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| Words: 431 | Submitted: 11-Nov-2011
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DescriptionHow numbers were formed
At their simplest, numbers are formed by stringing the letters together to add up to the number required. Like this
II = 2
XXX = 30
XII = 12
CXXIII = 123
The rule is to use the biggest numeral possible at each stage, so 15 is represented by XV not VVV nor XIIIII. It follows from this rule that numerals always go from left to right in descending order. This could still lead to some very long strings. For example, using this rule 99 would be LXXXXVIIII. So at some point a new rule was invented. A smaller value letter to the left of a larger value one is subtracted. So 4 becomes IV - which is 5 minus 1 - rather than IIII.
Once a number gets bigger than a few thousand, Roman numerals become unwieldy. There are no 'bigger' symbols for 5000, 10,000 or a million. The Romans had two ways of writing bigger numbers. They used what I call above 'deep parentheses' to multiply a number by 1000. They were a C and a mirror image or upside down C and I use normal parentheses to show them. Thus ( I ) is 1000 and ( X ) is 10,000. ( XXIII ) is 23,000. If you want to depict a million you can use ( M ). Alternatively, the parentheses can be nested so ( I ) is 1,000 and ( ( I ) ) is 1,000,000. The numbers can get a bit unwieldy as they get bigger.
How they work
Using letters for numbers
The Romans depicted numbers using seven letters of the alphabet as numerals
I = 1
V = 5
X = 10
L = 50
C = 100
D = 500
M = 1000
In medieval texts and some early printed books, the numerals are written in lower case letters and u was frequently substituted for v. In the final position of the numeral, j could be used instead of i. So 18 could be written xuiij rather than XVIII. These substitutions are particularly found in italic fonts .
Sometimes the M and D were written using what I call 'deep parentheses.' They were like a C and a mirror image or upside down C. Typesetters used the font the wrong way up to depict it. I will use normal parentheses to show them. In some examples the Roman numeral M is represented by a I in these deep parentheses thus ( I ). You can see how writing this quickly could lead you to write M. Similarly, D is sometimes represented by an I followed by a backwards C, thus I ). That seems to be used because it represents half of the M or 500. Again, written quickly it would become D. ...
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