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Roman Numbers Explained

Roman Numerals

Roman numerals, a numerical system developed in ancient Rome, have left an indelible mark on history and persist in modern society. These numerals, characterized by letters from the Latin alphabet, were used for various purposes throughout the Roman Empire and continue to find application today.


As the name suggests, Roman numerals originated in ancient Rome and evolved over centuries. They are composed of seven basic symbols:


I - 1

V - 5

X - 10

L - 50

C - 100

D - 500

M – 1000

The symbols are combined to form numbers by following specific rules:

  • Characters are read from left to right.

  • If a smaller numeral appears before a larger one, subtract the smaller from the larger. For example, IV represents 4 (5 - 1), and XC means 90 (100 - 10).

  • If a smaller numeral appears after a larger one, add the smaller to the larger. For example, VII represents 7 (5 + 2), and LXX represents 70 (50 + 10 + 10).

Historical Usage


Roman numerals were widely used in inscriptions on buildings, monuments, and statues throughout the Roman Empire. Notable examples include the year markings on the base of Trajan's Column in Rome (CE, for "Current Era"), which chronicles Emperor Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars.



Roman numerals were commonly used in sundials and clock faces. Even today, clock faces in many places still use Roman numerals to indicate hours. For instance, the clock at the Palace of Westminster in London displays Roman numerals.


Numerical Records

Roman numerals were used in official records, such as for dating important events or royal decrees. In 380 CE, Emperor Theodosius I proclaimed Nicene Christianity as the official state religion of the Roman Empire in an edict marked as CCCXIII, using Roman numerals to denote the law's position within the Theodosian Code.


Book Chapters and Numbering

Roman numerals were traditionally used for numbering chapters and sections in books. This practice persisted for centuries, with some modern publications, particularly academic and religious texts, still employing Roman numerals.

Cultural and Artistic Significance

Roman numerals found their way into various aspects of culture and art. They were used in naming kings and popes and in the titles of books, movies, and other creative works. For example, the film "Rocky IV" uses Roman numerals to denote the fourth installment in the "Rocky" franchise.

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