and "Template:Rn". The symbols for 5 and 50 changed from Template:Rn and "𐌣" to Template:Rn and ↆ at some point. The latter had flattened to Template:Rn (an inverted T) by the time of Augustus, and soon afterwards became identified with the graphically similar letter Template:Rn.[47]

The symbol for 100 was written variously as Template:Rn or Template:Rn, was then abbreviated to Template:Rn or Template:Rn, with Template:Rn (which matched a Latin letter) finally winning out. It may have helped that Template:Rn is the initial of centum, Latin for "hundred".

The numbers 500 and 1000 were denoted by Template:Rn or Template:Rn overlaid with a box or circle. Thus 500 was like a Template:Rn superimposed on a Template:Rn. It became Template:Rn or Template:Rn by the time of Augustus, under the graphic influence of the letter Template:Rn. It was later identified as the letter Template:Rn; an alternative symbol for "thousand" was a Template:Rn, and half of a thousand or "five hundred" is the right half of the symbol, Template:Rn, and this may have been converted into Template:Rn.[20]

The notation for 1000 was a circled or boxed Template:Rn: Ⓧ, Template:Rn, Template:Rn, and by Augustinian times was partially identified with the Greek letter Template:Rn phi. Over time, the symbol changed to Template:Rn and Template:Rn. The latter symbol further evolved into Template:Rn, then Template:Rn, and eventually changed to Template:Rn under the influence of the Latin word mille "thousand".[47]

According to Paul Kayser, the basic numerical symbols were Template:Rn, Template:Rn, Template:Rn and Template:Rn (or Template:Rn) and the intermediate ones were derived by taking half of those (half an Template:Rn is Template:Rn, half a Template:Rn is Template:Rn and half a Template:Rn is Template:Rn).[56]

Entrance to section Template:Rn (52) of the Colosseum, with numerals still visible

Classical Roman numerals

The Colosseum was constructed in Rome in CE 72–80,[57] and while the original perimeter wall has largely disappeared, the numbered entrances from Template:Rn (23) to Template:Rn (54) survive,[58] to demonstrate that in Imperial times Roman numerals had already assumed their classical form: as largely standardised in current use. The most obvious anomaly (a common one that persisted for centuries) is the inconsistent use of subtractive notation - while Template:Rn is used for 40, Template:Rn is avoided in favour of Template:Rn: in fact gate 44 is labelled Template:Rn.

Use in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Lower case, or minuscule, letters were developed in the Middle Ages, well after the demise of the Western Roman Empire, and since that time lower-case versions of Roman numbers have also been commonly used: Template:Rn, Template:Rn, Template:Rn, Template:Rn, and so on.

13th century example of Template:Rn.

Since the Middle Ages, a "Template:Rn" has sometimes been substituted for the final "Template:Rn" of a "lower-case" Roman numeral, such as "Template:Rn" for 3 or "Template:Rn" for 7. This "Template:Rn" can be considered a swash variant of "Template:Rn". Into the early 20th century, the use of a final "Template:Rn" was still sometimes used in medical prescriptions to prevent tampering with or misinterpretation of a number after it was written.[59]

Numerals in documents and inscriptions from the Middle Ages sometimes include additional symbols, which today are called "medieval Roman numerals". Some simply substitute another letter for the standard one (such as "Template:Rn" for "Template:Rn", or "Template:Rn" for "Template:Rn"), while others serve as abbreviations for compound numerals ("Template:Rn" for "Template:Rn", or "Template:Rn" for "Template:Rn"). Although they are still listed today in some dictionaries, they are long out of use.[60]

