Roman numerals

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

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 are written with combinations of letters from the Latin alphabet, each letter with a fixed integer value, modern style uses only these seven:

I V X L C D M
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:

I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII

The notations IV and IX 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 "IIII" on Roman numeral clocks.[1]

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

  1. ^ Judkins, Maura (4 November 2011). "Public clocks do a number on Roman numerals". The Washington Post. Retrieved 13 August 2019. Most clocks using Roman numerals traditionally use IIII instead of IV... One of the rare prominent clocks that uses the IV instead of IIII is Big Ben in London.

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