Roman Numerals: Where Is the Zero?

August 11, 2015 Curiosities

Roman numerals, the numeric system used in ancient Rome, employ combinations of letters from the Latin alphabet to signify values. The Roman numeral system is a positional numbering system. This system employs some capital letters as symbols to represent certain numbers, most numbers are written as combinations of letters.

For example, 2015 is written as MMXV, where each M represents 1000, the X stands for 10 more and V represents five units.

Roman numerals start to count from one and had no symbol to represent “0“. This happens because the Romans did not need to have a zero in their additive system. That is, in the roman numerals figures are summed and always are equal, whereas in our present system the value of the number depends on the position that is the number (it is the same value “3” in the number “13” to “3,500,000”, whereas the “L” or “D” always worth the same.

Initially Romans used “I” for the unit, but when it came to representing large amounts (IIIIII …) it became a mess. So, as the Romans were sharp (Otherwise, how would they have conquered the Roman Empire?), They decided to cross out the original “I” with a forward line (X) to represent ten. And for five? Easy, like five is half ten, we hit a cut in the middle to become X and V, and now we have five.

Roman, like other great civilizations like the Greeks, the Aztecs or the pre-Arabs used the additive system, ie, which is the transcript of what we have. Thus, the V can only be V (five or 5).

There are different number systems, and each of these has to do with the advancement of the civilisations that use them. Today, we use the positional system, in which the value of a character depends on its position. For example, the 3 has different values if the number is 325 to 453.

Today the use of Roman numerals is limited to certain fields:

• Watches
• Enumerate volumes, chapters and volumes of a work.
• Names of popes, kings and emperors.
• Acts and scenes of a play.
• The appointment of congresses, Olympics, assemblies, competitions, etc.

By Ángela R.

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