Number Medieval
Notes and etymology
5 Template:Rn Resembles an upside-down V. Also said to equal 500.
6 Either from a ligature of Template:Rn, or from digamma (ϛ), the Greek numeral 6 (sometimes conflated with the στ ligature).[47]
7 Template:Rn, Template:Rn Presumed abbreviation of Template:Lang, Latin for 7.
9.5 Template:Rn Scribal abbreviation, an x with a slash through it. Likewise, Template:Rn represented 8.5
11 Template:Rn Presumed abbreviation of Template:Lang, French for 11.
40 Template:Rn Presumed abbreviation of English forty.
70 Template:Rn Also could stand for 7, with the same derivation.
80 Template:Rn
90 Template:Rn Presumed abbreviation of Template:Lang, Latin for 90. (Ambiguous with Template:Rn for "nothing" (nihil)).
150 Template:Rn Possibly derived from the lowercase y's shape.
151 Template:Rn Unusual, origin unknown; also said to stand for 250.[61]
160 Template:Rn Possibly derived from Greek tetra, as 4 × 40 = 160.
200 Template:Rn Could also stand for 2 (see also 𐆙, the symbol for the dupondius). From a barring of two Template:Rn's.
250 Template:Rn
300 Template:Rn
400 Template:Rn, Template:Rn
500 Template:Rn Redundant with Template:Rn; abbreviates Template:Lang, Latin for 500. Also sometimes used for 500,000.[62]
800 Template:Rn Borrowed from Gothic.
900 Template:Rn Borrowed from Gothic.
2000 Template:Rn

Chronograms, messages with dates encoded into them, were popular during the Renaissance era. The chronogram would be a phrase containing the letters Template:Rn, Template:Rn, Template:Rn, Template:Rn, Template:Rn, Template:Rn, and Template:Rn. By putting these letters together, the reader would obtain a number, usually indicating a particular year.

Modern use

By the 11th century, Arabic numerals had been introduced into Europe from al-Andalus, by way of Arab traders and arithmetic treatises. Roman numerals, however, proved very persistent, remaining in common use in the West well into the 14th and 15th centuries, even in accounting and other business records (where the actual calculations would have been made using an abacus). Replacement by their more convenient "Arabic" equivalents was quite gradual, and Roman numerals are still used today in certain contexts. A few examples of their current use are:

Spanish Real using Template:Rn instead of Template:Rn as regnal number of Charles Template:Rn of Spain

Specific disciplines

In astronomy, the natural satellites or "moons" of the planets are traditionally designated by capital Roman numerals appended to the planet's name. For example, Titan's designation is Saturn Template:Rn.

In chemistry, Roman numerals are often used to denote the groups of the periodic table. They are also used in the IUPAC nomenclature of inorganic chemistry, for the oxidation number of cations which can take on several different positive charges. They are also used for naming phases of polymorphic crystals, such as ice.

In education, school grades (in the sense of year-groups rather than test scores) are sometimes referred to by a Roman numeral; for example, "grade Template:Rn" is sometimes seen for "grade 9".

In entomology, the broods of the thirteen and seventeen year periodical cicadas are identified by Roman numerals.

Stylised "Template:Rn" represents "9" in unit emblem of 9th Aero Squadron AEF, 1918

In graphic design stylised Roman numerals may represent numeric values.

In law, Roman numerals are commonly used to help organize legal codes as part of an alphanumeric outline.

In advanced mathematics (including trigonometry, statistics, and calculus), when a graph includes negative numbers, its quadrants are named using Template:Rn, Template:Rn, Template:Rn, and Template:Rn. These quadrant names signify positive numbers on both axes, negative numbers on the X axis, negative numbers on both axes, and negative numbers on the Y axis, respectively. The use of Roman numerals to designate quadrants avoids confusion, since Arabic numerals are used for the actual data represented in the graph.

In military unit designation, Roman numerals are often used to distinguish between units at different levels. This reduces possible confusion, especially when viewing operational or strategic level maps. In particular, army corps are often numbered using Roman numerals (for example the American XVIII Airborne Corps or the WW2-era German III Panzerkorps) with Arabic numerals being used for divisions and armies.

In music, Roman numerals are used in several contexts:

In pharmacy, Roman numerals were used with the now largely obsolete apothecaries' system of measurement: including Template:Rn to denote "one half" and Template:Rn to denote "zero".[43][65]

In photography, Roman numerals (with zero) are used to denote varying levels of brightness when using the Zone System.

In seismology, Roman numerals are used to designate degrees of the Mercalli intensity scale of earthquakes.

In sport the team containing the "top" players and representing a nation or province, a club or a school at the highest level in (say) rugby union is often called the "1st Template:Rn", while a lower-ranking cricket or American football team might be the "3rd Template:Rn".

In tarot, Roman numerals (with zero) are used to denote the cards of the Major Arcana.

In theology and biblical scholarship, the Septuagint is often referred to as Template:Rn, as this translation of the Old Testament into Greek is named for the legendary number of its translators (septuaginta being Latin for "seventy").

