The Romans



The basic symbols by which Roman numerals were and still are expressed are:

I = 1 (a single digit)

V = 5 (a graphic representing five fingers)

X = 10 (the fingers of two hands joined)

L = 50 (adapted from a Chalcidic sign)

C = 100 (adapted from a Chalcidic sign; it is also the first letter of the word for a hundred, centum)

D = 500 (half the Chalcidic sign , which represented a thousand):

M = 1000 (the first letter of the word for a thousand, mille: not used separately as a numeral before the second century AD)

Paying taxes

Paying taxes. (Illustration by John Pittaway from Picture Reference Ancient Romans, Brockhampton Press 1970)

Numbers other than these were expressed by adding symbols after the higher numeral, e.g. VI = 6, XII = 12, CLXI = 161; or by subtracting those that preceded the higher numeral, e.g. IV = 4, XL = 40; or by a combination of both processes, e.g. XLI = 41, CDXIII = 413. In medieval times and beyond, dates were represented by Roman numerals, e.g. MCCCLXII = 1362. The year 1996 was MCMXCVI.


Towards the end of the republic, thousands were denoted by a line above the numeral, e.g. 10,000 and 5,000:

Hundreds of thousands were denoted by additional lines on each side,e.g:

= 1,000,000          = 500,000.

Overview of this page [Ref: 5.7]


Roman numerals from 1 to 1,000,000


More on Roman Numerals

Including an alternative explanation for Roman V etc Click here.

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