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What are roman numerals?

What are roman numerals?

Roman numerals are a numerical system invented in ancient Rome comprising of letters from the Latin alphabet.

Roman numerals were first used in ancient Rome to represent numbers using letters from the latin alphabet.

Numerals are composed of only 7 characters from the Latin alphabet:

The base numerals
100Cone hundred
500Dfive hundred
1000Mone thousand

Subtractive numerals are also used to simplify some numbers which would otherwise comprise 4 or 5 individual characters:

The subtractive numerals
400CDfour hundred
900CMnine hundred

Number representation using roman numerals follows a similar decimal pattern to the arabic numbers we use every day in that thousands, hundreds, tens, and units are read from left to right.

The difference when translating the number is that each numeral character is added to the next (remembering subtractive numerals are comprised of two characters). For example, the numeral MCMXC, or 1990 would be calculated as:


1000 + 900 + 90

Read more about our chunk notation.

Numeral usage in society declined from around the 14th century, being replaced with arabic digits 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9.

Today, numerals are still used for a wide range of objects and events. You will see them used to depict years (at the end of a TV programme, or for events such as the Superbowl), on clock faces, and many more.

We’ve only covered the basics of roman numerals. A google search will give you a huge range of articles that delve deep into the history and variations of roman numerals.