Modern use in European languages other than English

Some uses that are rare or never seen in English speaking countries may be relatively common in parts of continental Europe and in other regions (e.g. Latin America) that use a European language other than English. For instance:

Capital or small capital Roman numerals are widely used in Romance languages to denote Template:Strong, e.g. the French Template:Lang[66] and the Spanish Template:Lang mean "18th century". Slavic languages in and adjacent to Russia similarly favor Roman numerals (Template:Lang). On the other hand, in Slavic languages in Central Europe, like most Germanic languages, one writes "18." (with a period) before the local word for "century".

Boris Yeltsin's signature, dated 10 November 1988, rendered as 10.Template:Rn.1988.

Mixed Roman and Arabic numerals are sometimes used in numeric representations of dates (especially in formal letters and official documents, but also on tombstones). The Template:Strong is written in Roman numerals, while the day is in Arabic numerals: "4.Template:Rn.1789" and "Template:Rn.4.1789" both refer unambiguously to 4 June 1789.

Business hours table on a shop window in Vilnius, Lithuania

Roman numerals are sometimes used to represent the Template:Strong in hours-of-operation signs displayed in windows or on doors of businesses,[67] and also sometimes in railway and bus timetables. Monday, taken as the first day of the week, is represented by Template:Rn. Sunday is represented by Template:Rn. The hours of operation signs are tables composed of two columns where the left column is the day of the week in Roman numerals and the right column is a range of hours of operation from starting time to closing time. In the example case (left), the business opens from 10 AM to 7 PM on weekdays, 10 AM to 5 PM on Saturdays and is closed on Sundays. Note that the listing uses 24-hour time.

Sign at 17.9 km on route SS4 Salaria, north of Rome, Italy

Roman numerals may also be used for floor numbering.[68][69] For instance, apartments in central Amsterdam are indicated as 138-Template:Rn, with both an Arabic numeral (number of the block or house) and a Roman numeral (floor number). The apartment on the ground floor is indicated as Template:Lang.

In Italy, where roads outside built-up areas have kilometre signs, major roads and motorways also mark 100-metre subdivisionals, using Roman numerals from Template:Rn to Template:Rn for the smaller intervals. The sign Template:Sfrac thus marks 17.9 km.

Certain Spanish-speaking Latin American countries use Roman numerals to designate assemblies of their national legislatures. For instance, the composition of the Mexican Congress of the Union from 2018 to 2021 (elected in the 2018 Mexican general election) is called the LXIV Legislature of the Mexican Congress (or more commonly the "LXIV Legislature").

A notable exception to the use of Roman numerals in Europe is in Greece, where Greek numerals (based on the Greek alphabet) are generally used in contexts where Roman numerals would be used elsewhere.


The "Number Forms" block of the Unicode computer character set standard has a number of Roman numeral symbols in the range of code points from U+2160 to U+2188.[70] This range includes both upper- and lowercase numerals, as well as pre-combined characters for numbers up to 12 (Ⅻ or Template:Rn). One justification for the existence of pre-combined numbers is to facilitate the setting of multiple-letter numbers (such as VIII) on a single horizontal line in Asian vertical text. The Unicode standard, however, includes special Roman numeral code points for compatibility only, stating that "[f]or most purposes, it is preferable to compose the Roman numerals from sequences of the appropriate Latin letters".[71] The block also includes some apostrophus symbols for large numbers, an old variant of "L" (50) similar to the Etruscan character, the Claudian letter "reversed C", etc.

Value 1,000 5,000 10,000 6 50 50,000 100,000

See also

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  1. Without theorising about causation, it may be noted that Template:Rn and Template:Rn not only have fewer characters than Template:Rn and Template:Rn, but are less likely to be confused (especially at a quick glance) with Template:Rn and Template:Rn.

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  4. 4.0 4.1 {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}
  5. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}
  6. Stanislas Dehaene (1997): The Number Sense : How the Mind Creates Mathematics. Oxford University Press; 288 pages. Template:Isbn
  7. Ûrij Vasilʹevič Prokhorov and Michiel Hazewinkel, editors (1990): Encyclopaedia of Mathematics, Volume 10, page 502. Springer; 546 pages. Template:Isbn
  8. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}
  9. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}
  10. 10.0 10.1 Julius Caesar (52–49 BC): Commentarii de Bello Gallico. Book II, Section 4: "... XV milia Atrebates, Ambianos X milia, Morinos XXV milia, Menapios VII milia, Caletos X milia, Veliocasses et Viromanduos totidem, Atuatucos XVIIII milia; ..." Section 8: "... ab utroque latere eius collis transversam fossam obduxit circiter passuum CCCC et ad extremas fossas castella constituit..." Book IV, Section 15: "Nostri ad unum omnes incolumes, perpaucis vulneratis, ex tanti belli timore, cum hostium numerus capitum CCCCXXX milium fuisset, se in castra receperunt." Book VII, Section 4: " hiberna remissis ipse se recipit die XXXX Bibracte."
  11. Angelo Rocca (1612) De campanis commentarius. Published by Guillelmo Faciotti, Rome. Title of a Plate: "Campana a XXIIII hominibus pulsata" ("Bell to be sounded by 24 men")
  12. Gerard Ter Borch (1673): Portrait of Cornelis de Graef. Date on painting: "Out. XXIIII Jaer. // M. DC. LXXIIII".
  13. Pliny the Elder (77–79 AD): Naturalis Historia, Book III: "Saturni vocatur, Caesaream Mauretaniae urbem CCLXXXXVII p[assum]. traiectus. reliqua in ora flumen Tader ... ortus in Cantabris haut procul oppido Iuliobrica, per CCCCL p. fluens ..." Book IV: "Epiri, Achaiae, Atticae, Thessalia in porrectum longitudo CCCCLXXXX traditur, latitudo CCLXXXXVII." Book VI: "tam vicinum Arsaniae fluere eum in regione Arrhene Claudius Caesar auctor est, ut, cum intumuere, confluant nec tamen misceantur leviorque Arsanias innatet MMMM ferme spatio, mox divisus in Euphraten mergatur."
  14. Thomas Bennet (1731): Grammatica Hebræa, cum uberrima praxi in usum tironum ... Editio tertia. Published by T. Astley, copy in the British Library; 149 pages. Page 24: "PRÆFIXA duo sunt viz. He emphaticum vel relativum (de quo Cap VI Reg. LXXXX.) & Shin cum Segal sequente Dagesh, quod denotat pronomen relativum..."
  15. Pico Della Mirandola (1486) Conclusiones sive Theses DCCCC ("Conclusions, or 900 Theses").
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  25. Michaele Gasp. Lvndorphio (1621): Acta publica inter invictissimos gloriosissimosque&c. ... et Ferdinandum II. Romanorum Imperatores.... Printed by Ian-Friderici Weissii. Page 123: "Sub Dato Pragæ IIIXX Decemb. A. C. M. DC. IIXX". Page 126, end of the same document: "Dabantur Pragæ 17 Decemb. M. DC. IIXX"
  26. Raphael Sulpicius à Munscrod (1621): Vera Ac Germana Detecto Clandestinarvm Deliberationvm. Page 16, line 1: "repertum Originale Subdatum IIIXXX Aug. A. C. MDC.IIXX". Page 41, upper right corner: "Decemb. A. C. MDC.IIXX". Page 42, upper left corner: "Febr. A. C. MDC.XIX". Page 70: "IIXX. die Maij sequentia in consilio noua ex Bohemia allata....". Page 71: "XIX. Maij".
  27. Wilhelm Ernst Tentzel (1699): Als Ihre Königl. Majestät in Pohlen und .... Page 39: "... und der Umschrifft: LITHUANIA ASSERTA M. DC. IIIC [1699]."
  28. Joh. Caspar Posner (1698): Mvndvs ante mvndvm sive De Chao Orbis Primordio, title page: "Ad diem jvlii A. O. R. M DC IIC".
  29. Wilhelm Ernst Tentzel (1700): Saxonia Nvmismatica: Das ist: Die Historie Des Durchlauchtigsten.... Page 26: "Die Revers hat eine feine Inscription: SERENISSIMO DN.DN... SENATUS.QVERNF. A. M DC IIC D. 18 OCT [year 1698 day 18 oct]."
  30. Enea Silvio Piccolomini (1698): Opera Geographica et Historica. Helmstadt, J. M. Sustermann. Title page of first edition: "Bibliopolæ ibid. M DC IC"
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  35. 35.0 35.1 Stephen James Malone, (2005) Legio XX Valeria Victrix.... PhD thesis. On page 396 it discusses many coins with "Leg. IIXX" and notes that it must be Legion 22. The footnote on that page says: "The form IIXX clearly reflecting the Latin duo et vicensima 'twenty-second': cf. X5398, legatus I[eg II] I et vicensim(ae) Pri[mi]g; VI 1551, legatus leg] IIXX Prj; III 14207.7, miles leg IIXX; and III 10471-3, a vexillation drawn from four German legions including 'XVIII PR' – surely here the stonecutter's hypercorrection for IIXX PR.
  36. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}
  37. 37.0 37.1 M. Gachard (1862): "II. Analectes historiques, neuvième série (nos CCLXI-CCLXXXIV)". Bulletin de la Commission royale d'Historie, volume 3, pages 345–554. Page 347: Lettre de Philippe le Beau aux échevins..., quote: "Escript en nostre ville de Gand, le XXIIIIme de febvrier, l'an IIIIXXXIX [quatre-vingt-dix-neuf = 99]." Page 356: Lettre de l'achiduchesse Marguerite au conseil de Brabant..., quote: "... Escript à Bruxelles, le dernier jour de juing anno XVcXIX [1519]." Page 374: Letters patentes de la rémission ... de la ville de Bruxelles, quote: "... Op heden, tweentwintich ['twenty-two'] daegen in decembri, anno vyfthien hondert tweendertich ['fifteen hundred thirty-two'] ... Gegeven op ten vyfsten dach in deser jegewoirdige maent van decembri anno XV tweendertich [1532] vorschreven." Page 419: Acte du duc de Parme portant approbation..., quote": "Faiet le XVme de juillet XVc huytante-six [1586]." Page Template:Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css has no content.{{#invoke:Catalog lookup link|main}}
  38. Herbert Edward Salter (1923) Registrum Annalium Collegii Mertonensis 1483–1521 Oxford Historical Society, volume 76; 544 pages. Page 184 has the computation in pounds:shillings:pence (li:s:d) x:iii:iiii + xxi:viii:viii + xlv:xiiii:i = iiixxxvii:vi:i, i.e. 10:3:4 + 21:8:8 + 45:14:1 = 77:6:1.
  39. Johannis de Sancto Justo (1301): "E Duo Codicibus Ceratis" ("From Two Texts in Wax"). In de Wailly, Delisle (1865): Contenant la deuxieme livraison des monumens des regnes de saint Louis,... Volume 22 of Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France. Page 530: "SUMMA totalis, XIII. M. V. C. III. XX. XIII. l. III s. XI d. [Sum total, 13 thousand 5 hundred 3 score 13 livres, 3 sous, 11 deniers].
  40. Faith Wallis, trans. Bede: The Reckoning of Time (725), Liverpool, Liverpool Univ. Pr., 2004. Template:Isbn.
  41. Byrhtferth's Enchiridion (1016). Edited by Peter S. Baker and Michael Lapidge. Early English Text Society 1995. Template:Isbn.
  42. C. W. Jones, ed., Opera Didascalica, vol. 123C in Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina.
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  60. Capelli, A. Dictionary of Latin Abbreviations. 1912.
  61. Bang, Jørgen. Fremmedordbog, Berlingske Ordbøger, 1962 (Danish)
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  64. NFL won't use Roman numerals for Super Bowl 50 {{#invoke:webarchive|webarchive}}, National Football League. Retrieved 5 November 2014
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  66. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }} On composera en chiffres romains petites capitales les nombres concernant : ↲ 1. Les siècles.
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  69. Roman Numerals History {{#invoke:webarchive|webarchive}}. Retrieved 1 December 2013
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Further reading

  • Aczel, Amir D. 2015. Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers. 1st edition. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Goines, David Lance. A Constructed Roman Alphabet: A Geometric Analysis of the Greek and Roman Capitals and of the Arabic Numerals. Boston: D.R. Godine, 1982.
  • Houston, Stephen D. 2012. The Shape of Script: How and Why Writing Systems Change. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press.
  • Taisbak, Christian M. 1965. "Roman numerals and the abacus." Classica et medievalia 26: 147–60.

External links

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